Acerola cherry, the vitamin C powerhouse

A THM Feature Article

AcerolaCherryWe all know how important vitamin C is to good health, and chances are the first fruit most of us equate with this vital nutrient is the orange.

No doubt about it, a fresh orange is a fine source of vitamin C. But consider this: a cupful of orange slices contains only a fraction of the vitamin C (95.8 mg) as a cupful of the little tropical cherry-like berry known by many names—Acerola cherry, Puerto Rican cherry,  wild crapemyrtle, West Indian cherry and Barbados cherry, to name a few.

By comparison to an orange, according to USDA nutritional data, a cupful of acerola cherries contains a whopping 1,644 mg of the essential C vitamin! In fact, a comparative analysis of antioxidant potency among a variety of frozen juice pulps was carried out at Purdue University, including acerola cherry, and among the many fruits tested, acerola cherry was by far the highest-scoring fruit, meaning it had the highest antioxidant potency.

Unfortunately, fresh acerola cherries are not readily available in most commercial supermarkets, so unless you are near West Indian or other specialty markets, or live where the fruits are cultivated or grow naturally, you’ll have to depend on high-quality juices and whole food supplements to take advantage of this nutritional powerhouse.

Acerola (Malpighia emarginata) is an evergreen shrub or small tree with spreading branches. The acerola bush prefers sandy soil and cannot tolerate cold. The fruits are very juicy and somewhat tart and are consumed heavily in areas where they are freshly available.

It is native to Yucatan, but spread into the wilds of Central and South America and southern Mexico. Today acerola is cultivated in the tropics and sub-tropics throughout the world, including the Canary Islands, Ghana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, India, Java, Hawaii and Australia. The plant was introduced into the United States (Florida) from Cuba in the late 1800s and today is cultivated in several areas of the United States, primarily in Texas and Florida.

Wikipedia describes the acerola cherry as a fruit that “arose like a Cinderella” from relative obscurity about half a century ago. After being brought to Florida it was grown casually until after World War II. During the war, seedlings were distributed to families to grow in their Victory Gardens.

The explosion of interest in the fruit occurred as a result of food analyses conducted by the School of Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico in 1945. Laboratory assistants at the university had become interested in the fact that many local people ate the ‘Barbados’ cherries to prevent and treat colds and flu. When the university scientists discovered the tremendous antioxidant/vitamin C content of the cherries, a plantation of 400 bush/trees was immediately established near the university in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, featuring the fruit under the Puerto Rican name of acerola. By 1954, there were 30,000 of the little trees in commercial groves on the island.

There was a great flurry of excitement about the antioxidant qualities of this newly recognized fruit, and plantings were established in several countries, including Jamaica, Venezuela, Guatemala, India, the Philippines, Florida, U.S. and Queensland, Australia.

Agronomists and other scientists scurried to improve and enlarge the little berry. Plantings were even established at many schools in various countries where the climate was appropriate in order to defray colds and other ailments common to schoolchildren.

Sadly, enthusiasm dwindled when it was realized that the powerful natural ascorbic acid of the acerola cherry could not compete economically with the much cheaper synthetic ascorbic acid/vitamin C that was beginning to flood the market. By the 1960s the great and successful sales pitch ushering in the age of synthetic medicine, created from such material as the byproducts of oil production, had gained a foothold in the public mind and heart.

The interest in natural healing and healthful living waned for a time as people became enthralled with the instant comforts and conveniences of packaged and highly processed synthetic foods and medicines.

But in the last decades, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with synthetics for many reasons, including the fact that synthetics cannot harmonize efficiently with the many (and still not completely understood) operational facets of the complex human body.

The demand for the ‘real stuff’ continues to increase today among informed individuals. Our bodies, after all, are natural. They are the ‘real stuff’ and, in the long run require the ‘real stuff’ to maintain them properly. And that is the subject of this article.

Acerola cherry, with its rich antioxidant properties, is just one of the thousands of substances nature provides for our health and well-being.

An antioxidant is described by researchers at Princeton University as “a compound that helps fight free-radical damage.” A free radical is a molecule that is missing an electron, so to make itself stable it will steal an electron from an otherwise healthy molecule. When free radicals repeatedly steal electrons, they cause damage to healthy cells which leads to problems such as premature aging, inflammation and diseases.(See how important an adequate amount of daily vitamin C is!? Vitamin C must be replenished every day, as it does not stay in the body).

It is established that acerola cherries are super-abundant in vitamin C/antioxidant content, but they also contain compounds called anthocyanins, which add even more antioxidant properties.

According to the 2007 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, anthcyanins help lower the risk of heart disease, enhance memory function, protect developing fetal brain tissue, protect against headaches, act as an anti-inflammatory, help regulate blood sugar and reduce the risks and effects of obesity.

Other beneficial components of the acerola cherry include magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, niacin, vitamin A, iron, zinc, vitamins B1 and B2, protein, fatty acids and fiber. Acerola cherry compounds are used in the natural health world not only to prevent or treat colds and flu, but to treat tooth decay and gum infections, depression, stress and hay fever. It is also used to build the immune system after cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Athletes use acerola for improving physical endurance.

In areas where the acerola cherry grows, it is eaten both for taste pleasure and to treat various ailments. For instance, in Brazil (the world’s heaviest users of acerola cherry) it is used to treat tuberculosis, diabetes and rheumatism. In Venezuela it is a remedy against breast disorders and bowel inflammation.

The bottom line is, a strong immune system fortified by natural antioxidants is the basis for warding off most diseases. And there is no single food that delivers an antioxidant punch like acerola cherry.

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Additional sources for this article include:, and

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