No matter how much you travel, there will probably always be some exotic fruits you never knew existed. You may have heard about jackfruit and dragon fruit, but we still have 18 more on the list. Check them out!
The more you travel, the more you realize that you don’t know as many things as you thought! To us, one of the things we most look forward to when we travel is the food! This means trying out flavorful dishes, but also experimenting with all sort of exotic fruits we never even knew existed. Just when we think we’ve tried everything, something new and exciting comes up on our journeys.
20 exotic fruits you never knew existed
Jackfruit is native to Southeast Asia. It’s the largest tree-borne fruit in the world and can sometimes weight up to 80 pounds (35 kg). Ripe jackfruit is naturally sweet, with a subtle flavor comparable to a combination of apple, pineapple, mango, and banana. The seeds from ripe fruit are edible and have a milky, sweet taste often compared to Brazil nuts. Jackfruit has a distinctive sweet aroma and it smells kind of like a pineapple-banana combo.
Jackfruit is commonly used in South and Southeast Asian cuisines, but it also became popular in the United States as a vegan meat substitute. Why’s that? Because unripe jackfruit has a meat-like taste. When cooked, it takes on the flavor of other ingredients and you can serve it in dishes like fake pulled pork or instead of poultry.
The Durian fruit can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) long and 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter, and typically weighs 2 to 7 pounds (1 to 3 kilos). Its color is husk green to brown, and its flesh pale-yellow to red, depending on the species. You can usually find it in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
But the most interesting thing about durian is the smell-taste contrast. It smells so bad, that it’s almost unbelievable that somebody once tried to eat this fruit. Despite its horrible smell, the creamy flesh tastes nice, sort of like an almond flavored custard. Some people describe its taste like a combo of custard, caramel, and blue cheese. Others say that it tastes like vanilla custard, banana, caramel, and a hint of sweet onion, but not really. One thing is for sure: its taste is different for everybody. The durian is somewhat similar in appearance to the jackfruit.
Ackee is a fruit, but it’s cooked and used as a vegetable. The fruit is fully ripe and suitable for cooking when the pods are bright red and they split open easily to expose the edible fruit inside. Prior to cooking, the ackee arils are cleaned and washed. The arils are then boiled for approximately 5 minutes and the water discarded. If the fruit is eaten incorrectly, it can make you very sick, so be careful and do some serious research before using it. The fruit is native to West Africa but is also cultivated in Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba.
4. Miracle Fruit
The miracle fruit is the common name for synsepalum dulcificum, a plant whose berries, when eaten with sour foods like lemons and limes, make these foods taste sweet. This effect is due to a taste modifier called miraculin. So, when you eat the fruit by itself, it’s not interesting, but when you mix the juice with lemon or lime juice, you get a sweet taste instead of sour.
In tropical West Africa, where this species originates, the fruit pulp is used to sweeten palm wine. It has been used as a sweetener for various beverages and foods, such as beer, cocktails, vinegar, and pickles, but since 2011 the United States Food and Drug Administration banned importing it from Taiwan, declaring it as an ‘illegal undeclared sweetener’.
Physalis are herbaceous plants similar to the common tomato. Not all Physalis species have edible fruit; however, some species are selected and cultivated for their edible fruit which, by the way, is similar to a firm tomato in texture and look inside. They taste similar to strawberries or pineapples and have a mild acidity. The fruit can be eaten raw or used in salads. Some varieties are added to desserts, or dried and used like raisins. They also look pretty cool on the outside. Some species of Physalis are grown as ornamental plants.
The Brazilian grape tree makes jabuticaba berries, which grow all over the tree’s trunk. They look like purple grapes with a sweet, white, or rosy pink gelatinous flesh.
You usually eat the fruit raw, but you can also use it in jams, tarts, wines, and liqueurs. It has a super short shelf life. Fresh fruit may begin to ferment 3 to 4 days after harvest, which is why it’s usually only available where it’s cultivated, so you can find it in Brazilian markets.
From the outside, this fruit looks like an orange, but on the inside, it’s like a green-orange tomato. The fruit has a citrus flavor, sometimes described as a combination of rhubarb and lime. You can find it easily in Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia.
8. Star Apple
Star apples have many others common names, among them: pomme de lait, estrella, and milk fruit. The fruit is globose and typically measures from 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The fruit is sweet and best served chilled.
It is native to the West Indies, and it has spread to Central America and throughout the tropics, including Southeast Asia.
The longan is common in China and belongs to the same family as lychee. It’s one of the exotic fruits you never knew existed. It’s similar to lychee in structure but more aromatic in taste. It resembles an eyeball when its fruit is shelled, and that’s why it’s also called ‘dragon eye’.
You can eat it fresh and raw, but longan fruit is also often used in Asian soups, snacks, desserts, and sweet-and-sour foods, either fresh or dried, and sometimes preserved and canned in syrup.
