Suppression

Imbu

Category: Food

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

Spondias tuberosa, commonly known as imbu, Brazil plum, or umbu, is native to northeast Brazil, where it grows in the Caatinga, the chaparral scrub that grows wild across dry lands of the Sertão. The name of this tree and fruit comes from the indigenous phrase y-mb-u, which means tree that gives drink.

Spondias tuberosa is one of the most important endemic species to the Brazilian tropical semiarid region. It has edible fruits with ‘a peculiar flavour’ [unusual flavour might be more apt] that are consumed in natura or in jams, candies and juices.

This tree is an important resource for one of the poorest and driest regions of Brazil, where local agriculture is based on corn, beans, sheep, and goat (dried and salted goat meat is one of the most important local foods). The fruit of the imbu tree is collected by hand gently, as it is easily damaged and during picking the fruits are set in baskets and bags [or buckets!]

Background

Spondias tuberosa was mentioned in  Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (Natural History of Brazil), authored by Piso and Marcgrave as long ago as 1648. Marcgrave provided a taxonomic classification; an identification of plant parts and their modes of consumption by each ethnic group of consumers, but despite this, it is noticeable that among the species listed by Marcgrave, this and indeed many other  species still lack current studies indicating their real nutritional value.

 

Until a few years ago, no one paid much attention to this fruit. But the work of various organizations such as the NGO IRPAA/PRO CUC, the KMB, the Austrian Lins diocese, and Austrian Horizon 3000, has improved its profile. These groups have worked to improve the public reputation of Caatinga products and have helped promote the work of one group in particular -  the COOPER-CUC cooperative, which produces products in a small workshop in Uauá in the state of Bahia. All the products of this co-operative are based on natural ingredients with no added artificial flavours or colours.

The aim is to firstly guarantee the artisan quality of the products made from these fruits, secondly help raise the profile of the products on the national and international markets and thirdly help protect the environment. There is an added objective and that is to provide new work opportunities and new income for people in the area.

The fruit and leaves of the plant have yet to be fully analysed, but there is the possibility that the Imbu may be of more importance medicinally, than as yet another source of jam or fruit juice.  For more details see the medicinal section below.

Description

Spondias tuberosa is a small tree, seldom higher than 6 m, with an expansive crown of up to 10 m in diameter.  The productive cycle of this wild, spontaneously growing tree begins after ten years of growth. It bears fruit once a year and can produce up to 300 kilos of fruit in a single harvest when it reaches maturity. Due to its robust root system, a great network of tubers that can store liquid throughout the Sertão s dry season, the imbu tree can hold up to 3,000 liters of water during the dry months.

The fruit of the imbu can be of varying size: they can be as small as cherries or as large as lemons. The peel is smooth and green or yellow when the fruit ripens, the small firm fruits are juicy and flavourful and their succulent flesh hides a large dark pit.  The flesh has a sweet taste and distinct aroma.  

Medicinal use

Spondias tuberosa is not just a food but also a medicinal plant, and is used by several local communities in Northeast Brazil, to treat infections, digestive disorders, and inflammatory conditions.

According to Dr Duke’s analysis [see below], the fruit is very rich in minerals, but much of the interest in medicinal research has been on the leaves, which appear to show remarkable anti-inflammatory activity:

The study aimed to identify and quantify the major phenolic in hydroethanolic extract of leaves from S. tuberosa and to evaluate its anti-inflammatory potential.
The chemical profile of extract was analyzed by HPLC-DAD and HPLC-MS. … Identified and quantified through HPLC-DAD or HPLC-MS analyses of S. tuberosa extract were the following compounds:

  • chlorogenic acid,
  • caffeic acid,
  • rutin, and
  • isoquercitrin.

