Rainforests around the world are home to more than 3,000 different fruits, although people only use about 200 of them. The majority – 70 percent – of rainforest fruits grow in the dense canopy layer. Fruit that drops to the ground is quickly found by wildlife such as elephants, gorillas, anteaters and others and devoured or turned into compost by worms, termites, bacteria and fungi.
Some of the most common rainforest fruits are those with which people are quite familiar such as bananas, oranges, pineapple, papaya, tangerines, coconut, mangoes and lemons. The rainforest also gives us avocadoes, figs, dates, limes, grapefruit and passion fruit, among many others. More than 55 million tons of citrus fruits grown in rainforest are eaten each year.
The Amazon rainforest offers fruits that are not well-known, such as bacaba, or kumbu, a dark red or purple fruit that's usually cooked. The bacaba juice is a popular drink in Brazil. Another dark red fruit is strawberry guava, a juicy fruit that has a strawberry-like taste and is often made into a jam. The orange camu-camu, also called rumberry, is harvested by boat or canoe when the Amazon River is cresting. Camu-camu does not taste good alone, but is used to flavor ice cream and other products. Another rainforest fruit that is not well-known is jagua. It is not harvested for food, but for its juice. Before jagua ripens, it is picked and the juice used to create long-lasting body art, essentially non-permanent tattoos.
Rainforests are often called the world’s pharmacy. Many plants offer medicinal benefits, such as the chuchuhausi that contains anti-tumor alkaloids. A rainforest relative of the chuchuhausi, which is also a cancer-fighter, is espinheira santa. The leaves of the maracuja or passion fruit vine are widely used in the Amazon to make an anti-anxiety tonic and tea. The fruit also offers many healthful and nutritional benefits. The acai palm berry is an antioxidant and is growing in popularity around the world. As a fruit, they are too perishable to be a viable export, but products made from it are popular globally. A longtime food source in the rainforest, the buriti fruit is a rich source of vital fatty acids and its oil is an antioxidant that protects the skin from the sun by filtering and absorbing ultraviolet radiation. Buriti, too, can be used to treat burns.
Some of the tastiest rainforest fruits are the goldenberry, used for jellies; star fruit; tamarind, which is tart and often used in chutney; guanabana, which is popular for drinks, sherbets and ice cream; and custard apple, which produces sweet pulp. Other tasty rainforest fruits include star apple, pond apple, naranjilla, kaffir plum and wild mandarin.