Bitter Berries

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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bitter berries Solanum aethiopicum, also spelled bitterberry (one word), are a small orange/red pea-sized relation of the aubergine which are eaten in Africa as a vegetable by the wealthy but more often used to season steamed plantain or beans, sometimes mixed with sesame seeds or peanuts. They are very bitter and not the same thing as the Asian pea-sized aubergine, Solanum torvum, less bitter and often eaten raw.

Bitter berries are sometimes known as the ‘tomato of the Jews of Constantinople’, the Ladinos, expelled to Constantinople from Spain about 1500, whose ancestors had been expelled from Timbuktu in about AD 1400. These ‘berries’ are initially green, turning orange or red as they ripen, seldom more than 2 cm (1") in diameter. They are widely cultivated throughout most of tropical Africa. The Buganda people of Uganda celebrate the birth of twins by serving plantain and bitterberry sauce to the parents. It is thought to help milk production.