One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning (while hubby is sleeping in) is going to the wet market and checking out the fresh and seasonal produce. Last Sunday I was on a mission to buy some lychees because they just came into season. And as I scanned the fruit stalls for lychees, I noticed one vendor selling baskets of purple berries (resembling jumbo raspberries) that I’ve never tried before.
It turns out the mysterious berry was a Yumberry (also known as Yang Mei / 杨梅). This fruit is native to China (popular in Shanghai) and has been around for centuries, but in recent years it has been promoted as a superfruit in the US and is primarily sold as a juice.
This delicate berry looks like a spherical raspberry, but when you bite into it, the texture resembles a strawberry and tastes a bit like a pomegranate. Similar to a cherry it has a small pit in the centre. The color of the yumberry can vary from white to red to deep purple. The ones I got were a beautiful deep purple hue and they were sweet and mildly sour with a hint of tartness.
A friendly woman who was also purchasing the yumberry sensed I was foreign to the berry, so she kindly took the time to teach me how to handle this exotic fruit :
- Thoroughly wash the yumberries under running water.
- In a salted water bath, soak the berries for 20-30 mins. This will remove some of the dirt lodged in the berries and remove small worms that could hide in the bumpy surface (this grossed me out a bit and luckily I didn’t see any worms).
- Using drinkable water stir in 1/2 tsp of salt and submerge the berries in the salted water again, and refrigerate for a day.
The lady explained the last step helps cleanse the berries some more, and makes them tastier. I am not sure if any of this is true, but I happily followed her instructions.
The yumberry is only in season for a few weeks a year (around June, I believe), so if you can get your hands on some, I recommend you give them a try!
Cost: HKD15 for a basket of 24
Fresh yumberries in China
I went yumberry picking for the first time this weekend. I’m sure you’re wondering what a yumberry is because it sounds like a fruit straight from Alice’s Wonderland. I actually had to look it up because I only knew the Chinese name, 杨梅 (yang mei). Yumberry is also known as the Chinese bayberry, waxberry or Chinese strawberry tree. It’s a super interesting fruit because it’s native to the Zhejiang province in China and is only in season for two weeks out of the entire year!
Yumberry trees in Ningbo
This past weekend, some family friends took me and my brother to Ningbo to go straight to the source and pick the freshest yumberries possible. Ningbo is about a 3-hour drive away from Shanghai. A major thanks goes out to our friends who drove us so far to share a piece of Chinese culture with us. This truly was a unique experience and I felt really lucky to not only be in China to eat yumberries, but also to actually pick them in the wild!
Up close and personal
It’s hard to describe what a yumberry tastes like. The outside of the fruit is completely bumpy, but it has the consistency of a seedless strawberry. Inside is a pit that looks exactly like a cherry pit. In terms of its sweet and tart taste, I think the closest comparison would be pomegranate seeds. The juice definitely stains like a pomegranate and you do not want to get it on your clothes.
A local man picks from his perch.
I learned that it takes 10 years before the trees bear fruit and you want to pick the berries early in the morning before the sun comes out. Apparently, once the sun hits the fruit, they turn red. You actually want to pick the darker, blacker yumberries, which are much sweeter. For some reason, yumberries have a natural pesticide so bugs don’t eat them AND yumberries also cure stomach ailments. My family friends from Shanghai told me that when they were younger, their parents would limit how much fruit they could eat. They were allowed to eat as many yumberries as they wanted though because it was good for their digestion.
For every fruit picked, four or five fall down.
Our bounty is plentiful only because we had professionals with us.
These were being sold for the cheapest price because they were red and not as sweet.
Heading back to the harvesters’ house
All the yumberries were collected and sold in baskets. The lady explained to me that she covers the baskets with leaves to prevent the fruit from drying out.
Superfruits are still hot, in spite of the growing criticism on the excessive promotion of some of them.
China is well-positioned to gain from the superfruits craze (also see my post about the seabuckthorn). Yumberry, for example, is unique to the country, and produces good quality, clarified not from concentrate juice, but also excellent concentrate. China is good for 90% of the global yumberry production, with sporadic occurrence in Japan, India, Vietnam and Thailand. China produced 832,680 mt of yumberies in 2016, from 745,600 mt in 2012. Zhejiang province is the largest production region, with more than 570,000 mt in 2016.
