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Chef Career - A Chefs Guide to Exotic Fruits

Aug 17, 2007
Ah, the everyday fruits at the English-speaking table: apple, orange, banana. Tangerine, peach, strawberry. Maybe a bunch of grapes or the occasional kiwi. As anyone can see, the fruit table at the typical banquet is stuck in a rut. We haven't seen nearly enough exotic offerings to invigorate our taste buds with a new experience... and sometimes challenge our notion of fruit entirely! Here, we present a guide to some up-and-coming fruits whose time for recognition is long overdue:

Atemoya - Atemoyas are popular in Taiwan, though they are native to the South Pacific in general. Atemoyas are round in shape, with green, bumpy skin. They are juicy and smooth, tasting slightly sweet and a little tart. Some say they taste like an alcohol-free pina colada! Watch out for the black seeds, however, which are said to be toxic. Their season is late summer through early winter.

Bilberry - No wonder you haven't seen these; they are rarely cultivated! Bilberries are native to Scotland, Ireland, and Poland. They have an appearance and taste close to a blueberry, but redder rather than bluer. You can eat them fresh, or as they are more commonly used, in jams, juices and pies. In France, they are used as a base for liqueurs, sorbets, and other desserts, and in Brittain they are often used to flavor crepes.

Black Sapote - This is a species of persimmon found native in Central and South America from Mexico to Columbia. Black Sapote is tomato-like and the size of a tangerine, with a rind which is greenish-yellow. The brown, pulpy meat of this fruit is said to taste like - are you ready for this? - chocolate pudding! You'll find them in Mexican markets from August to January. In the Philippines, it is served as a dessert with milk over it.

Cherimoya - Strange that the cherimoya has taken so long to be accepted into mainstream culture. Mark Twain is known for having complimented cherimoyas he enjoyed while traveling abroad. Cherimoyas are green and bumpy, about the size of a grapefruit, with a shape that looks like it had an artichoke or perhaps a pine cone in its family tree. Taken that you avoid the seeds, which are poisonous but easy to remove, the fruit tastes tangy and sweet, somewhere between a strawberry and a mango.

Clementine - Surprising that we don't hear more of this one; the best way to describe a clementine is that it's exactly like a tangerine, but without the sour taste! This is a straight citrus fruit all the way, looking, peeling, and sectioning just like a tangerine or a mandarin orange. The origins of it are lost in time - some say China and some point to Algeria. They are in season from November to January, and so they go by the nickname of "Christmas Oranges".

Dragon Fruit - It doesn't get any more exotic than this. Dragon fruit is the fruit of the pitaya tree. It ranges in color from red to yellow to green, kind of like bell peppers. It is shaped kind of like a pear that is trying to grow vines. The inside is a wonder - tasting vaguely like a kiwi and the meat is either Oreo-cream-white or fig-brown, peppered with hundreds of tiny, crunchy seeds. The name supposedly comes from the suggestion that it looks like a dragon's egg, although how anybody found a dragon's egg to compare with is anybody's guess. Native to Asia. The season is September to March.

Durian - This is the canonical weird fruit. If you can say you've eaten a durian, you've at least stepped outside of your comfort zone and possibly can lay some claim to courage. The appearance of it is like an avocado with a suit of spiky armor. Slice it open and discover a kind of pod-like structure with a thick core and skin.

The smell of the durian is a legendary turn-off. It has been compared to many disagreeable things from a rotting corpse to a skunk. Stories abound about how the fruit stinks so bad that it is actually banned in hotels, subways, and planes. The odor can be picked up from miles away, and if you store a cut durian in your fridge, it will taint the odor of everything else, including the garlic. Once you get past the smell, the taste is commonly described as nutty and sweet, but other descriptions range from custard to onions. Possibly the most complex flavor known in nature. You either love it or hate it, but it's been consumed in its native Asia since ancient times. Seasonal in April and May.

Elderberry - Found in the warmer parts of Europe and North America, these berries are black with a luminous blue tint. They are also poisonous raw! They have cyanide content, which can only be destroyed by cooking. Nevertheless, they are used to make both tea and wine. They have a smell described as "fetid", and hence (it's there, look it up!) the insult from the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", where a soldier taunts "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!" Walt Whitman, the poet, is said to have been fond of elderberry wine.

Feijoa - This is a warm-temperature to subtropical fruit that ripens in Autumn. It looks about like an elongated lime. It's flavor is sweet, juicy, and aromatic; the rind, while edible, is tart. Slice one in half and find a distinctive four-point plus-sign shape inside. Typically, it is eaten with a spoon. Popular in New Zealand, where it is used in smoothies, yogurt, and drinks. It can even be made into wine.

Granadilla - Sometimes distinguished as the "sweet granadilla", because there is also a "giant" variety. It is native to the Andes mountains around Bolivia and Venezuela, but can be coaxed to grow as far north as Mexico and as far south as Argentina. The fruit ripens in May and June. When ripe, it is about the size and color of an orange, with a yellow cast and a hard, smooth shell. The meat consists of a mass of pesto-green seeds and clear pulp. It tastes sort of like citrus, but sweet, and is popular in sherbets.

Gooseberry - Native to Europe, this is not to be confused with two other species mistakenly called the gooseberry. The berries come in green and red varieties, in an oval shape looking very much like grapes but with a veined skin texture. They are described as having a sour, bitter flavor when raw, but are extremely popular in everything from pies to jellies to wines. The gooseberry is very "old world", it is rare because it is so difficult to cultivate, having several pests that destroy the crop entirely if given half the chance.
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