When Mark Twain bit into a cherimoya for the first time, he was obsessed, calling it “the most delicious fruit known to men.” Nearly 100 years later, this sublime fruit is still almost completely unknown to most people. So what have we been missing?
It’s impossible to compare apples and oranges, and the same goes for these five unusual fruits that each have distinct flavors and odoriferous scents. Look hard enough, and these hidden gems could be sitting pretty right at the local Asian or farmers market.
This sweetheart-shaped fruit resembles an artichoke, and the flavor—truly transcendent. Also known as a custard apple, they can simply be broken open to expose the creamy flesh that’s been likened to a vanilla-mango or banana-pineapple flavo—with a hint of bubblegum. Intrigued? Although they’re native to the Andes, it turns out they can thrive in Mediterranean climates, and so they’re popping up locally grown in California more frequently these days.
Their high calorie content makes them golden for a raw, vegan diet. They’re rich in lipids, minerals, and vitamins, but particularly high in B6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, their high potassium can help control heart rate and blood pressure. Traditional Mexican medicine hails the cherimoya's ability to relieve anxiety, convulsions, and potential as an anti-depressant. Just don’t eat the seeds—they can be toxic when crushed.
Pitaya (aka dragonfruit)
Dragonfruit couldn’t be a more accurate name for this fruit that resembles a colorful animated flame. The Central American variety of pitaya has a bolder sour, juicy flavor than it's Asian cousin, similar in taste to strawberries and raspberries. How to eat these cactus-derived fruits? Easy—just cut them open and spoon out the flesh or cut it into cubes like a kiwi, mango, or avocado.
The seeds are edible and rich in lipids, omega-3s, and fiber, but need to be chewed thoroughly for digestion. Pitaya’s high level of antioxidants are helpful for detoxing, and can soften arteries and reduce oxidative stress levels, in turn potentially lowering blood pressure.
These are the largest tree fruit in the world (they can weigh in at up to 100 pounds), and resemble giant, knobbly melons. Some have likened their scent to overripe fruit, or worse—feet, cheese, and pet food. Sounds horrible, but don’t be deterred! Somehow, it doesn’t taste how it smells—the jackfuit tastes mildly mango-ish, peachy, and pear-like. The fibrous flesh has an unexpected bonus—the texture is perfect for making a vegan version of pulled pork. Seriously. Jackfruit has been vegan chefs’ best kept secret for meatless carnitas for years.
The perennial trees that they grow on are prolific and low-maintenance, and the jackfruit has been hailed as a miracle crop also due to its high resistance to pests and drought, making it an important organic food source in food insecure areas of Southeast Asia.
Inside a papery yellow husk lies a sweet treasure called the goldenberry. It could be mistaken for a cherry tomato, but the taste is an eye-opening tart sweetness. High in protein and packed with vitamin C, phosphorous, vitamin A, and B vitamins, these berries can reduce inflammation and improve immunity.
Native to Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, this berry was originally an important staple in the Incan diet. “Goldenberries have been very important to take care of the soil [and] earth [in the Andes] so that the foods cultivated next can maintain vibrance, nutritional potency, and aid in the consumer’s longevity,” says Jason Gentile of Essential Living Foods, who sources the best goldenberries in the world directly from Peruvian farmers.
A fruit that smells like fresh baked bread when cooked? Yum. Hence the name. The lumpy green breadfruit is starchy, and taste wise it's comparable to taro, plantains, cassava, and sweet potatoes. (The flesh can also be ground into flour for sweet and savory dishes.)
One fruit can provide enough carbohydrates in a single meal for a family of five, enriching them with plenty of dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as some thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. It’s existed in Oceania for millenniums in multispecies agroforests that are naturally sustainable. Once planted, the breadfruit tree requires minimal labor, results in little topsoil loss, and stores carbon. No wonder Pacific Islanders consider it a “tree of life.”
Photo credit: Kenneth Cole Schneider via Flickr