A stroll through the produce aisle in a modern supermarket may give the impression that you've got a wide variety of fruit choicees, but in reality that's only a small sampling of Mother Nature's bounty. The world is full of bizarre and exotic treats you've probably never heard of before. So live a little, and try something different. Apples and oranges will look pretty ordinary after you look at these wild and delicious options. (Text: Bryan Nelson)
You have to commend the bravery of whoever first tried these strange-looking fruits. The ackee is sometimes called a "vegetable brain" because only the inner, brain-shaped, yellowish arils are edible. Native to tropical West Africa, this fruit has been imported and cultivated in Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba and is incorporated into some Caribbean cuisine.
Native to the Malay Archipelago, the name of this fruit is derived from the Malay word meaning "hairy," and you can see why. But once the hairy exterior of the rambutan is peeled away, the tender, fleshy, delicious fruit is revealed. Its taste is described as sweet and sour, much like a grape. Though it has its origin in Southeast Asia, rambutan has been imported around the world, and now is commonly cultivated as close to home as Hawaii.
These fruits encased in an unusual, lantern-like husk are part of the nightshade family and thus share a relation with the much more familiar tomato. Since it has a mild, refreshing acidity similar to the tomato, it can be used in many of the same ways. Imagine enjoying some pasta with fresh physalis sauce! Native to the Americas, they are typically imported from South America.
The jabuticaba fruit is unusual in that it appears to blossom right out of the bark and trunk of its tree. The tree may even look covered in purple warts or pimples when it is fully in season. It is often used in its native lands in South America much like grapes are used elsewhere. Jabuticaba wines and liqueurs are both popular and exquisite!
When it is exported to the U.S., the horned cucumber is often labeled as "blowfish fruit." With its spiky yellow exterior and juicy green interior, this is one fruit with vibrant contrasts. It tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini, and it is rich in both vitamin C and fiber. Native to Africa, it has been exported and cultivated as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Chile.
Revered in Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits," durian is relatively unknown in the United States. Famed naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (who, like Darwin, independently discovered the theory of natural selection) described its flesh as "a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds." This large fruit can be recognized by its thorn-covered husk and pungent odor, which has been likened to the smell of gym socks or rotten onions. That may not sound appetizing, but for those who enjoy it, it's a thick slice of heaven.
Native to West Africa, this berry got its name from its incredible ability to make sour fruits (like lemons and limes) taste sweet instead, when the juices are mixed together. It accomplishes this feat by utilizing a molecule called miraculin, which works by distorting the shape of sweetness receptors on the taste buds. Be careful, though, because although the miraclefruit can distort the taste of sour foods, it does not change the chemistry of the food. Thus, it could leave the stomach and mouth vulnerable to high acidity.
The fragrant, edible flesh of the mangosteen can be described as sweet, tangy, citrusy and peachy. Naturally grown in tropical Southeast Asia, it has been so prized that Queen Victoria is said to have offered a reward of 100 pounds to anyone who could bring her a fresh one. The sweet meat of this fruit is, perhaps appropriate to the legend, well protected by its hard shell, which typically must be split with a knife and cracked open before it can be enjoyed. They were imported and put on sale recently in New York City for the hefty price of $45 a pound.
These small, translucent, orb-shaped fruits are most often found in Southeast Asia, India and Bhutan, and have recently even been introduced in Hawaii. They can be quite sour when unripe, but are perfectly sweet when ripe with a taste similar to a bittersweet grapefruit. Since they are found in bunches along the trunk and branches, langsat are often cultivated by shaking the tree. The riper the fruit, the more likely they are to be shaken free.
Mark Twain once referred to the cherimoya as "the most delicious fruit known to men." Although its flavor is often likened to that of a cross between a banana and a pineapple, the flesh of this exotic fruit has also been described as similar to commercial bubblegum. Although they are native to the Andes, cherimoyas also thrive in Mediterranean climates, and have been introduced in Spain, Italy and California, among other places.
This unusual fruit is covered in reddish scales, which must be peeled away to get to the flesh. Popular in the Amazon jungle, the fruit is often eaten by scraping the flesh over your bottom teeth to separate it from a large internal seed. It is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and the pulp is also occasionally used to treat burns. When fermented, it makes a delicious, exotic wine!
Jackfruit, or Artocarpus heterophyllus, is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, growing to the hefty weight of 80 pounds. It is also the national fruit of Bangladesh and may have been cultivated in India as early as 6,000 years ago. Related to the breadfruit and marang, its buttery flesh is thick with fiber and often described as starchy in flavor. One popular way to prepare this fruit is to deep fry it into crunchy, delicious jackfruit chips.
Native to the rain forests of Central America, monstera deliciosa looks more like an ear of corn than a fruit. To get to its pineapple-like flesh, the scaly exterior must be flaked off and delicately prepared. Interestingly, this fruit takes as long as a year to ripen and to be safe enough to eat — it can be toxic if unripe.
Found throughout the Amazon basin, the flesh of this fragrant fruit is often used in desserts and sweets because of its chocolatey pineapple flavor. It is also full of nutrients, and has been heralded by some as the next great "superfruit." Due to its thick, buttery flesh, it has been used as a hydrating lotion as well.