Apple, banana, orange. These are familiar fruits, the ones you can spot in any grocery store anywhere in the world. But what about lychee, pomelo, persimmon and durian? Let alone recognizing these fruits, have you ever even heard of them?
They are exotic fruits, most of them found in Southeast Asia but also often at Asian food stores here in the States. Some are furry, some are fuchsia, some have bright white flesh. They’re weird and they’re tasty and you should get to know them.
Don’t worry, chom choms won’t hurt you with those spiky-looking hairs. This stunning fruit has a flavor and texture similar to lychee, with a soft and juicy pale interior. Easy to eat a bunch at a time, just peel away the thin outer layer to get to the good stuff inside. You could also buy a few to keep around the house as decorations because they are one of the more absurd looking things in this world.
What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just your average durian stinking up the building with its uniquely pungent scent. Some find the smell intoxicating, while others flee the scene the moment a durian appears. Figure out who you agree with by braving the stench and trying a bite (or two). For those who are seeking an alternative way to try durian, it’s delicious (and less odorous) in desserts like durian ice cream.
Here’s another funky looking specimen. Mangosteens have a flavor that’s a combination of tangy and sweet unlike any other fruit. The snow-white flesh requires some effort to reach through the tough outer skin, but that flavor is well worth the exertion. You’ll find yourself addicted pretty quickly but that’s okay because the health benefits of mangosteen go on and on.
Superfood alert! Like the chom chom, the longan resembles the lychee with it’s translucent and juicy interior. It grows in grape-like clusters, which means you’re expected to eat a whole bunch at a time (yay).
Although it may look like a tomato, the flavor of a persimmon couldn’t be more different. It’s sweet and firm flesh is sure to please everyone. Simply slice it up and enjoy, or let the fruit ripen until it’s soft and develops a deeper sweetness, almost reminiscent of dates.
Pretty blah on the outside, the sopadilla packs a sugary punch with its extremely sweet, sunset-colored interior. It has the flavor of a caramelized pear, which means it can basically be dessert if you’re looking to brag and say you had fruit for dessert.
This huge fruit (it’s the largest tree-born fruit in the world and can reach up to 80 pounds in weight) is one of the most versatile, good for both savory and sweet preparations. Oh, also it’s going to end world hunger so that’s pretty great. Look for it in its dried or chip form for an exotic snack on the go.
Another stunning example in the fruit kingdom, dragonfruit is surprisingly subtle in flavor. A little sweet, a little sour with a creamy texture, it’s easy to love and can be jazzed up with added sweetener or other flavoring. Fun fact: it’s the national fruit of Vietnam.
Worth eating just because it looks exactly like a star when sliced, starfruit is also happens to be tasty. With flavors reminiscent of citrus fruit and plums, you can pop the whole thing into your mouth: seeds, skin and all.
Bursting with a flavor that is amazingly tart and sweet, passionfruit is a hidden gem that should become a pantry staple. Easily converted into a component for both desserts and savory dishes, it brings refreshing zing to anything it’s added to. And let’s not forget the amazing boozy concoctions that feature this lil wonder.
Imagine the biggest grapefruit you’ve ever seen and then imagine it 7 times bigger. Now you have a pomelo, which is basically grapefruit’s cousin on steroids. Once you get through the thick outer layer you’re rewarded with big and juicy citrus segments that will convince you that the pomelo is the larger and better relative.
Meet the replacement for the apple: guava. Mildly sweet and incredibly refreshing, it can be easily sliced up and enjoyed on its own or added to salads and other dishes raw. Bring a touch of the exotic into your life and bring a guava to class or work as a snack; your new friends will be so, like, totally impressed.
I have a very hard time containing my excitement when I see kumquats returning to supermarket shelves (Trader Joe’s just got them back in!). They’re bite-sized citrus wonders that are more tart than their bigger relatives and have a secret: their peel is edible. It kind of tastes like you’re eating orange peel, but sweeter and more tender. Either way it’s still exciting to just pop a whole kumquat in your mouth and not have to concern yourself with pesky peeling.
With a flavor that’s a balance of tangy, sour and sweet, tamarind is the basic building block for much of Southeast Asian and Indian cuisine. If you’ve ever wondered what that sweet and tart brown sauce on your table at an Indian restaurant is, there’s a good chance it’s a tamarind chutney. Buy it fresh and soak it in water, use pre-made tamarind paste or get tamarind concentrate; all will work for dishes calling for this intriguing ingredient.
Also known as Thai wax apple, bell fruit and rose apple, the water apple is actually a berry. This pear-shaped anomaly is reminiscent of watermelon, with a high water content that results in a crisp and refreshing flavor. More portable and less messy, consider bringing this instead of that heavy watermelon on your next picnic.
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