Getting Exotic

with Fruit

By: Margaret MacMillan

Fruit is one of the great joys in life. Our delight at its sweet nature is also one of our first food experiences. Watch any baby beginning solid food take its first taste of mashed banana and you’ll understand what I mean. It’s a pleasure we take on our life’s journey progressing to rosy red apples, juicy oranges, tart grapefruit, succulent grapes, sweet berries, smooth melon, earthy cantaloupe, tangy pineapple, luscious peaches, mouth-watering pears, delicious nectarines, and delightful plums. Fruit can be eaten just as it is or it can be transformed into jam, chutney, sorbet, soup, juice, a shake, or a smoothie. It can also be baked into breads, cakes, muffins, pies, and crumbles and added to salads, pancakes, cereals, and ice cold drinks. And it can go from breakfast to lunch, appetizers, and dinner, as well as after-dinner drinks. Fruit is as versatile as it is delicious.


In this article, we’re going to explore fruits that are new to me and that appear in most lists of exotic fruits. I hope at least some of them are new to you, too. I look forward to discovering something fresh for our breakfast trays, favorite drinks, appetizer selections, sides, main dishes, and desserts.


My first choice of exotic fruit, which, by the way, is defined as any edible fruit regarded as exotic, especially in origin, taste, or appearance, by the Oxford English Dictionary, looks like a heavenly body about which many stories, poems, and songs have been written.


Star Fruit
Also known as carambola, the celestial star fruit is yellow in color and has five or more ridges running along the length of its thin waxy surface. It’s usually between three and five inches in length. When cut horizontally, the ridges of the star fruit give the slices a star shape making them a pretty garnish for various dishes and drinks. Its juicy pulp can be either sweet or sour, depending on the cultivar.


Native to the Malayan Peninsula and cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and China, star fruit also grows in Florida and Hawaii because it thrives in a warm environment. It should be available in your grocery store from July to February.


Star fruit is ripe when it’s firm, shiny, and even-colored. If it’s not quite ripe when you get it home, let it ripen naturally at room temperature. Turn it often until it is yellow with light brown ridges. During storage, be careful, star fruit bruises easily. Ripe fruit can be stored at room temperature for two to three days or refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to one to two weeks. The brighter yellow the skin, the sweeter the flesh will be. Though star fruit can be peeled before eating, the outer skin is paper thin and the entire fruit is edible.


This pretty fruit can be used in a number of ways to enhance dishes, desserts, and drinks. The sweet variety is perfect as an exotic garnish in salads and cocktails. Just toss a handful into your favorite greens or cut a small slice into one and position it on the rim of a cocktail glass. Looking for a new way to jazz up cake and ice cream or a new take on upside down cake? Star fruit fits the bill. Its flavor and texture are perfect for sorbets, relishes, jams, chutneys, and preserves. Cut sections of the fresh fruit can also brighten up stews, curries, and stir fries featuring chicken, fish, or shrimp. When tossed with other tropical fruits, star fruit is a delightful addition to your fruit salad. For a delicious non-alcoholic beverage, star fruit can be puréed and added to juices, still water, or carbonated water. You’ll find lots of recipes that include star fruit on the Web as it continues to gain popularity throughout the United States.


Because of star fruit’s high oxalic acid content, those with kidney disease should not eat it. As well, like grapefruit, star fruit can interact adversely with many drugs. Consult your doctor before enjoying it if you’re taking medication.


Exotic fruits come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. My next selection is as captivating for its unusual appearance as it is for its taste.

Dragon Fruit
Beckoning like a blossoming flame in the fruit section of your market or grocery store, dragon fruit is hard to ignore. Generally deep red in color, some varieties of the fruit are pink or yellow. All are endowed with overlaid leaves that resemble scales covering the outer rind and a profusion of small, black, edible seeds decorating the inner flesh, much like a kiwi fruit. Grown in, and exported from, Central America and Southeast Asia, dragon fruit is the product of several species of cactus native to those regions. Possessing a flavor that is a marriage of pear and kiwi, the dragon fruit is mildly sweet and refreshing.


