A shrub of cape gooseberry
Other names: Golden berry, poha, rasbharee
Cape gooseberry, called poha in Hawaii and RASBHAREE (full of juice) in India, was distributed by early explorers and first reported in England in 1774. A commercial crop in many countries, the poha is often found in Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. First reported on the Big Island in 1825, the fruit is common in the wild as well as cultivated for home and commercial use around the state.
Ripe fruits of cape gooseberry after removing the husk
The plant is a low growing shrub with velvety leaves and yellow bell-shaped flowers.
Mature fruit is round and orange skinned with many edible seeds. It is juicy and sweet with a distinctive flavor.
Poha is also known as golden berry in many English-speaking countries. In Australia, it is marketed under the cultivar names ‘Golden Nugget’ and ‘New Sugar Giant’. Growers in New Zealand often take cuttings from plants that produce the sweetest fruit for propagation.
Poha is commonly found at upper elevations on mountain slopes from 1000 to 4000 feet and reported occurring as high as 8000 feet. Plants at lower elevations usually produce smaller fruit. The shallow root system prefers well-drained soil. The plants are among the first to take root in newly cleared land and do will in relatively poor soils. Fertile soils favor vegetative growth over fruit production. The plant will become dormant during extended periods of drought unless irrigation is used. Harvesting is facilitated when plants are spaced 4 to 6 feet apart in rows and sometimes trellised or staked. Experiments in raised beds helped to minimize labor when harvesting.
Cape gooseberry developing fruits on plant enclosed by husk
Poha is tolerant of a wide variety of soils with pH 5.0 to 6.5. Poha has a shallow root system, mulch and organic soil amendments help to retain water and nutrients. Plants at the 12 Trees Project were given 1/4-cup of 6-6-6 organic fertilizer every 4 months, placed around the drip line. Fruit ripening can take several months and harvesting generally occurs 60 to 100 days after flowering. Poha should be severely pruned after harvest and plants should be replaced after 3 to 4 years when fruit size and yield diminish.
Pests and Diseases
The Broad mite, Polyphagotarsonemus latus, feeds by puncturing the stem and sucking the sap from the wound. This will cause stunted growth, discolored leaves and deformed young foliage. Solanaceous treehopper; Antianthe expansa, thrips and various beetles can also affect the poha plant. Sooty mold; Asteridiella acervata, root-knot nematode; Meloidogyne sp., and bacterial wilt; Pseudomonas solanacearum, are among a number of pathogens that can also affect poha. In general good field sanitation, proper horticultural practices and an integrated pest management program can prevent crop damage.
A flower of cape gooseberry
Poha is usually started from seed but can be started from stem cuttings 6 to 8 inches in length. Use of a rooting hormone will induce rooting. Young seedlings are susceptible to high temperatures and it is advisable to plant them in the late afternoon or when cloudy. Seedlings should be kept moist and shaded.
Harvesting and Yield
Poha is harvested every few days when the husks are dry and turn to a straw color. It is often picked in the afternoon when there is little moisture. Many growers shake the bush so that the dry husks fall and are easily picked up from the ground. Plastic sheets are sometimes placed under the plants to catch the fallen fruit.
Harvest of cape gooseberry fruits
Plants at lower elevations, (300 feet to 700 feet), under irrigation, produce smaller fruit but in larger quantities, sometimes more than 1000 fruit per shrub. Higher elevations (700 feet to 3000 feet), with no irrigation produce an average of 300 larger sized fruit per shrub. Averages in South America are 3000 pounds of fruit per acre. Laborers produce 10 to 12 pounds of husked fruit per hour.
Poha will last up to several months when dry and in husk. Large commercial produces store them in husk at 33oF. They will keep more than a year when husked and frozen. The husks are kept on when shipping the fruit and it should be stored dry.
Cost of Production
The three project poha trees produced an annual average marketable yield of 2.8 pounds. The average market price was $7.00 per pound, and therefore the trees generated a gross revenue of $58.80 for the year. Growing costs (fertilization, irrigation, pruning and all weed and pest control) amounted to $42.63, and harvesting costs (picking, packing and delivery to market) totaled $88.04. (All labor to grow and harvest the pohas was assumed to be paid at an hourly wage rate of $16.00, including withholding, FICA and benefits.) Thus, the total annual operating costs, sometimes referred to as “variable costs,” were a negative $88.04. The gross margin (gross revenue minus all operating costs) was a negative $29.24.
The poha gross margin is the amount of money available to pay all the ownership costs associated with the poha enterprise. Ownership costs, sometimes referred to as “fixed costs,” include the value of land used (rent or rent equivalent or mortgage and property taxes), the value of the capital investment (such as the tree establishment cost and buildings and vehicles), the value of the management, and the value of any unpaid labor. (All paid labor is already included in the gross margin.) Ownership costs, unlike operating costs, will vary substantially from farm to farm and will depend largely on how the farming operation is financed and on economies of scale. Each grower will have to calculate his total farm ownership costs and then allocate an appropriate portion of these costs to each enterprise on the farm. Now the profitability of the poha enterprise can be determined by subtracting the poha enterprise’s share of the total ownership costs from the gross margin for poha.
The cost and return data are what was obtained from the 12 Trees Project site and other locations. Yields and costs were based on optimal growing conditions for one or more trees at various locations; different results will be obtained under different growing conditions. The prices used were actually obtained in 2005 and 2006. There is no guarantee that these prices will continue, especially if production increases significantly. These costs and returns are simply a starting point for growers to make their own estimates.
Packaging, Pricing and Marketing
In Hawaii, fruit is often sold husked in local groceries and farmers markets. In Japan the fruit grown in South America is sold in husk, in small blister packs. Locally grown poha can wholesale for as much as $3.50 in husk and $7.00 husked to restaurants, but often found cheaper in grocery stores. Jam manufacturers and restaurants continuously seek fresh and fresh frozen husked poha though out the state.
Food Uses and Nutrition
Often eaten fresh, poha is made into jelly and jam as well as canned whole. In Europe it is dipped into chocolate or used to decorate cakes. The fruit is also used in a wide variety of sauces.
Health Benefits- Poha is a source of phosphorus, that helps the body to process vitamins and aids in the conversion of food to energy. The primary benefit of phosphorus is the building of bones and teeth when balanced with calcium and magnesium. Poha also contains a cross section of different bioflavonoids (vitamin P), which help with anti inflammation and act as natural blood thinners.
The author is grateful to Drs. R. Bowen, B. Brunner, K Fleming, R. Paull and F. Zee for their valuable contributions to this manuscript.