I went to the beach today with my mom and kids. And even though we brought our own food along with us, we were very excited to discover that the num nums were in season and ready to eat.
Yes, there really is a food called num nums. Large num nums in particular. Sounds inappropriate, but its really just this yummy fruit, originating from South Africa, and now cultivated and used as shrubbery in warm climates throughout the world.
Its scientific name is carissa macrocarpa. It's also known as natal plums, even though it's not related whatsoever to plums- its most closely related to the very deadly oleander.
I first found out that this fruit was edible when I was visiting my mother in law's apartment while the gardener was trimming the shrubbery. I noticed the round red fruit and asked him if they were edible or poisonous- he popped one into his mouth, told me it's called carissa, and it's edible and tasty.
I then realized that most of the bushes all the way down her street were actually this plant, and they were covered in this delicious fruit.
So, what do large num nums taste like, how can you use them, and how do you identify them?
First off, I need to say that this plant is somewhat poisonous- the leaves, etc... are poisonous, but the ripe fruit are not. Only pick fruit that are no longer green.
When the fruit are pink, they're sweet and sour, but more sour than sweet, reminiscent of cranberries.
When the fruit are red, they taste like a cross between strawberries and raspberries, with a touch of tartness.
And when the fruit get so ripe that they're dark red/maroon/purplish, they end up tasting even more like overripe raspberries.
They're yummy enough that my kids and I couldn't stop gobbling them up today.
Here's how to identify them:
They are either a low lying shrub or hedges.
Num num plants have shiny dark green leaves, each round and about the size of a quarter, growing in tight clusters along the stems. The leaves curve and seem to be growing overlapping each other.
There are large 5 petaled white star shaped flowers, which aren't usually on the plant the same time as the fruit. There are also double thorns- a distinctive feature.
The fruit are usually ripe in the warmer months, and are around the size of a golf ball, but sometimes smaller or bigger. They're mostly rounded but sometimes with a bit of a pointy end, and ranging from pink to maroon.
When you pick the fruit, it exudes a milky, latex sap. I assume therefore that someone with a latex allergy should avoid eating num nums.
They contain brown oatmeal shaped/sized seeds- some say they're poisonous and you should remove them first, others say its fine to eat them as well. Your judgment call.
Nutritionally, num nums aren't bad at all- they're really high in vitamin C, contain iron, potassium, and copper and even contains some protein.
Eat them raw as I do, or cook them up into jams, sauces, pies, fruit soup, etc... They're yummy- even my picky eater niece loves them.
Be careful, though, because they do spoil quickly.
Have you ever seen num num plants growing anywhere? Ever heard of them before? Does this look like something you'd be interested in tasting/picking?