When choosing your dragon fruit to take home with you, look for bright even-toned skin. A few blotches are normal, but a plethora may mean the fruit is over-ripe. Also check for a bit of give. You don’t want it to be mushy, however. If the fruit is firm, it will need to ripen once you get it home.
Though dragon fruit may appear to be a bit complicated, getting at the fruit is easy. Simply place it on a cutting board and slice it through lengthwise. Scoop the flesh out of the heavy rind, and, if you like, cut it into cubes. The cubes can be replaced in the rind shells for a pretty presentation and eaten just like that. The skin isn’t edible and is only for serving; make sure it’s all removed from the flesh before eating.


The cubes of dragon fruit can also be made into kebobs by arranging them alone, with other fruits, or with vegetables on skewers and grilled. Smoothies, a more traditional way to enjoy fruit, can also be enhanced with dragon fruit. Mix it up with berries, yogurt, milk, and a natural sweetener like honey, and you have an energizing beverage ideal for breakfast or any time. Dragon fruit also makes a delicious sorbet that is the perfect accompaniment to light cakes and pastries.


Like so many other fruits, dragon fruit has a number of health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and several B vitamins, dragon fruit is also high in calcium, iron, and phosphorous. Its seeds are also high in polyunsaturated fats, which reduce triglycerides and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although dragon fruit contains many healthy elements, it also contains fructose, which could be harmful to your health if consumed in excessive amounts.


My next selection may take you by surprise when you open it up. It won’t be what you’re expecting.
The color of the interior is the striking thing about this exotic fruit. Identical in appearance to a common red watermelon on the outside, the yellow flesh watermelon or “yellow flesh” foregoes the bright pinkish red flesh of the former, opting instead for a color similar to that of a buttercup. Don’t let this put you off. Also known as “yellow crimson,” the taste is the same as the common red watermelon, though there are those who think the yellow flesh is sweeter.

 

Yellow Flesh Watermelon

The color of the interior is the striking thing about this exotic fruit. Identical in appearance to a common red watermelon on the outside, the yellow flesh watermelon or “yellow flesh” foregoes the bright pinkish red flesh of the former, opting instead for a color similar to that of a buttercup. Don’t let this put you off. Also known as “yellow crimson,” the taste is the same as the common red watermelon, though there are those who think the yellow flesh is sweeter.
Varieties range in shape from round to oval and in size from small to large. The average yellow flesh watermelon weighs 10 to 30 pounds. Often seedless, some have the occasional black seed. This may seem a bit odd, but the best way to test for ripeness of a yellow flesh is by thumping it. The sound you should hear, according to the Common Sense Homesteading blog, is one that is deep, like a drum.


It’s interesting to note that the original watermelon that grows wild in South Africa is a yellow or white flesh variety. You can buy yellow flesh sporadically throughout the winter, but its peak season is the summer. When storing, refrigerate cut sections wrapped in plastic wrap for up to one week only.


Yellow flesh can be substituted for red watermelon in just about any recipe. Chill it before serving for ultimate yumminess. Its vibrant color lends pizzazz to cocktails and sorbets and its sweetness is especially suited to tequila and citrus drinks. And don’t forget the surprise factor. Few will expect their watermelon garnish to be the color of the sun.


Let’s move on to an exotic fruit that journeyed to the United States, specifically Hawaii and California, by way of Southeastern China and Japan.

 

Loquat
A distant relative of the apple, the loquat is also known as Japanese plum, Japanese medlar, and Maltese plum. Oval, round, or pear-shaped, loquats are one to two inches long and have a downy yellow, orange, or even red-blushed skin, according to the California Rare Fruit Growers website. The large brown seeds you’ll discover upon cutting into the fruit contain hydrogen cyanide and should be removed and tossed. The best way to detach the seeds is to cut off each end of the fruit, then slice it lengthwise. With a little help, the halves should pop right off the seeds.


Ripe when their skin has lost its greenish tint and has turned yellow in color, loquats should be used within a week as they’ll brown quickly. If you know you won’t be needing them for a few days, store loquats in the refrigerator.


The tangy sweetness of this succulent fruit makes it adaptable to a large variety of uses. It’s one of those fruits that is versatile enough to go from breakfast to dinner and dessert. Loquat filled with sweetened cream cheese makes a light tasty breakfast, and pies made from stewed loquats offer a change from those made with apples and berries. Loquats can be served spiced and made into jams, jellies, sauces, crumbles, compotes, cobblers, and even wine. They are also compatible with chicken, and you’ll find lots of chicken recipes that include them on the Web. Of course, purists will tell you the best way to eat a loquat is to simply peel one and bite into it.


Also wonderful just the way it is, our next fruit is as sweet as it is aromatic.