Yumberry is the commercial name for the yangmei berry, a fruit of the wax myrtle; also known in English as waxberry (Myrica rubra), the fruit has a high antioxidant activity and high vitamin and mineral content. Yumberries look a little bit like a raspberry with a sweet-sour flavour similar to cranberry and pomegranate juice. Their texture is unique – slightly stringy like the flesh of citrus fruit – with a pit in the centre.
Yumberry juice is rich in antioxidants like proanthocyanidins and contains many vitamins including vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, and carotene. Yumberries are also said to help clear up hard-to-digest food in your stomach, cure stomach aches and “dispel summer heat.” They have been used since ancient times in China for medicinal purposes, and as early as the 16th century, the well-known herbal pharmacologist Li Shizhen said that yumberries could:
“Eliminate sputum, stop vomiting, helpful to digestion and alcoholic drinking … quench thirst, conciliate the five internal organs, cleanse stomach and intestines, remove the muddleheaded … and be efficacious to cure diarrhoea.”
Further, because the trees have a high tolerance to pests and diseases, they are often grown organically or with few pesticides applied to them.
66% of the output of 2016 was consumed as fresh fruit. 15% was processed into juice or concentrate, 5% was exported and 20% was wasted in various stages of processing. The latter is high for such a valuable product, but offal is unfortunately still a major problem in China.
Juice production is hampered by its short season which lasts only one month, in which processors struggle to process all the fruits on time. However, its rising popularity in the health beverage boom will certainly benefit the industry.
The international superfruit industry discovered the value of yumberries before health drinks started to get popular among Chinese consumers.
- US juice supplier SunOpta has entered into an exclusive supply agreement with China’s Zhejiang Yumberry Juice Co., Ltd to market yumberry juice concentrate in North-America. The harvested fruit is carefully selected, pressed, de-pectinised, filtered, concentrated and pasteurised, before being shipped to North America.
- Bombilla and Gourd, a US tea drinks company, has moved into the fruit juices sector. Its new Super Fruits line, launched last April, comprises four blends: orange/ mango, yumberry/lime, açaí/blueberry and pomegranate/lemonade, in 600 ml plastic bottles.
- Fruttzo, another US fruit juice maker, has introduced a yumberry juice range. The ruby red, 100% juice has no preservatives, added sugars or added colours and comes in pure 100% yumberry form, or blended with pomegranate, blueberry or cherry. It is packed in 12 oz recyclable glass bottles and is on sale nationwide.
- In the UK, Uren Food Group‘s innovation division Juicevibe has developed a yumberry juice blend, claimed to be the first in the country. The 100% juice blend has been listed by a major retailer. Endorsed by Heart Research UK, it has secured approval from the Food Standards Agency so the fruit will not be subject to review under EU novel food regulations.
At this moment, it is still uncertain if the yumberry has a future in Europe. While the supermarkets in my home country are flooded with blueberries, which are often rather tasteless, perhaps because the growers want to cash in on the superfruit image, instead of concentrating on making a tasty product, I have never seen a yumberry of yumberry product, outside China. Whenever I do, I will add my finding to this post.
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Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.
Mr. Xanthos agreed. “It’s the best name in the history of fruit,” he said.
The Chinese harvested yang-mei from the wild for 5,000 years before they cultivated it. The bushy evergreens thrive in the otherwise infertile hillsides in the warm, humid areas from Shanghai to Hainan. In the last 25 years, with the introduction of superior varieties and growing practices, production surged to some 865,000 acres, although much fruit is still gathered from semiwild stands. (By comparison, the United States has about 432,000 acres of apples, about 856,000 of citrus trees and 1,044,000 of grapes, the only American fruit crop with greater acreage.)
The canned fruit is sometimes imported and sold here, mislabeled as arbutus, a Mediterranean fruit of inferior flavor which it superficially resembles. Yang-mei is also processed as a dried, sweetened and salted snack. The fruit is important in traditional Chinese medicine.
