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Morton, J. 1987. Genipap. p. 441–443. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Genipa americana L.

Rating low as an edible fruit but popular as a source of beverages, the genipap, Genipa americana L. (syns. G. americana var. caruto Schum.; G. caruto HBK.), of the family Rubiaceae, has a number of colloquial names: marmalade box in former British West Indies; genipa, jagua or caruto in Puerto Rico and several other Spanish-speaking countries; genipapo or jenipapo in parts of Colombia and Brazil; chipara or chibara or guanapay among Colombian Indians; carcarutoto, caruto rebalsero, or guaricha in Venezuela; tapoeripa in Surinam; lana in Guyana; bi, bicito or totumillo in Bolivia; huitoc, vito, vitu or palo colorado in Peru; maluco in Mexico; crayo, irayol de montaña, or guali in Guatemala; guaitil or tapaculo in Costa Rica; irayol, tambor or tiñe-dientes in El Salvador; guayatil colorado or jagua blanca in Panama.

Fig. 117: The genipap (Genipa americana L.) photographed by P.H. Dorsett, plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, in Bahia, Brazil, November 12, 1913.


The tree is erect, to 60 or even 110 ft (18-33 m), with a tall, slender trunk and spreading branches. One form with a dense coating of soft hairs on the young branchlets and underside of the leaves has been separated by some botanists as a distinct species, G. caruto or G. americana var. caruto, though most botanists now view this as just a variation of G. americana. The leaves are abundant, deciduous, short-petioled, opposite but mostly clustered at the branch tips; oblong-obovate, 4 to 13 in (10-33 cm) long, 1 1/2 to 5 1/4 in (4-13 cm) wide; sometimes faintly toothed, and with prominent whitish midrib. The faintly fragrant pale-yellow or white, tubular, 5-petalled flowers, to 1 1/2 in (4 cm) wide, are borne in short, branched, terminal clusters.

The fruit, 3 1/2 to 6 in (9-15 cm) long, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 in (7-9 cm) wide, weighing 7 to 14 oz (200-400 g), is elliptic or rounded-oval tapering briefly at the stem end, and having a short hollow tube at the apex. It has a thin leathery, yellow-brown, scurfy skin adherent to a 1/4 to 1/2 in (6-12.5 mm) layer of muskily odorous, rubbery, whitish flesh (turning yellowish on exposure). The central cavity is filled with flat, circular, yellowish or brown seeds 3/8 to 1/2 in (1-1.25 cm) long, enclosed in grayish-yellow, mucilaginous membranes arranged in rows around a central fleshy core. The fruit, like the European medlar (Mespilus germanica L.) is edible only when overripe and soft to the touch, when the flavor, acid to subacid, resembles that of dried apples or quinces.

Origin and Distribution

The genipap is native to wet or moist areas of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and from Guadeloupe to Trinidad; also from southern Mexico to Panama, and from Colombia and Venezuela to Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Its usefulness to the Indians was reported by several European writers in Brazil in the 16th Century. It is widely cultivated in dooryards as an ornamental tree and for its fruits, but Patiño stated in 1967 that it was no longer as commonly grown in the Cauca Valley of Colombia as it had been in the past. In Trinidad, the tree is occasionally planted as a living fencepost for pasture fences. In 1965, a program was launched to utilize the genipap for reforestation in northeastern Brazil and plantations were established with a view to the exploitation of the fruit for liquor manufacture and the timber and other products for local use and possible export.

The tree first fruited in the Philippines in 1913 and is occasionally planted there. Otherwise, it is virtually unknown in the Old World. Burkill wrote that it had been tried in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula several times but without success.

P.J. Wester sent seeds from the Philippines to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1917 (S.P.I. #44090). A tree at the Plant Introduction Station, Miami, was 20 ft (6 m) tall in 1951 but had never bloomed. It is still alive and well today. There was a large tree at the Agricultural Research and Education Center, Homestead. It did not bear fruit and was killed by a freeze. A tree at the Fairchild Tropical Garden, Coral Gables, bloomed for the first time in the spring of 1980 but did not produce fruit. A few small seedlings were distributed by the Rare Fruit Council in 1980.

Plate LXVII: GENIPAP, Genipa americana

It is reported in Brazil that there are varieties that bear all year. There is a shrubby form, jenipaporana, or jenipapo-bravo, no more than 10 to 13 ft (3-4 m) high, that grows in swamps along the edges of rivers and lakes in Brazil. The fruit is small and inedible.

Climate and Soil

The tree is strictly tropical; is limited to elevations below 3,300 ft (100 m) in Peru and has been killed by low temperatures in Florida. The genipap flourishes best in a humid atmosphere and deep, rich, loamy, moist soil.


The genipap is mostly grown from seed but P.J. Wester determined that it can be propagated by shield-budding, using mature, non-petioled scions.


