I was first introducted to airampo manifested in a delicious cocktail drink. But I came to adore it when a dear friend from Cusco insisted I chew on its bright red seeds when a cold and fever made me a miserable sight to see. When I felt alive the next day, I couldn’t stop thanking her for showing me another side to this marvelous and tasty fruit.
Airampo (Opuntia soehrensii) is a cactus, similar to prickly pair, known for its fever-reducing properties and used widely in the Andean region. The plant grows in rocky terrain like the gravelly hills of Cusco, Puno, along the Colca River or in the regions of Cochabamba and Potosi in Bolivia. The cactus grows quite small and the flower can be yellow or red, while the fruit is green, similar to tuna but smaller and more fragile.
The flower and fruit are also natural dyes, having a dark carmine color used for dying fibers like wool. It’s also used to give color to cough syrup. The seeds are often used in refreshing infusions, and it’s also common to prepare it in ice cream form, a sweet treat when you add a hint of cinnamon. Breads and pastries are also made with the fruit.
It is fruit that has been used ancestrally in the Andean region, and with the country’s gastronomic boom, airampo has made its way into various novo-Andean dishes and cocktails. The website Peru Delights suggests you add airampo to the Puca picante dish from Ayacucho to give it more of a bright, red color.
Chef Virgilio Martinez of Central restaurant showed the design platform Nowness how to turn the airampo fruit into homemade fresh salt. Martinez is known for his tasty experiments with indigenous fruits and plants; he has around 160 different salts, he told the website. His London restaurant Lima featured airampo salt in one of the seafood dishes.
Gala restaurant offers a “grilled tuna in a reduction of airampo with mashed Andean potatoes and grilled vegetables”. While El Kero – Huanchaco restaurant in Trujillo offers a twist on a classic cheesecake with a cracker and dried fruits base, cream cheese filling and airampo gelatin on top.
In terms of cocktails, the Chola picarona, featured in El Pisquerito and Museo del Pisco in Cusco, is made with airampo infused pisco. While Christian Bravo featured an airampo-based chilcano for the latest ‘Chilcano Week’. Finally, Manifiesto restaurant serves Cairami, a cocktail made with orange, lemon verbena with hints of airampo.
You can find the fruit in the Mercado de Surquillo for the next time you’re feeling experimental in the kitchen or find yourself with the cold blues.