Diversify Your Diet

Try some cocona cake, casserole, or creamsickles

The Solonanceae family has given us such popular vegetables as the tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers, and tobacco. Many other lesser known, under-exploited Solonaceae species are waiting to become our new flavor favorites. The versatile cocona (Solanum sessiflorum), or peach-tomato, is one such vegetable. Cocona shows great potential to contribute significantly to lowland tropical subsistence agriculture and commercial production as well.

A chameleon in the kitchen

The cocona plant looks like an eggplant but its fruit resembles a tomato. The fruit can be eaten plain, or used in a wide range of dishes. It can be tossed into fruit or vegetable salads, or blended into ices, juices, or marmalades. The cocona fruit can also be used in place of the tomato in dishes from pastas to pies. It is high in vitamins A, C, and niacin, which are particularly important to woman and children in tropical environments. In Peru cocona is valued for its medicinal properties.

A survivor on the slopes

Cocona is a hardy plant, adapted to the wet humid tropics of the upper Amazon and altitudes below 1000 m. It can survive on acid soils of low fertility where few other crops are produced. On rich, alluvial soils it thrives.

Cocona is not new to small farmers in Iquitos, Peru. They tend the fruit in swidden gardens or yard gardens and sell it on a limited scale. The large fruit variety is preferred for its flesh, the small-fruited variety is used for juice. Wild populations are spiny, cultivated ones are not. People usually weed out the spiny varieties from their gardens. Cocona is sold on a seasonal basis in Lima at a single cocona stand in the public market. A small company in San Ramon, Peru, cans a limited amount of cocona juice and exports it to Lima and Italy.

Cocona stores, transports and processes very well, remaining fresh for 40 days after harvest. Its optimum yield on alluvial soils is about 100 tons/ha.

Cocona production could be increased with denser planting. Farmers plant cocona at a density of 2m x 1m, but a mature plant only occupies 1m2. In trials, the large-variety cocona planted at a density of .5m2 yielded up to 100 tons/ha under optimal conditions, as compared to a yield of 15 tons/ha at the traditional spacing (2m x 1m) under the same conditions.

In breeding trials, maternal inheritance dominated fruit characteristics. This trait makes breeding and production easier for the small farmer.

Cocona has been recognized by the The National Academy of Sciences as one of 36 underexploited tropical plants of promising economic value due to these advantages:

  • it is already being marketed and processed locally,
  • it is versatile and can be marketed for multiple uses,
  • it transports well, lasts long after harvest, and processes well,
  • it is nutritious and particularly well suited to local nutritional needs,
  • breeding is not difficult, allowing local farmers more control,
  • yield can be greatly improved and available space can be optimized by adapting plant spacing,
  • It can be grown on poorer soils,

    In summary, Cocona offers much potential for both subsistence farming and industrial processing, depending on the variety grown, and local land capability, management and capital inputs. This fruit thus merits more research and development.

    Salick, J. Cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum) Production and Breeding Potentials of the Peach-tomato. 1990. New Crops for Food Industry, p.p. 257-264. Edited by G.E. Wickens et. al. Chapman and Hall.

    Salick, J. Crop Domestication and the Evolutionary Ecology of Cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum Dunal).1992. Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 26, p.p. 247-285. Plenum Press, New York.