Ground cherries remain an obscure, seasonal fruit to many people. Ground cherries are considered as the next strawberry; some say this fruit is the next superfood and agriculture’s next big berry crop.
However, ground cherries are considered an underutilized crop in the United States. Ground cherries are considered unsuitable for large-scale agriculture because harvesting the fruit is labor-intensive; each fruit drops to the ground sometimes even before it is fully ripe and this does not only make harvest difficult, this also could be a potential source of food safety issues like foodborne diseases as a result of the contact with the ground. Other problems include poor shelf life and low productivity.
A major characteristic of this marble-shaped and marble-sized fruit is its low, spreading habit, fitting the name since you’ll usually find the fruits hanging close to the ground, while ripe fruits fall to the ground. The fruits of a ground cherry plant are found inside a papery husk.
Species: P. pruinosa
Binomial name: Physalis pruinosa
Ground Cherry Trivia
- Another name for ground cherry is husk tomato.
- Other names for this fruit include ground tomatoes, winter cherries, strawberry tomatoes,
- They call this fruit poha or poha berry in Hawaii
- A commercial variety of ground cherries known as Cossack Pineapple is named as such because you can taste the pineapple flavor eating this fruit.
- Ground cherries attract bees and other pollinators. So if you want to help bees thrive, plant ground cherries!
Ground Cherry Buying Guide
Your best bet is at the local farmers’ market or farm stand. Ground cherries are available starting in the middle of summer until early fall.
You’ll find them sold with husks intact. Make sure the husks are papery and tan, indicating that the fruit inside is ripe or is close to being ripe.
Ground Cherry Production & Farming in Texas
As an orphan crop (crops that aren’t traded internationally, grown and eaten as part of the local diet, like groundnut, teff, and cowpea), ground cherries right now are grown as a small-scale crop.
If you are considering planting ground cherries, consider any of these recommendations:
- Aunt Molly’s – This Polish heirloom takes 70 days to fruit.
- Pineapple – This variety takes 75 days to fruit. It got its name
- Goldie – This variety takes 75 days to fruit. It got its name for its golden fruits.
This plant requires at least six hours of full sun; growing in the shade may result in fewer fruits. This plant also needs loamy, sandy, well-draining soil with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 6.5. Ground cherries thrive inside US Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. This plant is frost-sensitive. Start with seeds or transplants (which you can buy at nurseries) and start planting indoors. Seedlings must be hardened before transplanting on the ground outdoors. Transplant after the danger of frost is gone and the soil is warm. They will need 2 inches of water weekly, but also keep in mind that ground cherries are drought-tolerant. But do not risk getting the plant parched because it may result in blooms dropping off without producing fruits.
The ground cherry plant, a favorite of backyard gardeners, has large deep green leaves and pale yellow flowers. Ground berry plants can bear 300 fruits per plant. They will bear fruit until the start of frost. The sprawling ground cherry plant can cover 30 to 60cm high and 90 to 100 cm wide space in the garden or field.
Ground cherries remain a hard-to-find fruit, often making a short appearance in farmers’ markets, primarily because there is no established commercial mass production of this fruit. The focus of scientists is the domestication of ground cherries, and the timeline for real results remains uncertain. This painstaking work could take anywhere from a decade to thousands of years, costing time and money. Scientists at Van Eck Laboratory at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) are trying to find a way to make ground cherries available, like other common fruits like tomatoes and pineapples.
Ground cherries have been subjected to gene editing, to make bigger ground cherries that are easier to harvest compared to the ground cherries currently found in the wild. Scientists are also looking to improve the appearance and taste of this fruit. The only concern is the acceptance of the consumers of genetically-modified ground cherry, considering the trend amongst consumers to opt for non-GMO foods.
Ground cherry plants are found in many parts of Texas. According to a news story from Austin, ground cherries are sold in H-E-B stores and Central Markets in Austin.
The use of pesticides is important to keep pests like cutworms, whiteflies, and flea beetles away from ground cherry plants.
- Cutworms – Pesticides such as carbaryl will kill cutworms attacking your ground cherries. Pyrethroid insecticides like cyfluthrin and the insecticide permethrin are also useful for this purpose.
- Flea beetles – The use of man-made pesticide carbaryl is the solution to rid of flea beetles. Other options include pyrethroid insecticides like cyfluthrin and Lambda cyhalothrin, pesticide malathion, pyrethrin spray, permethrin insecticide, and spinosad.
- Whiteflies – Malathion or Pyrethrins are effective against whiteflies.
Ground cherry is native to areas found in northern Mexico and Central America. It is commonly found today in Central America and South America. You will find ground cherries grown in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Ground cherries are commonly annuals in temperature areas and perennials in tropical areas.
It pays to be familiar with this plant because you may stumble across ground cherries planted alongside roads, which is common.
Enjoying Ground Cherries
Ground cherries taste like ripe tomatillos and pineapple. Some say it also tastes like vanilla. The texture is similar to eating tomatoes or grapes. It is common for people familiar with ground cherries to eat this fruit raw.
Always be careful with ground cherries. Most parts of the plant contain solanine (a glycoalkaloid poison found in species of the nightshade family) and solanidine (a poisonous steroidal alkaloid chemical compound). Just eat the fruit. And always make sure to remove the papery husk because this one is also toxic. And make sure to eat the fruit only when it is ripe and has turned yellow. That is the only time this is edible and safe to eat.
Make sure to rinse the ground cherries before eating, storing, or using them for cooking. Washing the fruits is important because it removes the sticky substance found on the fruit after removing the husk.
Keep ripe ground cherries at room temperature with the husk intact. If you store it somewhere cool, you can refrigerate it. Ripe ground cherries will keep in the refrigerator for five to seven days. Do not store them wet because the moisture will speed up the transition from ripe to going bad.
Ground cherries can be used for sweet and savory dishes. You can use pureed or cut ground cherries to make salsa. It is great with bread or nuts. Ground cherries are also an excellent ingredient for making cherry pie, upside down cake, or ground cherry tart. You can mix it with goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil and make an excellent appetizer, or mix it with green vegetables to make a fresh salad. You can also use ground cherries as ice cream, cereal, yogurt, or pancake toppings. Lastly, you can use ground cherries to make jams and preserves. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, ground cherries are great for dessert decorations, aperitifs, or liqueurs. It is also great for compotes, marinades, and sauces.
Ground cherries are rich in vitamins, protein, and fiber. It is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B, beta-carotene, phytosterols, antioxidants, and niacin. Ground cherries also have anti-inflammatory and medicinal properties.