More Americans are on a quest for fresh and flavorful foods they can easily incorporate into their diets. Along the way, many have discovered exotic fruits. Vibrantly colored and unusual looking, not only are these avant garde produce delicious, they’re loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and other good-for-you nutrients.
Holistic nutritionist Anna Frumkin, owner of Nourish with Anna consulting and co-founder of Rituals + Alchemy, has been eating exotic fruits since childhood and enjoys introducing them into her clients’ meals because “they pack a nutritional punch, which is wonderful for our overall health.”
“I incorporate these exotic fruits in my morning smoothies, dairy/dairy-free yogurts, or as a fun addition to my homemade trail mix. In our busy, fast-paced world it is great to be able to call upon these booster foods that can quickly nourish us with organ-protecting properties, as well as beneficial vitamins and minerals,” she says.
On their own, in a smoothie, as a cold pressed juice, made into a jam or mixed into a salad, exotic fruits are gaining popularity for their versatility, beauty, novelty and noteworthy flavors. And they’re quickly becoming the food stars of social media.
Cassie Kifer, traveler and blogger at EverInTransit.com, agrees. “Some of these tropical fruits are really beautiful and photogenic, interesting things to share on Instagram,” she says.
Getting started with exotic fruits
In May 2016, Kifer hosted a FruitCrawl in the San Francisco Bay area to introduce her California friends and blog readers to some of her favorite exotic fruit finds from her travels. She “scoured local ethnic food stores and specialty grocers to buy a selection of rare and unusual fruits — the weirdest stuff I could find here in California.”
Kifer and 15 adventurous foodies spent an afternoon sampling everything from durian to pineapple guava to horned melon to figure out which exotic fruits appealed to their palates and which ones offended their taste buds. A longtime fan of passion fruit, physalis, and loquats, Kifer’s favorite new discovery was the Korean melon.
“It tasted like a cross between honeydew and cucumber,” she says. “While I'm glad we tried durian, or as one attendee described it, ‘garlic pudding,’ I don't think I'll ever buy one again.”
If you’re not an adventurous eater, Kifer encourages you to try an exotic fruit.
“Your favorite food might be waiting to be discovered at a local market when you travel or at an ethnic or specialty grocer close to home,” she explains.
If you’re looking for a good “starter” exotic fruit, Frumkin recommends mulberries.
“They can be added to smoothies, chia pudding, homemade trail mix, and yogurts. They are nutrient-dense and incredibly satisfying for any sweet tooth out there. You can find them at your local health food store,” Frumkin says.
Before consuming any exotic fruits, Frumkin advises talking to your doctor, as some exotic fruits may interact with medications.
10 exotic fruits to juice up your diet
Frumkin says these 10 exotic fruits will amp up the flavor and nutritional value of your diet:
Large or small, green or yellow, sweet or sour — star fruit (also known as carambola) shines on its own or as an addition to a green salad. If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, grab a large star fruit. Prefer your produce on the sour side? Select the small version of star fruit to suit your taste buds. Bonus: Frumkin says star fruit is a good source of dietary fiber, antioxidants and immune-boosting vitamin C.
Native to China, lychee is rich in potassium and vitamin C. The fruit’s light-red bumpy skin is inedible and easy to peel. The magic of the lychee can be found inside, where you’ll encounter sweet white flesh and a dark seed in the center. Enjoy this fruit on its own or as a sweet homemade sherbet.
Don’t let rambutan’s sea urchin-like appearance throw you off. Grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, rambutan is a close relative of the lychee. Cut a slit into the outer shell to remove the spiky skin, revealing rambutan’s sweet and creamy flesh. Loaded with calcium and iron, rambutan is beneficial for bone health.
Mangosteen can be found in Southeast Asia and China. The skin is inedible and can be removed by pressing the sides of the fruit together with the palms of your hands. The red rind surrounding the flesh of the fruit is extremely bitter, so you’ll want to peel it away to access the sweet-tart flavor of the mangosteen. In traditional Chinese medicine, mangosteen is used to treat diarrhea, combat infections and improve the immune system. This vitamin C-rich fruit can be enjoyed raw or added to yogurt.
Jujube is from China and has been consumed for thousands of years for its sweet and tangy taste and medicinal properties. You can simply wash it off and eat it with the skin on but watch out for the sharp seed inside. Similar in texture to an apple, jujube fruit has been noted as a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety food grade herb. Approximately 100 grams of jujube contain a healthy amount of vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin B6, which helps to improve mood and encourage melatonin production.
Mulberry is one exotic fruit you can find growing in North America. Nutrient-dense, high in water content, and low in calories, mulberries are full of fiber, iron, vitamin K, potassium, vitamin C, and other nutrients. Studies show mulberries can help reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar. Among the plant compounds found in mulberries is rutin, a plant pigment and antioxidant used to make medicine. Frumkin recommends adding mulberries to homemade trail mix, smoothies and yogurt.
Dragon fruit (also known as strawberry pear or pitaya) grows on the Hylocereus cactus in Central America and Mexico. The small black seeds inside are edible and give the dragon fruit a lively crunch and texture. Two varieties have pink skin and come with white or red flesh. A third variety has a yellow skin with white flesh. With a watermelon-like texture, the dragon fruit’s flavor resembles that of kiwi. The fruit is a great source of magnesium, fiber and iron. Dragon fruit contains flavonoids, which offer an array of antioxidants that protect the cells. Studies note this delicious fruit can reduce heart disease and improve cognitive function. Try dragon fruit in a salad, on its own, or in a smoothie or yogurt bowl.
Resembling a cherry but lighter in color, camu grows in South America’s Amazon rainforest. The berry contains vitamin C, beta-carotene, fatty acids and protein. It has a sour taste and contains two to three large seeds. Camu can be consumed raw or added to smoothies in its powder form.
Goji berries — excellent sources of vitamins C and A, fiber, iron, zinc, all eight essential amino acids and antioxidants — have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The berries are immune system boosters that can be purchased in bulk or packaged. Frumkin says you’ll also find them in superfood trail mix blends, powders and purees. She suggests adding goji berries to porridges, smoothies, salads, trail mix and chia pudding.
Did you know the jackfruit is the largest tree fruit in the world? Native to India, you can now find jackfruit in Brazil, Africa and Southeast Asia. Jackfruit is bursting with dietary fiber and contains magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The skin is inedible, but the pulp inside is sweet and buttery. Plus, you can eat the seeds. Jackfruit is delectable on its own or in jams, soups, juices, vegan meat alternatives, and dehydrated as a healthy alternative to chips.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.