Malpighia emarginata is a tropical fruit-bearing shrub or small tree in the family Malpighiaceae. Common names include acerola (Portuguese pronunciation: [ɐse̞ˈɾɔ̞lɐ]), Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepemyrtle. Acerola is native to South America, Southern Mexico and Central America, but is now also being grown as far north as Texas and in subtropical areas of Asia, like India. It is known for being extremely rich in vitamin C, almost as much as camu camu, although it also contains vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3 as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids which provide important nutritive value and have antioxidant uses. The vitamin C produced by the fruit is better absorbed by humans than synthetic ascorbic acid.
M. emarginata is originally from Yucatán, and can be found in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, South America as far south as Peru and the south east region in Brazil, and in the southernmost parts of the contiguous United States (southern Florida and the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas),. It is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics throughout the world, including the Canary Islands, Ghana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, India, Java, Hawaii, and Australia.
Acerola can be propagated by seed, cutting and other methods. M. emarginata prefers dry sandy soil and full sun, and cannot endure temperatures lower than 30°F. Because of its shallow roots, it has very low tolerance to winds.
The leaves are simple ovate-lanceolate, 2–8 cm (0.79–3.1 in) long, 1–4 cm (0.39–1.6 in), and are attached to short petioles. They are opposite, ovate to elliptic-lanceolate, and have entire or undulating margins with small hairs, which can irritate skin.
Flowers are bisexual and 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) in diameter. They have five pale to deep pink or red fringed petals, ten stamens, and six to ten glands on the calyx. There are three to five flowers per inflorescence, which are sessile or short-peduncled axillary cymes.
After 3 years trees produce significant numbers of bright red drupes 1–3 cm (0.39–1.2 in) in diameter with a mass of 3–5 g (0.11–0.18 oz). Drupes are in pairs or groups of three, and each contains three triangular seeds. The drupes are juicy and very high in vitamin C(3-46g kg-1) and other nutrients. They are divided into three obscure lobes and are usually acid to subacid, giving them a sour taste, but may be sweet if grown well. While the nutrient composition depends on the species and environmental conditions, the most common components of acerola and their concentration range are as follow: proteins (2.1-8g), lipids (2.3-8g), carbohydrates (35.7-78g), calcium (117 mg), phosphor (171 mg), iron (2.4 mg), pyridoxine (87 mg), riboflavin (0.7 mg), thiamine (0.2 mg), water (906-920g) and dietic fibre (30g)
- Fruit can be used to make juices and pulps, both very rich in vitamin C and antioxidants;
- Acerola fruit can be used to produce vitamin C concentrate;
- Baby food and juice
A comparative analysis of antioxidant potency among a variety of frozen juice pulps was carried out, including the acerola fruit. Among the eleven fruits' pulps tested, acerola was the highest-scoring domestic fruit, meaning it had the most antioxidant potency, with a TEAC (Trolox equivalent antioxidant activity) score of 53.2 mmol g.
M. emarginata is a host plant for the caterpillars of the white-patched skipper (Chiomara asychis), Florida duskywing (Ephyriades brunneus), and brown-banded skipper (Timochares ruptifasciatus). Larvae of the acerola weevil (Anthonomus macromalus) feed on the fruits, while adults consume young leaves.
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