One of my favourite parts about traveling is opening my taste buds up to new and exciting flavours. While working on several organic farms in Hawaii I discovered foods I’d never heard of daily. The Big Island of Hawaii is home to all but two of the world climate zones making it the perfect place to grow almost any fruit. With its rich volcanic soil it bears various nutrients and minerals for über tasty produce year round.
Alas, here is my list of the top 15 fruits I tried in Hawaii that you should considering tasting on your next tropical vacation. And hey, if you want to pretend, just head on down to your local Chinatown because some of these you can pick up without a plane ticket.
Otherwise known as the custard apple, Mark Twain dubbed it “the most delicious fruit known to man”. This fruit is large with a creamy white flesh and large black seeds in the center. A ripe cherimoya has green skin and is soft to the touch, much like a ripe avocado. Its flavor is like a mélange of banana, papaya, pineapple, strawberry, and peach- kind of like my ideal smoothie! Try chilling it for an ideal snack on a hot day (this is why people also call it ice-cream fruit).
2. White Sapote
Pronounced sah-PO-tay, this fruit is all granny smith apple on the outside with creamy white flesh on the inside. It grows on a tall tree and turns from green to yellow when ripe. The taste is sweet and smooth with no acidity and comparable to the flavor of a banana or peach with a hint of vanilla.
Be wary when eating as an afternoon snack, unless you plan on taking a siesta afterwards, because it’s drowsiness inducing properties may have you snoozing away.
To me it’s the perfect desert and I’d eat it all the time if only I could get my hands on it.
3. Yellow Dragon Fruit
You may have seen its fuchsia sister before, that weird-looking oval-shaped fruit with scaly thick skin and white pulpy flesh specked with little black seeds? I like to compare dragon fruit to a kiwi though its much less sour and much more thirst quenchingly sweet and subtle. This was my go-to snack in Asia because you could just peel back the skin and gobble it up without making a mess, plus what girl can resist that bright vibrant colour?
The yellow version however is much less common to come by. I didn’t know it existed until one day while hitching a ride in Hawaii, my chauffeur and I got chatting about the dragon fruit we were growing at the farm I was working at. It just so happened he worked at a local yellow dragon fruit farm which also just so happened to be on route so we stopped for a roadside snack.
You should be very careful while harvesting these because it is a cactus and, unlike the pink version, has massive long spikes that need brushing off before you can eat them. I’ve only ever seen the yellow ones in Hawaii (my guess because they need much more work to harvest) but if you come across one buy it immediately! They’re generally a bit smaller than its fuchsia counterpart but the flavor is even sweeter and, in my opinion, tastier. Yum!
Mangosteen is a common Southeast Asian fruit that has become popular for its high concentration of antioxidants. It is small and round with deep purple skin and a bright green stem with petals. This one also has white, segmented fruit on the inside, kind of like an orange, but is sweet and juicy with a delectable balance of citrus and sugar. To eat it, simply squeeze the rind until it splits, pop off the bottom, hold it by the stem and enjoy. The segments come out quite easily and may have a few seeds inside.
5. Jaboticaba or Jabuticaba
Native to Brazil, jaboticaba is quite an attractive plant that grows slowly into a large shrub. Dark purple in colour, it grows in big clusters and looks like grapes with thicker, tougher skin. You can eat the resinous skin, but the white pulp inside is where it’s at. Not only does it look like a grape, it kind of tastes like one too and is also commonly used to produce wines, jams and jellies so next time you’re in Brazil, see if you can pick up a bottle of jaboticaba wine and let me know how it is!
Attention Juicyfruit fans, this one is for you. The first thing that came to my mind when I tried this fruit was that it tastes like bubble gum! Not everyone shares this observation, but some certainly do.
Jackfruit grows into an enormous prickly fruit, somewhat resembling durian, with many pods or bulbs inside, each one encasing a big dark seed. The pods are the part you eat, they are a little bit chewy and when unripe somewhat resemble the texture of chicken and are often used as a replacement in vegetarian dishes, such as jackfruit curry . You can buy jackfruit dried, frozen, canned or fresh. I suggest trying it fresh as fresh fruit is always better than the latter.
Imagine if an apple and a pumpkin were to have a baby… behold the persimmon. There are two different types of persimmons, the astringent or hachiya persimmon and the non-astringent or fuyu persimmon.
