Fruits: they’re delicious foods, superb anti-oxidants and if you’re a Monty Python fan, formidable weapons. They’re also available in many more varieties than ever before, some of them decidedly odd. Are you up for some strange fruit? Here are a dozen, ripe for the picking.
Are you nuts? Nope, and neither are cashews. The crunchy, crescent-shaped “cashew nut” sold in stores and supermarkets is actually the seed of the similarly crescent-shaped fruit of the cashew tree. If that’s not confusing enough, the so-called Cashew Apple or “marañón” is a heart-shaped false fruit, or pseudocarp, that grows just behind the cashew fruit. As for the cashew fruit that contains the “nut”, you’ll want to leave that alone: the pulp contains a caustic, toxic oil called cardol. The delicious cashews we know and love have been carefully cleaned, boiled and roasted to remove this toxin.
Cashew Apples are extremely sweet and very juicy when ripe – shockingly astringent when not. The reason they’re rarely found in markets is that their skin is thin and fragile, making it difficult to ship them by conventional means. Health food stores sometimes stock canned or bottled Cashew Apple juice, and the fruit of the Cashew Apple can be fermented to make an alcoholic liqueur said by early Dutch traders to be better than brandy.
Native to China, this deep yellow citrus fruit was first brought to the United States in 1908 by Frank Nicholas Meyer of the Department of Agriculture. We’re not sure if Meyer (who died on an exploratory mission near Shanghai in 1918) pulled any strings to get the fruit named after him, but neither he nor his masters at the DOA are talking – too puckered up, perhaps. With that said, the Meyer Lemon is said to be sweeter, less acidic and more fragrant than its more common Eureka or Lisbon lemon cousins.
Meyer Lemons are thought to be hybrids between true lemons and mandarin oranges. The fruit zoomed in popularity after being touted by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who pioneered what is now known as California Cuisine. TV chef and food writer Martha Stewart also contributed to the Meyer Lemon’s emergence into the national food consciousness after featuring it in a number of her recipes.
Sometimes called Fingered Citron or Bushukan, Buddha’s Hand is part of the citron (not citrus) family though it looks nothing like your average lemon or lime. Slice open a “finger” and another surprise awaits: there’s no pulp, just whitish pith. This isn’t a bad thing, as the pith and peel are pleasantly fragrant yet are much less bitter than that of citrus fruits like lemons or limes.
(image via: Logan Brown Media)
Exotic and strange-looking, Buddha’s Hands add interest to your meal even if only used as a decoration. They do have much more to offer, however. Steep some in hot water to make a lemony tea or slice thinly and use as you would lemon zest. They’re not exactly cheap but not much is needed – find them at specialty food retailers like Whole Foods.
Mangosteens are not mangos, nor are they in any way Germanic (“It’s MONGO-steen!”) though their name has caused confusion in first-time tasters expecting a mango-licious experience. Purple on the outside and thickly skinned, the so-called “Queen of Fruits” requires a little extra effort to open. Once inside, however, pearly white fruit with a peachy, citrus-y taste awaits.
(image via: Mangosteen – The Secret)
Mangosteens have ridden a wave of popularity of late thanks to often overzealous promoters who’ve tagged them with the “superfruit” label. Fruit-eaters beware: the xanthones and other phytochemicals said to make Mangosteen juice an effective anti-oxidant are found in the inedible rind. This explains why commercially sold Mangosteen juice is purple while the fruit itself is white.
(images via: Discovering Lewis & Clark)
There’s not much that’s orangey about the Osage Orange, save for a slightly similar fragrance when the fruit is ripe – and let the aroma be a warning for you. Ripe Osage Orange fruit are sensitive to the touch, exuding a milky, sticky liquid that is as unappealing as their creepy, brain-like appearance. The Osage Orange is also known as the Hedgeapple or “Horse Apple” though even horses avoid it unless there’s nothing else edible in the vicinity. Even then, eating one is a dicey proposition as the starchy inner pulp is slightly toxic to mammals.
This weird-looking, grapefruit sized fruit would seem to be of no use to anyone… anyone living, that is. Some researchers have speculated that Osage Oranges evolved to appeal to certain now-extinct creatures such as mastodons and giant ground sloths. The hole in this theory is that these prehistoric megafauna died out around 13,000 years ago but the ugly Osage Orange is still with us today. You can find them growing wild in some parts of Arkansas and Texas.
Cherimoya is a fruit of South American origin that goes by a number of names including Custard Apple and Bull’s Heart, and unlike many tropical fruits it grows best in highland mountain valleys. Its flavor has been praised by no less than Mark Twain as “deliciousness itself” and the Inca’s used it as both an aphrodisiac and to improve fertility – the one following the other, one presumes.
(image via: Chef’s Blade)
Cherimoyas don’t travel well, which is why they’re not often seen outside their prime growing region in South America’s Andean nations. When you do find them, treat them as though one would an avocado: eat when the skin is slightly soft to the touch. The velvety smooth, sherbet-like inner pulp is said to combine undertones of banana, pineapple and strawberry. Some say the taste reminds them of bubblegum! Mind the large, glossy black seeds, however, they’re poisonous if broken open and make a handy homemade insecticide.
