Discover sweet-tart physalis

Coconut crème caramel with glazed physalis
Coconut crème caramel with glazed physalis

Would you buy a fruit that sounds like a disease?

If not, you’d better call the physalis by one of its many other names, perhaps Cape gooseberry or ground cherry.

Sweet and tart, with an exotic perfume, these golden berries are enclosed in a papery straw-coloured calyx that adds to their mystique. Pull it back and pop the berry into your mouth for a tropical taste sensation, described as part tomato, strawberry, grape and gooseberry.

Wolfgang Breisser, CEO of Jaycee Herb Traders in Guelph, has imported physalis for close to 15 years and says demand is on the rise as Canadians discover their unique flavour.

Breisser imports the berries from Israel between January and March and from Colombia between April and December, with high season in late fall.

In recent years, locally-grown ground cherries have appeared at Toronto farmers markets in mid-August. Quebecers also love their cerises à terre and buy plants in the spring to grow in their garden. Though smaller than the imported variety, local berries can be just as tasty.


  •  Physalis grow wild around the world and may have originated in South America. South Africans adopted it more than a century ago and named it Cape gooseberry.
  • Its name comes from the Greek word “physa”, meaning bladder, the airy calyx or husk that surrounds the berry. The family includes green tomatillos and the inedible red Chinese lantern in your garden.

Buy & Store

  •  In supermarkets, look for a small 100-gram basket lightly covered with plastic. I paid $1.99 at No Frills, but saw others for $3.99.
  • Choose firm berries with a crisp calyx and no sign of mould.
  • Let sit at room temperature a day or two or refrigerate for several weeks.
  • Don’t wash or remove the calyx until ready to use or berries will deteriorate rapidly.
  • Berries may have a bit of sticky resin that’s easily wiped or washed off.


Salad: Add husked physalis to a fruit or green salad.
Garnish: Pull back the calyx and decorate desserts. For extra glamour, dip berries in caramelized sugar or chocolate to top baked goods. Or serve as a treat with coffee.
Baked: Combine with apples or pears in a crumble or add, quartered, to gingerbread.

Sauce: Husk and simmer with a little sugar and a pinch of grated ginger for a tangy sauce with roast duck or chicken. Or spoon over ice cream.

Jam: High in pectin and Vitamin C, these golden berries make gorgeous preserves.

Coconut Crème Caramel

For a dramatic effect, top this tender coconut-infused flan with glazed physalis berries. If you’re not keen on coconut, make the custard with 3 cups (750 mL) of milk instead. I also dipped some berries in dark chocolate.


3/4 cup (185 mL) granulated sugar

1/4 cup (60 mL) water

physalis, calyx pulled back


14 oz (400 mL) can coconut milk (1 3/4 cups)

1 1/4 cups (300 mL) low-fat milk

5 large eggs

1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar

1/8 tsp (.5 mL) salt

1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract

Set 8 (1/2 cup/125 mL) ramekins or a 2 L soufflé dish in a shallow baking pan. Line a plate with parchment paper. Set aside.

For syrup, place sugar and water in small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Gently swirl pan until a clear syrup forms. Increase heat to high and bring syrup to a rolling boil. Cook syrup without stirring until it turns golden. Remove from heat immediately.

Hold husk and quickly dip each berry into the caramel. Place on parchment paper to dry. Pour remaining hot liquid into ramekins, tilting to coat bottom evenly. If caramel in pot begins to harden, reheat briefly to liquefy.

For custard, whisk eggs, sugar and salt in large bowl until blended.

In large saucepan, heat coconut and regular milk on low heat until steam rises.

Gradually whisk milk into egg mixture, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in vanilla. To remove any cooked egg bits, strain mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl with lip for easy pouring.

Pour egg mixture into caramel-lined ramekins or soufflé dish. Add hot water halfway up sides of baking dish to create a water bath.

Bake at 325F (160C) about 45 minutes or until just set.

Remove custard from pan and let cool. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. To unmould, dip each cup briefly in hot water, run a knife around edge to loosen and invert onto a serving plate. Top custard with glazed berries.

Makes 8 servings.

For chocolate-dipped physalis: Break a 100-gram bar of 70 per cent chocolate into a small heavy saucepan. Heat on low, stirring constantly, until almost melted. Remove from heat and stir to finish melting. Pull back husks and dip berries one by one into melted chocolate. Set on parchment-lined baking sheet to harden. Will coat a 100-gram basket.

Every other Thursday, Fresh Bites helps you tantalize your taste buds with out-of-the-ordinary produce.

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