Did you know that even if you were to eat a different fruit every day of your life, you still wouldn’t be able to taste every variety that exists on planet earth? While the exact number of edible fruit species available for human consumption is unknown, it is estimated that there are more than 20,000 species of edible plants in the world — yet 90 percent of our food is formed from just 20 species. How wild is that?
Although local fruits from many parts of the world are too fragile to survive a trip to America, some exotic fruits do make it to our grocery stores and specialty health food shops. Some varieties of unusual and exotic fruits are even grown right in our “backyards”. Commercial production of tropical fruit is nothing new to Florida or California, for example.
If you don’t know how to pick them, exotic fruits may seem intimidating at first. However, with a few simple tips, you can become a pro and start reaping the benefits of the incredible nutrition they can provide in no time. Did you know, for instance, that exotic fruits are full of phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and flavonoids which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties? They have also been shown to help in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
If you’re used to enjoying the same staple fruits you’ve grown up eating, it might be time to expand your culinary horizons and try some of these 12 exotic and unusual fruits.
You may have seen this fruit, also known as “dragon fruit”, pop up in your Instagram feed a lot lately as the pink flesh of one of its varieties makes absolutely gorgeous smoothie bowls and smoothies. If you want to hop on the pitaya bandwagon and start making your breakfasts a hundred times more appealing, here’s what you need to know about this unique fruit.
There are two varieties of dragon fruit. The Hylocereus undatus has a pink leathery exterior and a creamy white flesh with tiny black seeds, while the Hylocereus costaricensis has a darker pink skin and deep pinkish flesh. Their taste is similarly mild and reminiscent of a berry mixed with a pear. They are considered ripe when fragrant and slightly soft to the touch. Their scaly leaves get dry when the fruit is overripe, so be aware.
Pitaya is a great source of vitamin C, calcium, omega-3s, omega-6s, fiber, and antioxidants. They are especially rich in polyphenols and flavonoids, which are powerful phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. Pitayas were also found to be protective against diet-induced insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis.
If you’re looking for creative ways to include this super nutritious fruit in your diet, check out this Sparkling Dragon Fruit Margarita, this Vibrant Dragon Fruit Coconut Rice, and these beautiful Dragon Fruit Rainbow Rolls. You can also give this Dragon Fruit Pink Lady Smoothie a try for a simple breakfast.
In recent years, jackfruit has become a well-known ingredient in vegan cuisine as its young, unripe pods make a great meat substitute in terms of texture. However, that’s far from being its only advantage.
This India native plant, also common in Asia, Africa, and South America, is an amazing nutrition powerhouse. Jackfruit is rich in B-vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and antioxidants. It contains a high percentage of carotenoids because of the deep yellow color of its pods. It’s also a good source of flavonoids which along with carotenoids protect us from diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic degenerative diseases.
If you want to get your hands on this massive fruit (they can weigh up to 132 pounds!), your best bet is your local Asian or Indian market. Look for a jackfruit that is light brown in color and fragrant. You will be delighted to know that when perfectly ripe, jackfruit tastes just like the Juicy Fruit gum.
Jackfruit is an incredibly versatile fruit so you can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert! Start your day off by putting some in your morning smoothie, and then make these Buffalo Jackfruit Tacos for lunch and this Jackfruit Pot Pie for dinner. To finish off, you can have this delicious 7-Ingredient Creamy Jackfruit Ice Cream.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on what you can do with this amazing fruit, check out these Fruit That Acts Like Meat? 15 Meaty Vegan Recipes Featuring Jackfruit or our vegan jackfruit recipes page.
You may already be familiar with physalis by their other name, “ground cherries.” They originate from tropical South America but they can grow in temperate regions and are pretty easy to find. That’s great news because physalis are delicious and packed full of beneficial nutrients.
They are a good source of vitamin A, C, antioxidants, and fiber. Physalis contain a lot of phenolic acids, which are a type of phytochemicals called “polyphenols.” These chemical compounds play a large role in preventing oxidative stress that is responsible for aging and degenerative diseases. Their taste would be best described as sweet but slightly tart.
