Now that farmers markets have been opening gradually across the nation, you may stumble upon a food at produce stands you’ve never tasted before: ground cherries. They aren’t actually cherries; they’re related to tomatillos and tomatoes and are sometimes called husk cherries, strawberry tomatoes or cape gooseberries. They tend to be in season when tomatoes and tomatillos ripen, typically in July and August.
Ground cherries are golden yellow, round and bite-sized, like cherry tomatoes, but they grow inside of husks, like tomatillos. They also have a more tropical, fruity flavor than tomatoes or tomatillos. “I would describe it as a cherry tomato meets a pineapple-mango,” says Alicia Romano, RD.
Ground cherries aren’t typically sold in supermarkets, although they may be found in farmers markets. “I imagine ground cherries are not widely seen in stores because they may not be as well-known [or] popular,” says Julie Weisenhorn, MA, an associate extension professor with the University of Minnesota Department of Horticultural Science in St. Paul. “Premature fruit drop [may also be] a problem, especially from a commercial grower’s standpoint, which leads to fruit on the ground and potential foodborne illnesses.”
Ground cherries are rich in antioxidants, high in fiber and a good source of vitamins A and C, plus B vitamins like beta-carotene. “Similar to other golden-orange fruits and vegetables, the bright pigment of the ground cherry indicates the presence of carotenoids, a phytonutrient linked to many health-promoting properties, including anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects and potential role in decreased risk of heart disease and poor eye [or] skin health,” says Romano.
- Eat them raw
Thanks to their sweetness, ground cherries are tasty right out of the husk, without any additional preparation, other than washing. You can also “add them to vegetable platters or slice and pair them with your favorite tangy cheese,” says Romano.
- Make fruity salsa
Chop ground cherries and mix them with tomatoes, tomatillos, onions and peppers for a slightly fruity traditional salsa, or toss them with diced mangoes, jalapenos and lime juice for a fruitier twist on mango salsa. Ground cherries also stand up well to a blender or food processor, if you prefer smooth salsa. “They are actually extremely versatile and can be used in a number of preparations, including pureed into a salsa verde,” Romano says.
- Add them to salads
Ground cherries can be a sweet addition to salads, whether you use them as a tomato substitute or replacement for grapes, says Romano. Consider adding them to a Caprese salad for a tropical twist, mix them into a watermelon-avocado salad or create something original that incorporates ingredients you love. “I like to make a salad with garden greens and/or spinach, goat cheese, sunflower seeds and sweet white balsamic dressing,” says Weisenhorn.
- Grill them
“I would try grilling them as part of a shish kabob with pork, green onions and mushrooms and a soy sauce [and] sweet chili glaze,” says Weisenhorn. You can also use ground cherries in this grilled chicken bruschetta recipe in lieu of tomatoes.
- Use them in dessert
Some people bake with ground cherries, since they impart a fruity sweetness. If you enjoy making pies or cobblers, experiment with whole ground cherries as the sole filling, or mix them with sliced peaches or strawberries. “They would also be delicious added to homemade ice cream, especially coconut ice cream, to give it a tropical flavor,” adds Weisenhorn.
If you find ground cherries at the farmers market, take some home. They can be a tasty, versatile and nutrient-dense ingredient for countless lunch, dinner and dessert options. “Ground cherries are an excellent addition to a balanced and colorful diet,” Romano says.
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