The hachiya persimmons aren’t eaten when they are crisp, you need to keep them for several weeks until they turn squishy and the flesh is jelly like. You don’t want to eat these until they are fully ripe as they will be extremely tart and unpleasant.
The fuyu persimmons are my preference, they have all the crispness and convenience of an apple with the colour and flavour of a pumpkin. They are used for cooking as well, toss them into a salad or bake some persimmon muffins for a delicious treat.
8. Purple Liliko’i (Passionfruit)
Although I commonly see passion fruit juices in stores, before going to Hawaii I had never tried a fresh passion fruit, and never even heard of a purple passion fruit. The yellow is a tropical variety and tends to be more used for processing and turning into juices and jams. The purple however, is subtropical and more commonly eaten fresh.
If you can get your hands on some fresh passion fruit, try pulsing the flesh in a blender a couple of times then straining the juice through a sieve. You will be left with a delicious fruit concentrate, which added to some sparkling water is a favourable beverage. Better yet, add it to a margarita for a tasty fresh cocktail.
Rollinia is a large yellow fruit with a bumpy, somewhat spiky surface. Native to the Amazon, it comes from the Custard Apple family, much like our friend cherimoya. The fruit is soft and creamy and the flavour is comparable to lemon meringue pie. Try scooping it out and mixing it with ice cream for a delicious treat. Rollinia can’t be kept long and bruises easily once ripe, probably why we don’t see this one around much.
This one also comes from the same family as cherimoya, but with prickly spikes, yikes! Soursop is also similar in taste, but a touch more on the citrus side with the same creamy texture, whitish flesh and black seeds. Unlike cherimoya, soursop may be preserved and used for juicing as well as flavoring candies, sorbet and other such goodies.
11. Carambola (Star Fruit)
What a fun fruit. It’s nickname is pretty self-explanatory, it forms the shape of a star when cut into slices. Aside from its obvious aesthetic appeal, this fruit is juicy and fresh with the flavour resembling a cross between apple and lime. It’s waxy on the outside with juicy flesh on the inside and is ripe when it is yellow. This is a great snacking fruit because it is so easy to eat and not messy at all. One of my favourites indeed.
I’m always attracted to the colourful, weird-looking fruits that I never see in Canada. Rambutan is like lychee, native to the Malay Archipelago, its name means “hairy”. To eat it, you just need to give it a good little squeeze and pop it open to show it’s small, tender, egg-shaped flesh on the inside. It has a pit in the middle, so you kind of need to chew to flesh off then spit it out. It’s flavour is mellow, sweet, and sometimes sour, somewhat comparable to a grape and always delicious.
Not to be confused with the green vegetable tomatillo, which is used for making green salsa, this tree fruit originates from Peru, Chile. The flavor may be described as a mix between kiwi, tomato and passionfruit. Sounds odd yet intriguing, doesn’t it? I’d suggest trying it alongside a cheese platter or mixing it into your fruit salad for an added zing.
14. Surinam Cherry
Okay so it’s not a cherry, but it kinda looks like one, right? Surinam cherries are native to Surinam, Guyana, go figure, and grow wild. They don’t taste particularly like cherries either with a tart, resinous quality to them. They need should be eaten only when absolutely ripe or will be extremely unpalatable. You know it’s ripe when it turns a deep blood-red colour, and drops easily from the tree. When it is ripe it is very sweet and juicy but people tend to either love it or hate it.
15. Red Strawberry Guava
You usually see guavas that are either yellow or red. The yellow tend to have a citrus quality to them while the red ones have a strawberry aroma, hence the name. They grow wild, are quite invasive, and are a weed in many countries. While I was hiking to Waimanu Valley they were everywhere and a pleasant treat to snack on. Guavas can be eaten right off the bush as they have a soft edible skin, sweet flesh and many hard small seeds. You can eat the whole fruit, though some prefer not to eat the skin due to its tart quality. Be careful of the seeds because they are quite hard, though still edible.
Not only are all of these fruits great to try fresh, the farmer’s markets offer delicacies you won’t try anywhere else. Try Uncle Robert’s Wednesday night market for a good time and some amazing food. It’s not the easiest to get to, located at the end of the Red Road in lower Puna on the Big Island, but having lived in the area briefly I can say it’s definitely worth the trip. If you can’t get there, head over to any of the other markets and try something you’ve never heard of before, it might be delicious.
What new fruits have you discovered while traveling?
Happy fruit tasting!