Ground cherries are perfect with a nice stack of pancakes for breakfast or for a quick afternoon snack. They’re also great in desserts, like in this Raw Three Kings Cake.
Papaya is a tropical fruit native of Central America but it can typically be found in most grocery stores and health food shops. Its flesh is either yellow, orange or pinkish. It’s packed with vitamin A and C, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. It also contains an enzyme called papain that helps with digestion and fighting cancer. Its seeds are edible and have actually been found to contain isothiocyanate, which is a phytochemical protective against breast, colon, prostate, leukemia, and lung cancer. A ripe papaya should taste like a cantaloupe with a slightly musky flavor.
If you’re unsure on how to pick a perfect papaya, look for one with yellow to orange-red skin and a sweet smell. It should give a little to the touch but not be mushy. You can also check out our guide on How to Choose a Papaya That’s Not Genetically Modified for more info.
Mangoes are one of the most popular exotic fruits out there, and for good reason! There are more than hundreds of varieties in the world, each with a unique taste. The Tommy Atkins, Kent, and Ataulfo varieties are the ones most commonly found in our supermarkets. Some are stringy while others are smooth and almost buttery. A ripe mango should feel slightly soft to the touch and be fragrant.
Mangoes are full of vitamin A, C, and E as well as potassium, iron, and zinc. They also contain a wide range of antioxidants, mainly carotenoids, and polyphenols. These phytochemicals possess a strong antioxidant power that promotes anti-inflammatory actions in the body and is protective of many types of cancers. Mango pulp has also been shown to improve blood glucose levels in obese individuals.
Mangoes are great for smoothies, desserts and are an all-around awesome snack. Check out these 15 Magnificent Mango Recipes to Try This Summer for some inspiration. You can also try this Raw Mango and Passion Fruit Cheesecake, Mango and Coconut Jelly, or this Raw BBQ Mango Meat.
Durian, also nicknamed “the King of fruits”, is impressive both for its unusual appearance and for its strong smell. It’s actually banned in many public places in South East Asia where it is most commonly found. Don’t let its spiky look and onion-y smell fool you though, it’s totally worth a try. A perfect durian is said to taste like sweet buttery custard and some even consider it to be an aphrodisiac.
Durian is rich in vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, and fiber. It also contains tryptophan, which is an amino-acid that plays a role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter paramount to proper sleep regulation.
As durians have become increasingly popular in recent years, it’s possible to find them in Asian markets and even some grocery stores. When choosing a durian, it is advised to hold it by the stem and tap on the top of the fruit. If you heard a sound between a thud and a hollow knock, it’s perfect.
You can eat durian as is or use it to make delicious desserts and ice cream, just like jackfruit in this dairy-free Jackfruit Ice Cream.
Soursop, or guanabana, is a fruit native of Central and South America. Like its name suggests, soursop is a sweet fruit with sour undertones. Its flesh is white and creamy with black seeds interspersed. Don’t let its rather unappetizing exterior put you off, soursop has a very pleasant taste reminiscent of pineapple mixed with strawberry.
This fruit is high in vitamin C, magnesium, fiber, and it also contains powerful antioxidants. The polyphenolic compounds in its pulp have been found to have antihypertension, antidiabetic, and antioxidants effects on the human body.
The best way to eat it is by cutting it lengthwise and scooping the flesh with a spoon. You can also take out the inedible seeds and use the flesh in smoothies or desserts. If you live near a Latin supermarket, check the frozen section for soursop pulp. Try adding soursop to this Superfood Raspberry Smoothie or this Sunshine and Tropics Smoothie. You can also make this delicious Soursop Sorbet for an after dinner sweet treat.
8. Egg Fruit
Egg fruit, also called “canistel”, is thought to be native to southern Mexico where it was enjoyed by Mayans and Aztecs around 800BC. Egg fruit is aptly named because of the resemblance of its ripe flesh with a cooked egg yolk. Its taste is also described as being as rich as a yolk, albeit sweeter and more similar to a sweet potato.
This unusual fruit is a good source of vitamin A, C, protein, and antioxidants. Including egg fruit in your diet can help prevent diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes as it contains a lot of carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants.
