Ugni molinae is a shrub native to Chile and adjacent regions of southern Argentina. The Mapuche native american name is “Uñi”, and Spanish names include “Murta” and “Murtilla” (“little myrtle”); and the “Ugni” is also sometimes known as “Chilean guava” (it is related to the Guava, though not closely so; and really is more like a small cranberry). Some commercial “strawberry flavouring” is made from this species, not from strawberries. They make the best jelly in the world and you have Queen Victoria’s word for it. It had been introduced to England in 1844 and became a favorite fruit of Queen Victoria. The processed fruits are beginning to enter the world markets. In its natural habitat; the Valdivian temperate rain forest the fruit matures in autumn from March to May. New growth is bronze and burgundy. But it’s those tasty berries for which the Chilean guava is beloved.
This lovely evergreen has shiny, fragrant foliage that tells you it’s a member of the myrtle family. Though, it is not related to the cranberry (which the small red berries resemble ). The delicious 3/4″ fruits have a wild strawberry taste. It was first described by Juan Ignacio Molina (hence its name) in 1782. It is grown as an ornamental plant. The fruit (“Ugniberry”) is cultivated to a small extent. The usage of the fruit in cuisine is limited to Southern Chile where it grows. The Ugniberry is known as “New Zealand cranberry” in New Zealand and marketed as the “Tazziberry” in Australia, but it is not a native plant to these countries.
Ugni is a shrub 30-170 cm tall, with evergreen foliage. The leaves are opposite, oval, 1-2 cm long and 1-1.5 cm broad, entire, glossy dark green. The leaves produce a spicy scent if crushed. The plant produces drooping flowers, 1 cm in diameter, with four to five white to pale pink petals with numerous short stamens. The berry is a small red, white or purple berry 1 cm in diameter. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees. The usage of the berries in cuisine is limited to southern Chile where it grows. It is used to make the traditional liqueur Murtado, jam, dessert and cakes.
The Chilean Guava was very popular in the 1800’s in England, but only recently has begun to regain popularity and use as a fruiting and ornamental plant. Chilean guava berries are, like mulberries, the fruit equivalent of fresh peas – it’s hard to get beyond just popping them in as sweets, and for the first year or two when the harvest is modest there’s simply nothing better to eat fresh in the garden in winter. The berries are also particularly fine in preserves. Try making a delicious and colourful jam, as well as the jelly that was Queen Victoria’s favourite. One way to eating them is by making murta con membrillo, a very popular Chilean pudding made by simmering together quince and the little berries.
To make your own, begin by pouring about 1.4 litres of water into a pan with 150g caster sugar, 75g clear honey and 3 tbsp lemon juice. Bring to a simmer as you prepare the fruit. Quarter, peel and core about 4 quinces, tipping them into the water as each one is ready to stop them from browning. Simmer for at least an hour until the quince start to feel tender when pierced with a knife (this may take up to 2 hours, depending on the quince). Add a couple of handfuls of Chilean guava and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Try it with Greek yoghurt or spooned over ice cream or a slab of Madeira cake.
Queen Victoria tried her best to promote it in the 19th century – she had her favourite fruit sent by train to London from the mild climate of Cornwall where it was grown for her table. The usage of the berries in cuisine is limited to southern Chile where it grows. It is used to make the traditional liqueur Murtado, jam, dessert and cakes.
Flan with Murtillas
12 cup butter (softened)
12 cup granulated sugar
12 tsp almond extract
112 cups flour
112 tsps baking powder
14 tsp salt
5 cups Ugniberries
2 tbsps orange liqueur
1 tsp lemon rind (finely grated)
2 cups sour cream
2 egg yolks
12 cup sugar
12 tsp almond extract
In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until blended. Beat in egg and almond extract. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Pour over batter and stir until blended. Pat over bottom and 2-inches up side of greased 10-inch spring form pan. Set aside. Toss Ugniberries with Liqueur and lemon rind.