From berry to bottle: the story of jabuticaba, the superfruit native to Brazil

The vitamin-rich jabuticaba berry is native to southeastern Brazil and almost unheard of outside of South America. In rural São Paulo, it's not only a delicious snack for Brazilians but also a vital source of income thanks to Swiss-Brazilian brand Suívie.

Published 21 Apr 2021, 12:08 BST
The mighty jabuticaba berry is at the heart of a new, grown-up soft drink by Suívie.

The mighty jabuticaba berry is at the heart of a new, grown-up soft drink by Suívie. 

Photograph by Suívie

Growing in the rural idyll that is São Paulo’s backcountry, jabuticaba is a superfruit that’s native to Brazil — and chances are you haven’t heard of it. The purplish berry, which has a floral, fruity, grape-like taste, is revered in its homeland, and sprouts directly from the trunk of its namesake tree, which is native to just three Brazilian states: Minas Gerais, Goiás and São Paulo. Getting hold of them here in the UK, however, hasn’t always been easy, but that’s slowly starting to change.   

In Brazil, people gather the ripe berries and cook them into jams, press them into juices or add them to potent caipirinhas with a generous glug of cachaça (a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice) before they start to ferment.

A few years ago, it was acai, grown in the tangled depths of the Brazilian rainforest, that was finding its way into smoothie bowls and health drinks here in the UK. The jabuticaba berry, however, is believed to out-do acai and some other so-called superfruits, such as blueberries and grapes, in terms of its vitamin C and E, calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus content. The berry is high in vitamin C, which is known to have antioxidant properties. 

Through fair and direct farming, the Swiss-Brazilian brand Suívie is using the mighty jabuticaba berry to create a 100% natural, vitamin-enriched soft-drink made with just four ingredients: jabuticaba berries, Swiss spring water, pressed apple juice and a touch of ginger. It does this by partnering with a local farming subsidiary in the rural stretches of São Paulo state, bringing much-needed employment and regular income to a number of families in the region.

The farm in São Paulo state employs around 40 people, including farmer Marcelo do Nascimento. 

Photograph by Suívie

Meet the farmer

Marcelo do Nascimento, a jabuticaba farmer who works alongside 40 other local people, is in charge of nurturing the land all year round and preparing the fruit trees, which are members of the myrtle family and can grow to a towering 50ft in height.

“The season for jabuticaba fruit-picking is actually very short and occurs for just a few months of the year,” Marcelo explains. Combine that with their very short shelf-life (they start to ferment just three or four days after harvest) and you start to understand why these thick-skinned berries haven’t made it to our shores until now.

“This is one of the challenges we face as farmers of the jabuticaba,” says Marcelo. “It’s a seasonal and highly perishable fruit that presents a very short time to collect and commercialise, and we don’t want to induce the harvest — it’s all orchestrated by a natural process, ruled by nature and weather.”

“It’s important for us to realise that the jabuticaba tree is a native tree from the Mata Atlântica in Brazil that was there before us and grows without us. The cultivation of jabuticaba, is, as such, a preservation of the rainforest itself.”

He goes on to add that, alongside Suívie, the team can plan together, structure and organise the harvest, the fruit collection and commercialise in an optimised process. “Our partnership gives us stability and, of course, additional income for the people that live and work on our farm.”

The arrival of spring marks the start of the harvesting season, and Marcelo scours the farm’s trees, observing whether the fruits are ready to be plucked and processed (when the berries are almost black and around an inch in diameter). Unusually, the fruits grow directly on old-growth trunks and branches, almost looking like clumps of purplish grapes fixed to the bark.

“When nature gives me the sign that in a couple of days we’ll have the berry ready to crop, we then prepare the groundwork, scooping the berries from the trees and dropping them into wooden baskets,” says Marcelo.

The berries are then dried and the entire fruit is used to make Suívie’s acclaimed infusion, which is finally bottled up and labelled. Initiatives addressing the quality of life of staff are also taken into account, explains Marcelo.

“The Suívie director and product manager come here to the farm several times a year, training my staff on hygiene and safety — advising which boots to use, for example, for protection against the spiders and the snakes here.”

Sustainability is also critical and there remains an underlying respect for nature on the farm, Marcelo explains.

“It’s important for us to realise that the jabuticaba tree is a native tree from the Mata Atlântica [Atlantic Forest] in Brazil that was there before us and grows without us. The cultivation of jabuticaba, is, as such, a preservation of the rainforest itself."

Read more: Six things you need to know about the jabuticaba berry.

Suívie Jabuticaba is available to buy from Amazon and Whole Foods Market stores across London.

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