Forget Apples & Oranges: Excite Your Palate with These Exotic Fruits
They say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but doesn’t one tire of eating apples? Fruit is an important part of our daily diet, and while traditional fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, and berries are all healthy sources of calories, sugar, and nutrients each with their own unique flavor, one can get bored with eating the same fruits day after day. If you happen to find yourself growing tired of eating the same fruits that traditional grocery stores in the United States have to offer, try expanding your taste buds and visiting some specialty markets. Diversify your diet and be adventurous by tasting one of the following exotic fruits.
Ackee is a sweet, tropical fruit native to Caribbean countries often cooked in savory meals such as Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish. It contains a good source of niacin, vitamin C, and essential fatty acids. While unripe and hanging on a tree, ackee appears to be harmless, shaped similarly to a bell pepper, and looks delightful with its bright red skin. Once the fruit is ripe and ready to eat, the skin splits open and inside emerges three large, ovular black seeds nested on the yellow meat of the fruit.
Ackee has the ability to defend itself from harm and being eaten before maturation. Unripe ackee contains the toxin hypoglycin, which lowers the blood sugar to dangerous levels causing serious illness in those who eat it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the import of the fruit to the United States for about thirty years because of the risk of poison. The ban has since been lifted, and canned ackee is accepted from only FDA approved companies. It is, however, still illegal to import, sell, or commercially serve fresh ackee grown outside or within the United States; canned ackee is available online or at certain Caribbean markets and restaurants. If you are adventurous and want something sweet with a thick, creamy texture, give ackee a try.
Sometimes known as pitaya, dragonfruit grows from cacti and is native to Central and South America. The fruit is extremely popular in Asian societies, who have popularized it. Its skin is a very charming shade of purple while the inside is a shade of white with many tiny black seeds. It should be eaten raw for the best taste. Dragonfruit is also grown in warm United States climates—Hawaii, California, and Florida. It can be found in farmers markets or Asian markets within the United States. Dragonfruit is often compared to kiwi in terms of texture and taste.
Abdul Rahman Taha, who lives in Dubai, UAE, enjoys dragonfruit stating that it is a “sweeter and less sour version of kiwi.” Esmat Rabi, also from Dubai, disagrees. She was disappointed with the fruit, expressing that it tasted bland and is a “flavorless version of kiwi.” Sana Ahmed in Chicago, Illinois, tasted dragonfruit in Saudi Arabia and said that it was sweet and had an “interesting gel-like texture.” Victoria Deldin from Chicagoland, whose Instagram feed shows many meals and desserts incorporating dragonfruit, eats the purple fruit often. She says, “I love the texture and I like that it’s not overly sweet.”
Dragonfruit is one of the more easily accessible exotic fruits in the States. It is available at Asian and Asianinspired supermarkets. Because dragonfruit is high in vitamin C and also contains some iron, Zaira Ahmad, a registered dietician in New Jersey, says, “Because iron is better absorbed in the presence of vitamin C, it [dragonfruit] may be helpful for those with iron deficiencies.”
Known in Malaysia as “The King of All Fruits,” durian is a large, thorny green fruit with yellow flesh native to Southeast Asian countries. It is notable for its pungent odor, which is so strong and putrid that various establishments in Malaysia and other countries have signs banning the fruit, lest its stench permeate into its surroundings.
Ahmed heard many stories of this curious fruit from her father, who greatly enjoys it. While in Malaysia, her father purchased a durian fruit for his family to taste, but Ahmed did not try it, and her mother was sick from the smell. Ahmed gave the fruit another chance while in Saudi Arabia years later and neither liked nor disliked it. She described the flesh of the fruit as “creamy and thick” and says she would try it again because she finds it so “intriguing;” however, “the scent is really a big turnoff.” As the fruit is opened, durian’s odor becomes even stronger. For those who are able to separate their senses of smell and taste, durian doesn’t taste as it smells, confirms Ahmed and others who enjoy the fruit.
There are different types of durian, but it generally has no cholesterol, many antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin C, and is high in fiber. Fresh durian can be purchased at various Asian supermarkets, particularly in Chinatown neighborhoods of large cities like New York City. Durian juices may also be offered at various Asian restaurants throughout the States. It is clear that those who can get passed the smell of durian truly love the fruit. Plug up your nose and give it a try!
Often referred to as miracle berry, miracle fruit is a berry native to West Africa possessing a mild sweetness. What makes this fruit remarkable is not its flavor, but that the flavor binds to the tastebuds causing anything sour or bitter to taste sweet for up to two hours. A glycoprotein called miraculin induces sweetness and enhances the flavor of any acidic foods that are eaten after eating miracle berry. There are taste-testing events where attendees eat the berry followed by various vegetables in order to witness the drastic change in taste of the familiar vegetables. Ahmad confirmed that her mouth was sweet for a while after eating this fruit and even lemon juice was tolerable.
Referring to the benefits of miracle fruit, Ahmad states, “Its extracts can be used as a low calorie sweetener. Since it is considered more natural compared to artificial sweeteners, the fruit and its extracts may be worth seeking out to those who are interested” in a healthier, low calorie alternative to sugar. Miracle fruit may be purchased online in the form of fresh berries, freeze-dried granules, or tablets.
Carambola, commonly referred to as starfruit because of its shape, is native to South Asia and the Pacific Islands and is one of the easier exotic fruits to find in the United States. They can be found in some traditional grocery stores as well as Asian supermarkets and farmer’s markets.
The opinion of starfruit is very split—some love it, while many people find starfruit quite bland. Chicagoans weigh in: Ronia Abdelrahman says, “Starfruit tastes like nothing;” Sherry Barakat claims it is a “watery, dull-tasting cross of pineapple, pear, and melon;” and Ebony Scott, who has tasted starfruit several times, always hopes for a better flavor but never receives it. She concedes, “Starfruit is a waste of time and energy.”
Taha admits that eating starfruit is “like eating cardboard; there’s absolutely no purpose.” On the contrary, Shirien Damra finds starfruit to be unique, with a great taste and appearance. Omar Othman and his wife, Nadia, agree. They both tried starfruit from a street stand in Thailand and found it “fresh and juicy.”
There are different varieties of starfruit diverse in size and color whose taste ranges from bland to sweet, which could explain the vast difference of opinions. Perhaps not everyone has tasted the same variety.
For those who have kidney ailments, it is recommended by the National Kidney Foundation to avoid starfruit because it contains a neurotoxin that induces illness if the kidneys are unable to filter out the toxin. If your kidneys are healthy, and you want to vary your diet with something fun and refreshing, give starfruit a try.
These fruits are all intriguing and unique in their own way. It is nice to try new foods and break up the monotony of eating traditional fruits every day. Next time you’re in need of groceries, try a specialty market and ask for one of these exotic fruits. Transform your diet into something exciting!
Annan Shehadi is a graphic designer from the Chicago area. She has an MA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her interests include writing, research, food, tea, and natural living.