Staying healthy requires eating lots of fruits. Forget the apples and blueberries. It is time to take a trip around the world with exotic fruits.
—By John Jacobs
In the U.S., fruits are a staple food. All mainstream grocery stores mostly sell the same mass-produced fruits – yellow bananas, red strawberries, orange oranges, red or green apples, and so on. The fruits are good for you, but they also tend to be somewhat uninteresting with their smooth skins, waxy preservatives, and shapes that meet certain appearance and size standards. Words like "intriguing" and "tantalizing" are not usually used to describe the standard fruit fare at the local grocery store.
Now think of fruits that defy colour, shape and expected flavour. Think of fruits with hairy or spiny skins, taste like chocolate, or have a terrible odor that reminds people of gym socks but a delectable flesh.
You can travel the world in your thoughts by eating unusual and intriguing fruits that are nutrient-rich, even while seeming odd when compared to what we are used to seeing in the grocery stores.
Spiked, Hairy and Slimy
The fruit journey we are talking about is a fantastical one in which fruits have weird shapes and odd skins but succulent interiors.
Consider the durian, for example. The durian fruit is native to China and Southeast Asia. It is spike-covered, and its claim to fame is its rank odor. It is called the world's smelliest fruit. Some people say it smells like gym socks. The fruit is so smelly that it is banned on the public transportation system in several countries like Japan and Thailand.
Despite its odor, the large durian fruit is loaded with nutrients like vitamin C, iron, and potassium; a variety of minerals; and lots of fiber. Once picked, the center of the fruit takes on a custard-like consistency and has a sweet citrusy or a banana-vanilla flavour, depending on who you ask. It is used in ice cream, to make chips, and liven up salads like som tam (durian Thai salad).
Want to try a hairy fruit? Rambutan fruit is also native to Southeast Asia. It looks very unusual with its reddish (or orange or yellow) skin and green hair. Peel the skin, and there is a delicious tender white fruit flesh around a seed. It is also rich in vitamin C and has a high water content. It is so tasty that rambutan is eaten by itself.
On another continent is found the African horned melon, which is also called the African cucumber. It has an orange and yellow mottled skin and short spikes. Cut the fruit in half, and you will find a slimy green flesh with seeds. Once it is fully matured, it can be eaten alone, used in fruit salads or turned into a cocktail.
Also native to West Africa is ackee fruit. Only the informed should eat this pretty fruit. The fruit is only edible after the light red pod opens naturally and reveals the yellow arilli that surrounds black seeds. Unripe fruit and the black seeds are toxic. In 1778, the fruit migrated to Jamaica where it became the national fruit and is used in the national dish of codfish with ackee.
Glorious Rainbow of Colours
Blue strawberries sound so imaginative, but they are real. There are black tomatoes, red pineapples, red bananas, yellow raspberries, yellow watermelon and purple sweet potato. Surely these fruits evolved with such a glorious rainbow of colours to attract people who enjoy the sight and taste of fruit. Fruits around the world grow with unusual colours, unique shapes and interesting interiors.
Consider the cherimoya from South and Central America. Mark Twain called this food item the "most delicious fruit known to men." The English translation for the word cherimoya is "custard apple." The outside is an unappealing green scaly skin. The inside is creamy, white and like custard. Like many fruits, it is high in vitamin C, but it also has potassium and B vitamins. You cannot eat the seeds because they are poisonous if crushed. Instead, eat the sweet flesh by itself or use it in desserts and fruit salads.
How about some cupuaçu fruit? Harkening from the tropical rain forests of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, the cupuaçu is a drupe – a thin-skinned fleshy fruit with a big stone in the middle containing the seed and white pulp. This unusual fruit is a cousin of the cocoa plant. It is described as having a flavor that is a mix of fruits like banana, pear and pear with subtle overtones of chocolate. Some describe the flavour as sweet, sour and tart all at the same time. There is agreement among the experts that this fruit has a unique flavour in the fruit world. It is used in a variety of ways – drinks, fruit salads and as a replacement for cocoa in chocolate. Of course, you can eat it alone, too. Cupuaçu is also used to make a moisturizer that is similar to shea butter.
A Feast of Fruits
Around the world there is a dizzying array of beautifully unique fruits.
The jabuticaba grows on the branches and trunk of the jabuticaba tree. Tasting like grapes, it is used to make jelly and wine, or eaten alone.
Carambola fruit, also called starfruit, is native to the Philippines, India, Nepal, Malaysia, Vietnam and some other Southeast Asian countries. It also tastes like a grape, and the entire fruit is edible. One starfruit (so called because of its shape and a slice of fruit looks like a star) has 76 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C a person should consume daily. It is used in salsa, fruit and green salads, and smoothies.
There is lychee fruit from south China; persimmons from Japan; fingered citron (aka Buddha's hand) from China and Japan; miracle fruit from West Africa; and on and on the list goes.
When you want to travel the world but must remain at home, think fruit. Look for new varieties of these colourful, nutrient-rich fruits in international and specialty markets in your area.
Fill a bowl with different kinds of international fruits, sit back and think of exotic locales you will one day visit in the future. Then dive into a culinary experience that is all things fruit.