Did you know that of the estimated 2,000 kinds of fruit on earth, the Western world only utilizes about 10 percent? That means there are literally hundreds of other fruits for us to explore. Read on for some of our favorite exotic fruits to help diversify your diet, improve your health, and inspire some culinary creativity. We're sure you'll be "berry" impressed!
We'll start with the mysterious and unattractive wood apple. Indigenous to Sri Lanka and India, this odd fruit is surprisingly tasty. It has a creamy consistency and tangy raisin-like taste hidden inside its dark, hard shell. Traditionally, wood apples were used in jams and chutneys, so we think that would be a great way to introduce them to your diet. A bonus? This fruit is considered helpful for digestion, sore throats, and even gum disease. How about them apples!
Our next entry, the increasingly popular jackfruit, has become a vegan staple in the West, since the innards shred into a pulled-pork-like texture when roasted. Jackfruit is native to Southeast Asia and is the largest tree fruit on earth. Some giant jackfruits have weighed over 100 pounds! We especially love this sweet and stringy offering in plant-based BBQ sandies or BBQ chicken pizza. For added convenience, Trader Joe's carries green jackfruit in brine in a can. All the yum!
The horned melon, also known as the blowfish fruit or the kiwano, is the next exotic fruit we recommend. The spiked orange outside hides a seedy, juicy, green inside. Native to the Kalahari Desert, the horned melon is high in vitamin C and fiber. It is mild and sweet in taste, like a banana with high water content with an additional kick of zesty citrus. We suggest using horned melon as a topping for yogurt or in your post-workout smoothie.
Our article cover star, the rambutan might be one of the strangest-looking edible plants in the world. However, don't let the off-putting exterior deter you. These red and rounded spiky gems contain a sweet, white-fleshed fruit. It's almost like nature decided to make a gummy bear and ended up with a rambutan. Named for rambut, the Malaysian word for hair, this unique fruit grows in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Australia. We like to add it to tropical fruit salad for an unexpected twist on a classic dish.
The surprising cherimoya looks more like a vegetable than the tasty and lush tropical fusion fruit that it is. Imagine all of your favorite flavors combined into one amazing bite that looks like a brussels sprout on steroids. Sometimes called custard apples, cherimoyas are (shockingly) delicious in custards or puddings. Native to South American countries like Peru and Ecuador, cherimoyas definitely deserve a spot on this list. After all, Mark Twain was once quoted as saying that this humble green piece of produce was "the most delicious fruit known to men."
Pitaya, also known as dragon fruit, is native to both Central America and Southeast Asia. At this time, it's available in the United States at smoothie bowl shops and Whole Foods. Its smooth interior can be anywhere from plain white to bright pink in color and is full of tiny edible black seeds. Pitaya is not only pretty, but it tastes amazing, too. It's mild and sweet with some tropical vibes. We love it in a delicious smoothie bowl or on top of a salad.
Buddha's hand might be our oddest recommendation. Native to the Himalayan mountain range, this member of the citrus family is said to resemble the praying hands of Buddha. While it's not juicy like many other fruits, it lends itself well to zesting and cocktail uses. It can also be used as decoration, perhaps as a table centerpiece; after all, this plant is a traditional symbol of long life, happiness, and monetary gain. We can certainly get on board with that!
Feijoas are native to the South American continent but are now widely produced as far away as New Zealand. These green beauties have a super bitter shell that gives way to a sweet and luscious inner fruit. Imagine a fusion of pineapple, papaya, and strawberry with a citrus twist. We like to enjoy them plain (while avoiding the skin) or use them in gelato, sorbet, or ice cream. Dessert with this tropical fruit is a win-win situation.
The mangosteen tree is a tropical evergreen that likely originated in Malaysia and Indonesia. Despite its name, however, the mangosteen does not produce fruit similar to the more well-known mango fruit. The fruit's leathery maroon outside hides a segmented white inside. Mangosteen fruit is common in Southeast Asia and pairs well with Thai-inspired fish curries; think fresh Thai basil and creamy coconut milk. Notably, most fans simply eat this tasty fruit plain.
The persimmon tree's scientific name is loosely translated as "divine fruit" or "fruit of the gods." Despite its resemblance to the humble tomato, this fruit is far different, with a sweeter, more honey-like taste. Native to Japan, persimmons are now grown in California, China, Australia, and India, among other places. We recommend using them in jams or adding them to a simple goat cheese and greens salad.
A cousin of the cherimoya, the sapodilla looks like an almond-shaped kiwi with its fuzzy coating. Thankfully, its blah brown outside is not indicative of its amazing flavor. With its sweet and smooth finish, the sapodilla is reminiscent of a caramelized pear. Originally grown in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, this delectable fruit has anti-inflammatory properties and is a good source of dietary fiber. Sapodilla pulp can be blended with yogurt. We also love this fun twist on a pineapple upside-down cake.
The guava is a small rounded fruit that looks like a lime with its bright green exterior. However, its juicy pink innards with small yellow seeds are nothing like the innards of its citrus lookalike. Sometimes considered the tropical version of the apple, the mild and sweet guava can be enjoyed plain, mixed into salads, or juiced. This powerhouse fruit was originally cultivated in Mexico, Central America, and South America and is high in vitamin C, folic acid, and fiber.
Starfruit looks exactly like it sounds, like a yellow star-shaped treat (with a waxy outer shell). The skin, seeds, and flesh are all edible and taste like a citrus plum or an apple-grape combo. Sometimes called carambola, starfruit originated on the island of Sri Lanka and is now grown in Florida and Hawaii. We suggest using it in refreshing juice recipes or to spice up teriyaki chicken.
Passion fruit is a small tropical berry that is purple in color and rounded or oval in shape; the inside is bright yellow, juicy, and seedy, while the outside is quite hard. It is a versatile culinary ingredient that can be used in cocktails, in desserts like this passion fruit cheesecake, and in salad dressing. Passion fruit has a zingy taste that is quite tart on its own, so it's best paired with sweet and creamy elements to balance its flavor profile. This exotic fruit is native to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
The kumquat offers a citrus surprise with every bite; this tiny orange fruit actually has an edible peel. The inner flesh is tart, while the peel tastes mild and sweet. Though kumquats have numerous uses, they especially shine in summer salads. This fun fruit can be found at most Trader Joe's and Whole Foods locations in the spring. Native to China, the kumquat is about the size of a large olive.
We hope you've enjoyed our look at some unusual fruits you can try. The next time you're preparing a dish that requires fruit, use something other than your run-of-the-mill apple or pear -- use one of these exotic fruits. They're sure to impress!