Photo: Flickr/Leilson Bandeira
“I ate a whole lemon, raw, and it was delicious,” says Katie O’Neill, a Philadelphia-based medical student.No, she wasn’t on drugs, but her perception was chemically altered: after eating miracle fruit, nearly everything tastes (temporarily) sweet. The experience is so psychedelic that many have dubbed it “flavour tripping.”
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Miracle berries, native to West Africa, are a trendy example of the weird world of exotic fruits. A sure sign that you’ve landed somewhere new, such fruits intrigue and challenge us, whether by their unfamiliar size, shape, texture, or smell. The stinky durian fruit, for instance, has become infamous among travellers to China and Southeast Asia.
“I was thrown off a bus once because I had one in my bag,” says travel writer Mikaya Heart. But she’s quick to add that durian is one of her favourite tastes: “It is very succulent and oily, the consistency and colour of really thick custard. I would eat it every day if I could.” With a little effort, you can find durian and other exotic fruits without flying halfway across the world; start your search at specialty grocery stores or ethnic restaurants.
Such crazy, beautiful, and above all, natural fruits are a vivid reminder of the planet’s incredible, if precarious, biodiversity. As many farmers mass cultivate the same breeds of common fruit over and over again, other versions may die out to make room for bestsellers like Golden Delicious. At the same time, fruits once considered exotic (like mango or, recently, acai) can find their way into the American mainstream, which makes encountering an unfamiliar fruit that much more of a tantalising novelty.
Case in point: David Slenk lived with a Peruvian family in Lima during a yearlong trip through South America. At dessert time, they served him a weird fruit: “bright white and kind of mushy, chopped up and covered in orange juice,” he recalls. “I’d never seen anything like it before. I took a cautious bite, couldn’t believe my taste buds, then finished the entire bowl in seconds.”
That’s how Slenk discovered that he loves cherimoya, a green fruit with a fleshy white inside and black seeds. “It’s almost enough to make me move to Peru forever.”
Keep reading for more exotic fruits bound to stimulate your senses.
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This brilliantly purple fruit thrives in northern Japan, in the Tohoku area, but only briefly, making an appearance for about two weeks in early autumn. It grows on a wild vine and, for many Japanese people, is a symbol of the changing seasons. When the fruit is ripe and ready to eat, it pops open on one end. The gooey pulp inside is slightly sweet, while the rind is slightly bitter and is usually used as a vegetable. Do as locals do, and slurp up the flesh along with the seeds.
Found in the tropical rainforests of Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and northern Brazil, these Amazonian fruits are oblong and fuzzy. Their outer shells are very hard and thick, and one fruit generally weighs two to four pounds. The pulp inside smells like a mix of chocolate and pineapple--only logical once you know this fruit is related to cacao.
In fact, its pulp is similar enough to cocoa butter that it's sometimes used in cosmetics. Meanwhile, the juice has been said to taste like a pear, with a hint of banana. Like the superfruit acai, cupuaçu has so many great phytochemicals and nutrients that it is sometimes used in food supplements.
Related to the lychee and a native of tropical West Africa, ackee was imported to Jamaica in the 1700s and made a big impression; ackee and saltfish is Jamaica's national dish. Ackee pods ripen on the tree before picking, and to cook the fruit, people remove the soft, spongy white-yellow flesh before boiling it.
The oils contain many important nutrients like fatty acids, although the unripened parts of the fruit have been known to cause food poisoning. Canned ackee has been restricted in the U.S. at various times for safety reasons, but it currently has the FDA's seal of approval.
This fruit is also known as urucu, its Tupi Indian name, and can be found in the tropical parts of the Americas as well as Southeast Asia. The fruit is red and spiny--brown after it hardens--and contains bright red seeds. Unlike the other fruit included in this list, achiote's fruit is inedible, so we can't speak to its flavour.
Instead, its bright red seeds come in handy in annatto colouring , which you may have seen on packages for everything from lipstick to cheddar cheese. In addition to being used for food colouring , achiote seeds can also be used to create a flavour and scent, like a peppery nutmeg.
A relative of the mulberry, jackfruit is native to South and Southeast Asia, and may have originated in the rainforests of India. Its most immediate and striking feature is its size. One fruit is at least as big as a watermelon, and it can reach 80 pounds.
The outside of a jackfruit smells like a melon, and the inside has a sweet, tangy odor--smelling almost like gummy bears. The inside is divided into segments surrounding large seeds, and you can eat the orange flesh surrounding these pods. The fruit itself tastes sweet, similar to a melon or a tangy banana, and has an aftertaste similar to a lychee.
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