I always wondered about the Peruvian claim to the origin of ceviche, a marinated seafood cocktail. In our part of the Gulf of Mexico, ceviche is always made with either lime juice, sour orange juice, or vinegar, all of which are products of the Old World. I wondered if the original recipe somehow had roots in the Middle East, or Far East, where vinegar and citrus come from.
But while I was in Peru, I learned about Passiflora edulis, also known as granadilla, maracuya, or passion fruit. Native to the Americas, passion fruit was used by the Incas to make ceviche from time immemorial. Vines of passion fruit can be found looping through tall trees in most home and office gardens. Almost every place I visited, granadilla or passion fruit was offered to us, free of charge, in even the most humble homes. So of course, it is incorporated into every beverage, salad, and main dish.
Not only is passion fruit sweet, delicious and a great source of vitamin C, the acid in passion fruit juice is what is needed to make ceviche. Adding an acid to any fish or meat changes its pH level, making it more acidic, and less alkaline. Changing the pH of a fish filet causes immediate changes in its molecular structure, and “denatures” the proteins, which means it changes the natural folds and twists in a protein strand. Once the protein strand changes shape, water is released from the flesh of the fish, giving it a firmer texture. The change in pH also destroys harmful bacteria, making the uncooked fish safe to eat without the need to light a fire or find a frying pan.
Bad news? Rarely can you find fresh passion fruit in the produce aisle here in the US. If you do, they are very expensive, and it’s a real pain to extract the juice (One of my worst kitchen cuts was trying to wrestle open a passion fruit with a knife.) The good news is there is packaged passion fruit juice available at the grocery store, ready to use. I wasn’t too clear what other juices were added to the juice product I purchased, and how that affected its pH level, so I added some fresh lime juice, for good measure.
I made my first batch of passion fruit ceviche a couple of days ago, and got rave reviews. Super easy, and an excellent option for a light, healthy summer dish.
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