The inflammatory response to carrageenan was significantly reduced in both models by S. tuberosa extract. In hind paw edema, the edematogenic response was reduced by up to 63.6% and the MPO activity was completely inhibited. In the peritonitis model, the total cell migration into peritoneal cavity was reduced by up to 65%. The results obtained give evidence to the anti-inflammatory action of S. tuberosa and suggest the potential therapeutic benefit of this plant on inflammatory conditions. PMID: 27062048

"Let medicine be thy food and food be thy medicine"

Dr Duke’s Chemical analysis of Spondias tuberosa (Anacardiaceae)

# Activity

Chemical

Plant Part

Low PPM

High PPM

StdDev

*Reference

5

ALUMINUM

Fruit

--

7.88

-0.22

*

4

BORON

Fruit

--

1.45

-0.77

*

28

CALCIUM

Fruit

--

200.0

-0.84

*

12

COPPER

Fruit

--

0.63

-0.95

*

6

IRON

Fruit

--

7.0

-0.5

*

65

MAGNESIUM

Fruit

--

90.0

-0.94

*

14

MANGANESE

Fruit

--

0.95

-0.4

*

0

NITROGEN

Fruit

--

1100.0

-0.95

*

4

PHOSPHORUS

Fruit

--

210.0

-0.91

*

14

POTASSIUM

Fruit

--

16700.0

-0.11

*

1

SODIUM

Fruit

--

11.1

-0.18

*

14

SULFUR

Fruit

--

120.0

-0.9

*

77

ZINC

Fruit

--

1.33

-0.87

*

*Unless otherwise noted all references are to Duke, James A. 1992. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press.

 

Method

 

The imbu can be eaten fresh or made into jams or other sweetened preserves like fruit cheese. In the Sertão, it is cooked down until the peel and the pulp separate. Then, the liquid is poured off, it is mixed with sugar and cooked for another two hours. After the pulp has been reduced to a glossy gelatin (called geléia), it retains a slightly astringent flavour.

In addition to the thick paste made by this long, slow boiling process, the imbu is the base of fruit juice, vinagre (the juice pressed from overripe fruit), and jam (made by pressing together layers of dried imbu paste).

 

Another delicacy is the compôte made by mixing the fruit and sugar together in jars.

The fresh pulp, or if the fresh fruit is not in season, the vinagre is mixed with milk and sugar to make umbuzada, a rich beverage that is a common substitute for a full meal.

The fruit is ideal for mixing with gooseberries or plums and is used in fruit juices, jams and sorbets.

References and further reading

  • Biomed Chromatogr. 2016 Apr 8. doi: 10.1002/bmc.3738. [Epub ahead of print] Spondias tuberosa (Anacardiaceae) leaves: profiling phenolic compounds by HPLC-DAD and LC-MS/MS and in vivo anti-inflammatory activity.  da Silva Siqueira EM1, Félix-Silva J2, de Araújo LM1, Fernandes JM1, Cabral B1, Gomes JA2, de Araújo Roque A3, Tomaz JC4, Lopes NP4, de Freitas Fernandes-Pedrosa M2, Giordani RB1, Zucolotto SM1.
  • Rev Biol Trop. 2013 Jun;61(2):577-82. An AFLP estimation of the outcrossing rate of Spondias tuberosa (Anacardiaceae), an endemic species to the Brazilian semiarid region. Fernandes Santos CA1, de Souza Gama RN.  1Embrapa Semiárido, Caixa Postal 23. 56300-970, Petrolina, PE, Brazil. casantos@cpatsa.embrapa.br   PMID: 23885576
  • J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2014 Jun 25;10:50. doi: 10.1186/1746-4269-10-50.  Food flora in 17th century Northeast region of Brazil in Historia Naturalis Brasiliae. Medeiros MF1, Albuquerque UP.  1Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, Campus de Cuité, Centro de Educação e Saúde, Unidade Acadêmica de Educação, Departamento de Ciências Biológicas, Olho D´Água da Bica s/n, Cuité, Paraíba CEP: 58175-000, Brazil. mariaftm@hotmail.com. - a study that makes information about plants consumed in the past accessible, aiming to provide material for studies that could develop new food products today.  PMID: 24965737

 

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