Seeds germinate in 25 to 30 days. The seedlings reach 4 3/4 in (12 cm) in 3 to 4 months and are transplanted when 6 to 12 months old at a height of 8 in (20 cm). The tree requires little cultural attention and thrives even in and situations. For fruit production, the trees are spaced 33 to 50 ft (10-15 m) apart. Temporary crops such as cassava or cotton are interplanted to provide shade for the young trees and income for the farmer. For purposes of reforestation, the spacing may be 5 x 10 ft (1.5 x 3 m) or up to 10 x 10 ft (3 x 3 m). The heavy leaf fall of the genipap is important in improving the soil of the plantation.


Flowers and fruits appear continuously from spring to fall in Puerto Rico. In Brazil, the tree flowers in November and the fruits appear in the markets in February and March.

Food Uses

In Puerto Rico, the fruit is cut up and put in a pitcher of water with sugar added to make a summer drink like lemonade. Sometimes it is allowed to ferment slightly. A bottled concentrate is served with shaved ice by street vendors. In the Philippines, also, the fruit is used to make cool drinks, as well as jelly, sherbet and ice cream. The flesh is sometimes added as a substitute for commercial pectin to aid the jelling of low-pectin fruit juices. Rural Brazilians prepare sweet preserves, sirup, a soft drink, genipapada, wine, and a potent liqueur from the fruits.

Food Value

Analyses made in the Philippines many years ago show the following values for the edible portion (70%) of the fruit: protein, 0.51%; carbohydrates, 11.21%; sugar, 4.30%; ash, 0.20%; malic acid, 0.63%.

Recent analyses made at the Fundacion Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica show:

Food Value per 100 g of Edible Portion  
Calories 113
Moisture 67.6 g
Protein 5.2 g
Lipids 0.3 g
Glycerides 25.7 g
Fiber 9.4 g
Ash 1.2 g
Calcium 40.0 mg
Phosphorus 58.0 mg
Iron 3.6 mg
Vitamin B, 0.04 mg
Vitamin B2 0.04 mg
Niacin 0.50 mg
Ascorbic Acid 33.0 mg
Amino Acids  
(per g of nitrogen [N 6.25])  
Lysine 316 mg
Methionine 178 mg
Threonine 219 mg
Tryptophan 57 mg

The fruit contains too much-tannin to be a desirable article of diet.

Other Uses

Fruit: In Guyana, the ripe fruit is used mainly as fish bait. The fallen, astringent fruits are much eaten by wild and domestic animals. The juice of the unripe fruit is colorless but oxidizes on exposure to the air and gradually turns light brown, then blue-black, and finally jet black. It has been commonly employed by South American Indians to paint their faces and bodies for adornment and to repel insects; and to dye clothing, hammocks, utensils and basket materials a bluish-purple. The dye is indelible on the skin for 15 to 20 days. Oviedo wrote that the Indian men sometimes playfully sprinkled the women with the fresh juice mixed with perfume so that mysterious spots would appear on their bodies and alarm them. Cardenas tells of seeing the robe of a Franciscan monk which was dyed a very dark purple with this juice.

Leaves: The foliage is readily eaten by cattle.

Bark: The bark, rich in tannin, has been used for treating leather. It also yields a fiber employed in making rough clothing.

Wood: When 5 or 6 years old, saplings can be harvested for firewood, poles or fenceposts. Ten-year-old trees can be cut for timber. The wood is yellowish-white or sometimes slightly pinkish or lavender, with light, reddish-brown streaks. It is fibrous, compact, hard, elastic, strong but not durable, being subject to attack by termites, borers and fungi. It has been used for spears, rifle stocks, shoe lasts, frames for sieves, barrel hoops, ammunition chests and other boxes, packing cases, plows, tool handles, boards for flooring, door frames and cabinetwork.

Flowers: The flowers yield nectar for honeybees.

Medicinal Uses: The fruit is eaten as a remedy for jaundice in El Salvador. Ingested in quantity, it is said to act as a vermifuge. The fruit juice is given as a diuretic. It is a common practice in Puerto Rico to cut up the fruits, steep them in water until there is a little fermentation, then add flavoring and drink the infusion as a cold remedy.

Because the fruit and its infusion have unusually good keeping quality, Puerto Rican scientists investigated the possible presence of antibiotic principles and proved the existence of antibiotic activity in all parts of the fruit. In 1964, Dr. W.H. Tallent of G.D. Searle & Company in Chicago, isolated and identified 2 new antibiotic cyclopentoid monoterpenes, primarily genipic acid and secondarily genipinic acid, its carbomethoxyl derivative.

The crushed green fruit and the bark decoction are applied on venereal sores and pharyngitis. The root decoction is a strong purgative.

The bark exudes when cut a whitish, sweetish gum which is diluted and used as an eyewash and is claimed to alleviate corneal opacities. The juice expressed from the leaves is commonly given as a febrifuge in Central America. The pulverized seeds are emetic and caustic. The flower decoction is taken as a tonic and febrifuge.

Superstitious Uses: Guatemalan Indians carry the fruits in their hands in the belief that this will provide protection from disease and ill-fortune.