Rambutan is related to other edible tropical fruits including lychee and longan. The fruit is a round to oval single-seeded berry. The leathery skin is reddish (rarely orange or yellow), and covered with fleshy pliable spines, hence the name, which means ‘hairs’. Inside, there’s a translucent whitish or very pale pink flesh. Rambutan has a sweet, mildly acidic flavor similar to the taste of grapes. The fruit is usually sold fresh but is also commonly made into jams and jellies. It is traditionally cultivated especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
11. Purple Mangosteen
From the outside, the purple mangosteen looks like a giant blueberry but with a fluid-filled inner flesh common to citrus fruits. The fruit of the mangosteen is sweet and tangy, juicy, and somewhat fibrous. To open a mangosteen, the shell should be scored with a knife.
It grows mainly in Southeast Asia, southwest India and other tropical areas such as Puerto Rico and Florida. You can still find mangosteen canned or frozen in Western countries, but the canning takes out a lot of the flavor.
The lucuma fruit is popular in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Costa Rica. One of those exotic fruits you never knew existed has a globe shape, russet to yellow when mature, and its pulp is bright yellow. When eaten raw, the fruit is dry. It’s more commonly used as a flavor in juice, milkshakes, and ice cream. Some people say it tastes like sweet potato, maple syrup, or butterscotch.
13. Sugar Apple
The sugar apple fruit, also known as custard apple, is spherical through conical, with a thick rind composed of knobby segments. Its color is typically pale green through blue-green, with a deep pink blush in certain varieties, and has some segments that tend to separate when ripe. Inside, the sugar apple flesh is creamy white through light yellow, resembling custard. It also tastes like a sweet custard. The fruit can actually be made into a sweet wine.
The sugar apple is common in South America and southeast Asia, in the Philippines, Bahamas, Jamaica, India, and Australia.
Sugar apple and cherimoya are two different but very closely related species. Cherimoya is also called custard apple. Thanks to that and thanks to their similar appearance, the two different fruits may be confused.
Mark Twain called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men”. The fruit has a creamy-textured flesh that tastes like a combo of banana, pineapple, and bubblegum. Some say that it also tastes a little like papaya, peach, and strawberry. The fruit can be chilled and eaten with a spoon, which has earned it another nickname, the ice cream fruit.
In fact, in Peru, it is commonly used in ice creams and yogurt. You can find it about anywhere in Latin American markets.
15. Dragon Fruit (also known as White Pitaya)
Ok, you may know this one, but it’s too beautiful to ignore it. Dragon fruit or pitaya is the fruit of several cactus species indigenous to the Americas.
The most commonly seen dragon fruit has a pink skin and white flesh spotted with tiny black seeds. Because of its black, crunchy seeds, the fruit’s texture is similar to kiwi’s. The appearance is impressive, but the flavor is surprisingly subtle, mildly sweet.
Dragon fruit is native to Mexico but is now grown across Latin America and in Asia. Usually, you’ll find it in Asian markets.
16. Kiwano (Horned Melon)
One of the exotic fruits you never knew existed, kiwano, belongs to the cucumber and melon family. Its fruit has horn-like spines, hence the name “horned melon”.
When ripe, the fruit has an orange skin. The flesh is jelly-like in texture, and with a lime-green color. Its taste is refreshing, like a combo of lemon and cucumber. Some people say its taste is a combo of banana and passionfruit or a banana-cucumber-lime mixture. You can eat it raw or in smoothies, salads, salsas or cocktails.
You can find it in Africa, but also in the United States, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand.
17. Feijoa (Pineapple Guava)
The feijoa fruit is green, ellipsoid, and about the size of a chicken egg. One of the exotic fruits you never knew existed, feijoa has a sweet flesh and tastes like pineapple, apple, and mint. Because the flesh is juicy (divided into a clear, gelatinous seed pulp and a firmer, slightly granular flesh), you can scoop it out with a spoon. Feijoa may be used as an interesting addition to a fruit smoothie and may be used to make wine or cider and feijoa-infused vodka.
It’s native to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Also, it’s a common garden tree in California.
18. Tamarillo (Tree Tomato)
Tamarillo is an egg-shaped edible fruit with a tart, astringent, and pulpy flesh that you can scoop out with a spoon. Their skin color varies from yellow and orange to red and almost purple. The tamarillo has a taste similar to that of a passion fruit combined with a piquant tomato.
People in New Zealand scoop out the pulpy flesh and spread it on toast at breakfast. It can be used in compotes or added to stews, hollandaise, chutneys, and curries. Combined with apples, you can use it in strudels.
The tamarillo is native to South America. Today it is cultivated in South Africa, India, Nepal, China, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
Loquats are another one of those exotic fruits you never knew existed. They’re oval, rounded or pear-shaped, measuring 1–2 inches (3–5 cm) in length. They have a yellow or orange, sometimes red-blushed skin. Their white flesh (sometimes yellow or orange) is succulent and tangy. The fruits are sweetest when their skin is soft and orange, and the flavor is a mixture of peach, citrus, and mild mango.
The trees are cultivated in China, Japan, Korea, India, some areas of Pakistan and Philippines, but they also are a common ornamental tree in California.
Jujube is the last one on this list of the exotic fruits you never knew existed. It is a small oval and sweet red fruit that looks like a date when it’s mature. Actually, jujube is also called red date. The freshly harvested fruit are often eaten as a snack, or with coffee. It is native to China, but now available around the world.