Africa

12 Weird and Wonderful Fruits to Sample on Your Travels

Durian, rambutan, mangosteen, dragon fruit and jackfruit are so yesterday. Even if you live in a semi-cosmopolitan city you can probably find a grocer with a half-decent harvest of exotic crops. In fact, all you need to pull off the most bizarre fruit platter this side of Borneo is Internet access and a credit card. Boy, remember when papayas and kiwi felt foreign? Seems like aeons ago.

Time to go next-level exotic then and uncover a dozen weird and wonderful (and hopefully new) fruits to sample on your travels (or, perhaps, very soon in your grocery aisle).

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Yemenite Citron
Origin: North Africa, Arabian Peninsula

Big revelation: citrus fruits go beyond your standard lemon, lime and grapefruit form. Take the singular Yemenite Citron. Purportedly one of the original citrons, the fruit has a thick, sweet rind and, unusually, no juice vesicles in the segments. The citron plays a vital role in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Known as etrog in Hebrew, it is one of four vital species of plants mentioned in the Torah. There are even specific markets in the likes of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and New York City for the occasion.

Achiote
Origin: Amazon Basin

Achiote paste is a go-to ingredient in Yucatán, Chiapan and Oaxacan larders but the shrub that produces the fruit is now cultivated from Andhra Pradesh to California. The pigment produced by the seeds have boundless uses in food and textile manufacturing and, indeed, its use as a body paint by indigenous peoples of the Americas led to the nickname “lipstick tree”. As for us, we’ll take the fruit in paste form in a tamale or mole dish.

Solanum Muricatum
Origin: Amazon Basin

Solanum Muricatum, or Pepino Dulce, is a small evergreen shrub that produces a jaguar-patterned tomato and eggplant-like fruit that has become a niche gourmet crop in the U.S., Japan and Europe. Even though “pepino” is Spanish for cucumber, don’t be fooled. This pepino is way more versatile and can be used in fruit salads, sauces, with meat, fish or even ice cream.

Cupuaçu
Origin: Amazon Basin

Kin to Cacao, Cupuaçu’s chocolate cum pineapple kick may be the best thing to come out of the Amazon rainforest since Açaí. The pulp makes a top-shelf body butter too.

Breadfruit
Origin: New Guinea

The first explorers of the South Pacific came across Breadfruit on the island of New Guinea and thought they had struck the motherlode. In a sense, they had, for the now-widely cultivated crop has a manna-from-heaven kind of starchiness that makes it a tropical fave.

Cherimoya
Origin: Andes

Indigenous Andean peoples depicted the fruit of the Annona Cherimola plant on ceramics as far back as 2,000 years ago. Cherimoya is still a staple and a wonderful, if not unattractive, grapefruit-sized fruit that tastes, much like its cousin soursop/guanábana, like dimestore bubblegum. Just one caveat: the seeds of Cherimoya contain a mild neurotoxic chemical with links to Parkinson’s disease.

Moriche Palm
Origin: Amazon Basin

The Moriche Palm, or Aguaje in Peru, produces a scaly, yellow, fleshy fruit that envelops a hard nut. The resulting oil makes a terrific sunblock and the fruit, while good alone, is often transformed into juice, jam, ice cream or spirits.

Jabuticaba
Origin: Minas Gerais, Brazil

More exotic fruit from Brazil? What a shocker. The Jabuticaba, or Brazilian Grape Tree, produces fat, purple-black pods of sweet, white-fleshed fruit that can be eaten alone or, perhaps more enjoyably, in jelly or wine form.

Kiwano
Origin: Southern Africa

African Horned Melon sounds way cooler but, for many, Kiwano is shorter, sweeter and therefore preferred. Some eat the tough, exterior, vitamin-rich skin while some liken the interior fruit to zucchini crossed with banana crossed with lemon. Whatever the case, if you saw the Sacha Baron Cohen film The Dictator, you know what a kiwano lools like.

Custard Apple
Origin: Subtropical and tropical Central and South America

Probably the best known fruit on this list, the custard apple is still a worthwhile member of the club. The funky oblong fruit really does give off a hint of custard and comes in pink, red and purplish varieties.

Synsepalum Dulcificum
Origin: West Africa

Much more popularly referred to as Miracle Fruit, the berries of Synsepalum Dulcificum are a prolifically effective sweetener and antidote for sour and bitter foods in rural West Africa.

Blue Java Banana
Origin: Southeast Asia

Why don’t more banana varieties make these weird, unusual, strange fruit lists? It’s a mystery. Bananas, after all, come in innumerable oddball shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. The Blue Java, a hybrid of two wacky, seeded bananas native to Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Far North Queensland, is famously known among aficionados as the Ice Cream banana and has a texture and flavour profile that compares favourably with vanilla custard.

Kousa Dogwood
Origin: East Asia

A diminutive deciduous tree commonly found in parts of China, Korea and Japan doesn’t seem like a candidate for weird and wonderful fruit but the little spikey cherries of the Kousa Dogwood are sweet and, when fermented, make a mean wine.

Monstera Deliciosa
Origin: Tropical Central and South America

Hawaii isn’t necessarily a big fan of this creeping vine (it’s an invasive species in the state) but Monstera Deliciosa is prized among rainforest dwellers from Mexico to Colombia. The plant with more nicknames than New York City – Swiss Cheese Plant, Fruit Salad Plant, Windowleaf, Delicious Monster and Balazo, to name several – produces a fruit with a pineapple slash jackfruit thing going on.

Your turn to share. What are some weird and wonderful fruits you’ve tried while abroad? Let us know!

2 Comments for "12 Weird and Wonderful Fruits to Sample on Your Travels"

ongzi says on April 9th, 2013 at 4:47 pm:

i’ve tried breadfruit and breadnut as well.

http://www.ongzi-secretgarden.blogspot.com

Chris says on April 28th, 2014 at 9:42 am:

Would like pictures of all of these.

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