(images via: The Kitchn)
A grapefruit, an orange and a tangerine walk into a bar… some time later, out walks an Ugli Fruit. No joke, “Ugli Fruit”, as in, well, you get the picture. This natural hybrid from Jamaica is also known as the UniqFruit which begs the question: just what marketing firm got the contract to flog this admittedly un-pretty but not very nasty cultivar? Oh, to be a fly on the wall when negotiations for their contract come up. It’s sure to be, er, ugli.
Ugli Fruit are said to be larger and sweeter than grapefruit but with less seeds – sounds good so far. You’ll find it in ethnic markets, Caribbean food stores and, increasingly, in run-of-the-mill supermarket produce sections. As the song goes, “She’s ugly… but she sure can cook!”
This tiny, cute fruit with the somewhat amusing name – lump it in with Funk & Wagnalls and a few old Tonight Show “Carnac” skits – originated in China as did its name: an anglicization of the Cantonese term for “golden orange”. Kumquats are hardier than most citrus plants and have been successfully cultivated in Florida, Louisiana and California.
Though Kumquats travel well, most make an acquaintance with them through preserved jams, jellies and marmalades. Unlike most citrus fruits, Kumquats can be eaten whole, without peeling – the rind is sweet compared to the more sour and slightly salty pulp, a fact that according to Kumquat aficionados creates an enjoyable contrast in flavors. Cute, tasty, and amusingly named – all hail the Kumquat!
Durian encompasses a range of fruit species and upwards of 100 different cultivars in the genus Durio, known in its Asian home range as the “King Of Fruits”. Opening the large, thorn-covered husk is a job best left for professionals though Durian pulp is available frozen for easy use in shakes and smoothies. As for its taste… it’s safe to say, unlike anything else. To this writer (a big-time Durian fan), the flavor combines sweetness and muskiness with a hint of gasoline – this is a GOOD thing. Seriously.
No love for the Durian? Not from various Asian hoteliers and public transit authorities, who have banned the overly fragrant fruit. The Durian’s distinct (with the emphasis on “stinked”) aroma arouses a wide variety of reactions and responses among those exposed to it, ranging from approval to deep disgust. One thing’s for certain: Durian have a strong and penetrating scent that is easily noted from uncut fruit, even whole, frozen, frosty examples often found for sale in Asian supermarkets.
Check out this video that explores the scent-tacular Durian’s fame, fortune and funkiness:
Horned Melon, Melano or Kiwano… call it what you will, though “Blowfish Fruit” particularly suits what is most commonly known as the African Cucumber. This vine-grown oddity may look like one of Dr. Zoidberg’s extra internal organs but there’s nothing animal or mineral about it. Plus, it might look odd but you may be finding it more often – it’s successfully made the trip from darkest Africa to sunniest California, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. Do I make you… hungry?
Out of Africa… and onto your dinner plate? Not so fast there, chum. “Johnny Rotten” here may taste like a banana, cucumber, and lemon mashup but there’s no getting past its slimy internal pulpiness swimming with swarms of seeds. It might be safer to just use the fruit for decorative purposes and leave the actual eating to guests who have a thirst for adventure… or who are drunk.
There’s one fruit that’s not eaten for its own enjoyment, but to better enjoy the flavors of others. It’s known as the Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), or in West Africa where it originates: Agbayun, Taami, Asaa, or Ledidi. French explorer Chevalier des Marchais gave the first account of this curious fruit in 1725, reporting that West African natives would chew a small berry before meals in order to enhance the taste of their food.
Enhance is one thing, change is another – a glycoprotein molecule called Miraculin bids to the sweetness receptors in one’s taste buds, allowing them to react to sour, bitter and acidic foods. In effect, what was once sour – like lemons – now tastes sweet, like lemon candy. The effect can last up to one hour and stories have circulated of “flavor-tripping parties” in which invitees chew on Miracle Fruit and then experience the changed tastes of a wide variety of non-sweet foods.
Ginkgo Biloba trees, also known as Maidenhair Trees, have been soaking up the sunlight for several hundred million years – almost as long as animals have walked the land, inhaling the fresh, clean air… wait a minute, what’s that stench? The noble Ginkgo tree, of course. It must have evolved before those aforementioned land animals evolved noses. It’s not the tree specifically, nor the delicious and nutritious nuts that it produces, but the fruit that reeks so badly. In a recent news item, long-suffering residents with a Ginkgo tree in their front yard describe the smell of the ripened fruits as being akin to “dog poop and vomit.” Suck it, corpse flower!
The culprit is butyric acid, the same chemical found in rancid butter such as that tossed onto Japanese whaling vessels by Sea Shepherd activists. What did you think they were throwing, roses? The awful smell of a large Ginkgo Biloba tree’s shed load of fruit frequently sparks complaints to municipal authorities, yet the tree’s beauty, size, longevity and hardiness recommend it to urban and suburban planners. Also to coyotes, it seems, who will eat pretty much anything and find Ginkgo fruit goes particularly well with well-aged roadkill skunk.
(image via: Travelling Through The Wire)
Well, how do you like them apples? Fruits are the feel good food of this (and any) season, easy on the tongue and packed with trendy anti-aging molecules to soothe body, soul and mind. By the bushel or by the bunch, fruits – even the strange ones – ensure your meals are filled with good taste that’s good for you. Orange you glad?