(Carica pentagona – Family Caricaceae)
Babaco is an Ecuadorian fruit related to the papaya. European botanists discovered it in the 1920s, and introduced it to New Zealand in 1973 for cultivation. It is now grown in other areas, including North America and Europe as far north as the Channel Islands.
The plant is not known in the wild, and botanists suggest that it may be a hybrid possibly from the mountain pawpaw (C. candamarcensis) and another Ecuadorian fruit called chamburo (Carica stipulata).
The plant is rather small compared to the number and size of large fruit it bears. The fruit can reach a foot in length and is star-shaped in a cross-section cutting.
The pale apricot-coloured flesh is tender and juicy, but with a faint acidic taste and delicate fragrance of fresh strawberries. It is normally seedless and soft, so the entire fruit can be eaten or liquidized into a drink.
Babaco is rich in Vitamin C and low in sugar and, like the papaya, it contains the enzyme papain which helps to digest fat and proteins. These valuable enzymes are the most abundant in the skin, so all the fruit should be eaten to obtain the full value it has to offer.
Babacos keep well, up to five days if refrigerated. The flavour can be livened up with the addition of a little lemon, lime, or such spices as cinnamon or nutmeg. It can be also be poached or made into sauces or jams.