A perfectly ripe egg fruit should have yellowish-orange colored flesh and be soft to the touch but not mushy. Canistel is great on its own or you can include it in smoothies, dessert pies, or even savory dishes.
9. Mamey Sapote
Mamey sapote is one of those fruits that don’t look like anything when you come across it (its exterior is brown and unassuming), but you will be pleasantly surprised once you give it a try.
Mamey is rich in vitamin B-6, vitamin C, and E as well as potassium, copper, and fiber. Eating mamey sapote can protect you from cardiovascular disease and degenerative diseases as it contains high amounts of carotenoids, phenolic, and flavonoids compounds, which are powerful phytochemicals.
A good mamey should be soft to the touch with unblemished skin. The fruit tastes like a cross between a baked sweet potato and pumpkin, so it’s a delight to eat raw and it also goes perfectly in smoothies. Try adding sapodilla to this Pumpkin Protein Smoothie, this Orange Sweet Potato Smoothie, or this Sunshine Smoothie. Talk about a perfect breakfast and middle of the day pick-me-up.
A native of Southeast Asia, this fruit shares the throne with the durian fruit as it is dubbed “the Queen of fruits”. Its deep purple skin does remind us of royalty. Its taste is best described as a juicy mix between lychees and peaches.
This fruit has many health benefits, as it’s a good source of vitamin C, copper, folate, magnesium, fiber, and antioxidants. Indeed, mangosteen contains xanthones, which is a class of polyphenolic compounds that have been shown to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells in breast and prostate cancer.
If you have the chance to get your hands on mangosteens, the trick to picking a good one is looking for a dark purple rind color and fresh green stems. Although this “royal” fruit may be best eaten as is, you can use its juice in desserts and savory dishes to add a sweet note.
Sapodilla doesn’t look appealing at first (it looks more like a potato than a fruit) but it’s actually a very delicious and nutritious fruit. It is packed full of vitamin A, C, potassium, iron, folate, and is a great source of fiber. Sapodilla also contains flavonoids, tannins, and saponins which have been reported to have antioxidant, anti-microbial, and analgesic properties.
If you wonder how to pick a perfect sapodilla, scratch its brown fuzz slightly. If the skin underneath is green, it’s not ripe yet. The fruit should be soft to the touch and very fragrant. Its taste and texture is similar to a pear mixed with brown sugar, so you can enjoy it raw as a nice sweet treat or add it to smoothies and desserts. We suggest making this Spiced Pear Crisp or this Pear Strudel With Pistachio Pesto with sapodilla instead. You definitely won’t be disappointed!
12. Ugli Fruit
Don’t let ugli fruit’s funny name fool you — there’s nothing ugly about its taste. Ugli fruit was born out of a cross between a grapefruit, an orange, and a tangelo, which makes it a sweet and pleasant citrus.
Like its citrus counterparts, it is full of vitamin A and C, folate, potassium, calcium, and fiber. It is also a great source of carotenoids, flavonoids, and coumarins which are phytochemicals with anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
The key to choosing a good Ugli fruit is finding one that is heavy for its size with no signs of dryness at its ends. It should also give a little when you press it gently. Considering it’s a hybrid fruit similar to grapefruit, oranges, and tangelos, you can include it in recipes just as you would with these citrus varieties. Try making the swap in this Breakfast Bowl With Oats, Pistachios, and Grapefruit, these Grapefruit Coriander Fennel Bites or in these Raw Grapefruit Doughnuts for dessert.
Recommended Resources and Recipes to Get You Started
Want to find more information about exotic fruits and superfoods? Here are a few articles that might interest you:
- Lychee, Longan and Rambutan: Why You Need to Be Eating These Cool, Juicy, Exotic Asian Fruits This Summer
- 5 Exotic Super Foods You’ve Never Heard Of (Until Now)
- Not Just a Tropical Fruit: Pineapple’s Healing Benefits for Your Whole Body
- 15 Sweet and Savory Tropical Fruit Recipes To Make Before Summer’s Over
- 15 Tropical Summer Dessert Recipes That Will Transport You to Paradise
- 15 Magnificent Mango Recipes to Try This Summer
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Lead image source: Tatiana Grozetskaya/Shutterstock
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