Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla (“little orange”) in Ecuador and Panama and as lulo, from Quechua in Colombia, is a subtropical perennial plant from northwestern South America. The specific name for this species of nightshade means “from Quito.”
The naranjilla plant is attractive, with large elongated heart- or oval-shaped leaves up to 45 cm in length. The leaves and stems of the plant are covered in short purple hairs. Naranjilla are delicate plants and must be protected from strong winds and direct sunlight. They grow best in partial shade.
The fruit has a leather like orange skin covered with a hairy fuzz. The inside looks like green tomato. The flesh has a pineapple-and-lemon taste and contains small, white edible seeds.
Preparation and Consumption
Ripe naranjillas, freed of hairs, may be casually consumed out-of-hand by cutting in half and squeezing the contents of each half into the mouth. The empty shells are discarded. The flesh, complete with seeds, may be squeezed out and added to ice cream mix, made into sauce for native dishes, or utilized in making pie and various other cooked desserts. The shells may be stuffed with a mixture of banana and other ingredients and baked. But the most popular use of the naranjilla is in the form of juice. For home preparation, the fruits are washed, the hairs are rubbed off, the fruits cut in half, the pulp squeezed into an electric blender and processed briefly; then the green juice is strained, sweetened, and served with ice cubes as a cool, foamy drink. A dozen fruits will yield 225 g (8 oz) of juice. Commercially, the juice is extracted mechanically from the cleaned and chopped fruits, strained, concentrated and canned or put into plastic bags and frozen.
Sherbet is made in the home by mixing naranjilla juice with corn syrup, sugar, water, and a little lime juice, partially freezing, then beating to a froth and freezing. Naranjilla jelly and marmalade are produced on a small scale in Cali, Colombia.
Ripe lulos have an orange skin. Green lulos can be ripened at room temperature. Lulo’s which are ripe should be kept in the refrigerator.