For best flavor, fresh yang-mei, harvested from May to mid-July, must be picked ripe, at which point it is as perishable as a raspberry. Although the Chinese have sent small shipments of the fresh fruit to Europe, its importation to the United States is forbidden, to keep out insect pests.
United States Department of Agriculture records say Myrica rubra trees, cuttings or seeds were imported at least 20 times from 1898 to 1962. Frank Meyer, the agricultural explorer known for introducing the Meyer lemon, brought yang-mei from China, and wrote in 1911, “Wherever it could be grown in the United States its fruit would be a very pleasant addition indeed.”
So it seems mysterious that no one is cultivating it in the Southeast, where it could prosper. From about 1960, Ralph Sharpe and Wayne Sherman, fruit breeders at the University of Florida, kept a row of the trees in Gainesville, where three remain. They were grown as ornamentals, and while they bear copiously, the fruit is rather resinous, said Mr. Sherman, now a professor emeritus.
For now, at least, juice is the best way to taste this fruit.
Myrica Rubra is a subtropical tree grown for its sweet, crimson to dark purple-red, edible fruit. It is native to eastern Asia, mainly in China, where it has been grown for at least 2000 years. Chinese cultivation is concentrated south of the Yangtze River, where it is of considerable economic importance. Its niche is forests on mountain slopes and valleys at altitudes of 100-1500 m. It is native to Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang. Also naturalized in Taiwan, Japan, Nepal, Korea, and the Philippines. It is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree growing up to 10–20 m (33–66 ft) high, with smooth gray bark and a uniform spherical to hemispherical crown. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. It tolerates poor acidic soils. The root system is 5–60 cm (2.0–24 in) deep, with no obvious taproot. The fruit is spherical, 1.5–2.5 cm (0.59–0.98 in) in diameter, with a knobby surface. The surface color is typically a deep, brilliant red, but may vary from white to purple. The flesh color is similar to surface color, or somewhat lighter. The flesh is sweet and very tart. At the center is a single seed, with a diameter about half that of the whole fruit.
The Red Bayberry is a small to medium sub tropical tree originally from China and is known as the ‘Chinese Tree berry’ or ‘Yangmei’. The sweet tasting fruit of Myrica rubra or ‘ Red Bayberry’ is used in deserts and also is claimed to have medicinal uses.
Clusters of bright red fruit, requires humidity to ripen properly and when grown properly they are a valuable crop. The fruit is sweet and juicy with a pip or stone similar to a cherry stone in size.
One of the problems is that the fruit does not ‘travel’ well once picked, this has limited commercial growing of the fruit in Australia. It is also the cultivars that have been developed in China for many years that provide the best fruit, so growing from seed can be problematical.
In Japan the Red Bayberry is known as ‘Yamamomo’, ‘Mountain Peach’ or ‘Chinese Strawberry’ and is used to make herbal tea.
The tree itself is fast growing when grown in good soil with moisture and warmth, and works well as an ornamental tree as well as fruiting tree.
Although regarded as a tropical to sub tropical fruit tree, trial plantations can be found in the Atherton Tablelands to as far south as Melbourne.
Myrica rubra ‘Red Bayberry’ Growing Conditions.
The tree has both male and female forms, both are required for pollination.
- Botanical Nane – Myrica rubra
- Common Names – Red Bayberry, Chinese Strawberry, Yumberry, Japanese Bayberry.
- Climate – Best in subtropical climates for the fruit to ripen correctly.
- Soil – Well drained
- Position – Full sun
- Foliage – Evergreen foliage, mid green.
- Root system – Shallow.
- Fruiting period – Mid summer
- Height – This is a tree that can reach 15 in height, usually pruned to less than this.
- Spread – Forms crown to around 6 – 7 metres over time.
Myrica ceriferaor ‘Bayberry’ is originally from Southern USA where it is also known as Bay-rum tree, Candleberry and Sweet Gale. It is a deciduous to semi-evergreen plant depending on climate. Myrica ceriferaor is used to make the well known ‘Bayberry candles’
Red Bayberry may be propagated from seeds or cuttings. However you will need both male and female forms to have a fruiting tree.