Native to the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais, Goiás and São Paulo, the jabuticaba, jaboticaba, or Brazilian grapetree (species Plinia cauliflora), is known for fruit that bear purplish skin and whitish pulp; interestingly, the fruit grows right on the bark. Jabuticaba a tropical tree that thrives in sunlight, reaching nearly 10-33 feet at its highest; yet, it is also commonly found among bonsai collections. The name comes from an extinct Brazilian language called Tupi, whereas jaboti means tortoise and caba means place; though, others have translated the meaning to be “like turtle fat,” in reference to the jabuticaba’s white pulp.
Unusually, I first noticed the jabuticaba in Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China, a place most famous for its innumerable quartzite sandstone columns. Walking through a local market, I encountered the 嘉宝果 (jiābǎoguǒ), or “joyful treasure fruit.” If you’re wondering how that name was chosen for a food native to Brazil, my suspicion is that the 嘉宝/jiābǎo was nearly homophonous to the “jabu” of jabuticaba, and in keeping with Chinese naming practices for foreign words, it sounded like a lucky coincidence. It grows in subtropical parts of China, namely in parts of Guangdong, Yunnan, and Fujian provinces.
I asked the vendor for a taste, and sure enough, the fruit tasted like grape candy. Jabuticaba are often eaten raw, are used in preserves, and to make liquor.
*In case you were wondering, the first two characters of the description of the fruit are 深山 (shēnshān), which simply means “deep in the mountains.”