Feijoa
The delicious feijoa, also known as pineapple guava, is originally from South America, but is now grown commercially in New Zealand and California. Popular in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and New Zealand, the fruit is becoming better known in the United States due to its flavor, nutritious nature, and adaptability. Speaking of flavor, feijoas are bursting with it. Many liken the taste to a combination of guava, pineapple, and strawberry.


Oval in shape, the diminutive feijoa rarely grows to more than 2.5 inches in length and 2 inches in diameter. When ripe, the skin is deep green and the fruit is a little soft. The ripe feijoa also radiates a scent similar to a banana-pineapple blend. Its interior consists of jelly textured seed pulp surrounded by tangy, pleasantly aromatic flesh that is grey-white in color.


When choosing feijoas, look for evenly colored unblemished fruit bearing the characteristic perfume. Once picked, feijoas will last about a week before their quality goes downhill. When picked too early, Feijoas won’t ripen, so be sure your choices are quite soft. If they just yield to gentle pressure from your thumb, you’ve chosen well. Once you get your feijoas home, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.


To prepare a feijoa for consumption, gently wipe it dry, cut it in two with a paring knife, and scoop out the juicy pulp using a spoon. Although you can eat the skin, most people discard it. If the texture seems a bit sandy while you’re eating it, that’s normal.


Many like to enjoy the unique taste of the feijoa as it is right out of the skin. However, feijoas are a delicious addition to smoothies and can be juiced to create a satisfying nutritious drink. If you like, slice feijoas and toss the pieces in salads to make them more interesting. Feijoas can even be whipped into muffins and cakes and made into jams, jellies, sorbets, and extraordinary chutneys.
If you’re wondering whether or not feijoas are good for you, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Like most fruit, feijoas are an excellent source of vitamin C. They are also fat-, cholesterol-, and sodium-free; low calorie; and full of antioxidants.

 

Exotic fruits not only look and taste exotic and originate in exotic climes, they can also sound exotic. My last selection is no exception.


Mangosteen
Until 2007, the delicate mangosteen, also known as “the queen of fruits,” was illegal for import into the United States. In that year, however, the fruit was approved for import from Thailand. Still rare in this country, mangosteens are not readily available, but can be found in some Houston markets. They are considered to be one of the rarest of the rare fruits. There is even a story that Queen Victoria, having heard of the exquisite fruit, offered knighthood to anyone who could bring mangosteens to England for her. Though many attempts were made, the feat was impossible as the travel time was too long and the fragile fruit spoiled en route.


This stunning, deep purple, sphere-shaped fruit with juicy snow-white flesh has a sweet taste that is punctuated with a dash of acid. Its thick woody shell encases several segments similar to an orange, with one seed in the larger segments. The smaller segments have no seeds. The texture of the flesh can be crunchy or firm, but, for the most part it is soft and creamy. To open a mangosteen, squeeze gently on either side until the rind splits. When fresh, the rind will be slightly soft. As the fruit ages, the rind toughens and a knife is required to open the fruit. Simply make a shallow cut around the middle being careful as mangosteens are slippery.


Mangosteens can be stored at room temperature for several days. The rind will keep the interior from drying out. However, the best way to store a mangosteen is to put it in a partially closed plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. This will keep it moist longer.


It appears that most mangosteen lovers eat them raw and unadorned. I suppose when something is this rare and fragile, you don’t want to spoil it in any way. There are, however, more adventurous souls who juice them, turn them into ice cream and sorbet, and add them to fruit salads.


Along with being sought after for their delectable flavor, mangosteens are revered for their health benefits.


Containing a group of phytochemicals called xanthones, research has shown that mangosteens can assist in boosting the immune system, decrease inflammation, and fight cancer.


It is undeniable that eating fruit gives us pleasure and contributes to one of our earliest memories of a sweetly satisfying food experience. Biting into a piece of exotic fruit transports us far away to unspoiled tropical lands we’ve never been to, except in our imaginations.


The experience adds a dimension to our lives we wouldn’t have had without it. Whenever I discover and taste a new fruit, I’m filled with anticipation for the moment I uncover its enchanting taste, unusual texture, or haunting aroma. All fruits are good for us, because they contain some amount of vitamins and other nutrients we need to be healthy. But nothing is quite as exciting and transporting as an undiscovered exotic fruit enjoyed for the first time.

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