Getting to Know: Tropical Fruit
The winter months bring a number of exotic fruits from tropical climates to supermarket shelves. Here are tasting notes for 12 of our favorites.
Native to Southeast Asia, mangos have “sweet, floral, and silky-smooth” flesh that clings to a large, flat pit. To prepare a mango, trim one end flat, stand the fruit upright, and slice around the pit on either side. (Alternatively, mango splitters, which are similar to apple corers, cost about $10 and work very well.) Mangos are very fragrant when ripe; they will ripen at room temperature.
This oblong, five-ribbed fruit is commonly called star fruit. Its crisp, yellowish-green skin is nearly translucent, and its “fragrant, juicy” flesh is dotted with seeds. Carambola’s flavor is like a “diluted” combination of “plum, tangerine, and cucumber.” Look for taut-skinned, fragrant fruits that yield to gentle pressure. Store at room temperature and slice and add to salads or desserts.
The pebbly skin of this Brazilian fruit can be green or purple, and its soft flesh can range from stark white to bright pink. Guava’s complex flavor is “honey-sweet and funky,” with hints of “berry and pear” mixed with “gym socks.” Fresh guavas are riddled with rock-hard seeds and are highly susceptible to fruit fly infestation: We recommend sticking with prepared guava juices or purees.
We prefer Costa Rican–grown pineapples (also labeled “extra-sweet” or “gold”), which are consistently “honey-sweet” in comparison to the “acidic” Hawaiian pineapples with greenish (not yellow) skin. Pineapples will not ripen further once picked, so be sure to purchase golden, fragrant fruit that gives slightly when pressed. Store unpeeled pineapples at room temperature.
Most westerners consider this Southeast Asian fruit an acquired taste. Once cut, it boasts a “powerfully sulfurous scent” similar to “very strong, very ripe cheese.” Its flavor, however, is another matter; tasters liked the “eggnog” character and also praised the “puddinglike” texture. Ripe durian will be fragrant and give slightly when pressed. Use within a day or two of purchase.
Papayas come in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes (they can weigh up to 20 pounds!). Their “juicy, custard-smooth” flesh holds hundreds of edible, “peppery” seeds. Papaya is “very sweet” but “musky, like overripe cantaloupe.” Ripe papaya is best eaten raw, but unripe papaya can be shredded and used in salads or cooked like a vegetable. Ripe papayas will yield to gentle pressure.
To open a coconut, hold it over a bowl and strike it with the dull side of a chef’s knife (or a hammer). The flesh is “dense and earthy,” with a “vanilla-like finish.” When choosing coconuts, give them a shake: They should be heavy and full of liquid. Store at room temperature for up to six months.
A passion fruit is roughly the size of a lime and has a tough, leathery skin that wrinkles slightly when ripe. The interior is filled with a seedy, mustard-yellow, gelatinous pulp that is “intensely aromatic,” with hints of “peach and raspberry.” Passion fruit pulp is often strained to extract the juice. Passion fruit can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.
Though native to China, this brown, egg-shaped fruit is so named because it was first commercially grown in New Zealand. Beneath its furry skin lies brilliant green or gold flesh studded with tiny, crunchy black seeds. Its flavor is “sweet-tart” and “berrylike,” and it has a “firm but juicy” texture. Kiwis will ripen at room temperature and can be refrigerated for up to three weeks.
This large, starchy variety of banana is popular in Latin American, African, and Asian cuisines. Plantains mature from green to yellow to black. Though fully ripe plantains can be eaten out of hand, most plantains are cooked when they are still underripe. Their flavor is reminiscent of “squash and potato,” and they have a “dense, spongy texture.” Peel and fry, sauté, or boil.
Also called dragon fruit or strawberry pear, this member of the cactus family has scaly skin that ranges from yellow to purplish-green. The “tender, seedy” flesh can be creamy white to magenta. The fruit is “grainy like a watermelon,” with notes of “strawberry” and “clay.” To eat, cut in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Pitayas will not ripen once picked, so buy only fragrant, slightly soft fruit.
Although this Malaysian fruit looks intimidating, its purplish bristles are actually quite soft, and the skin is easily peeled by hand. The interior, which looks like “a jellyfish surrounding a large, woody pit,” has a “delicate berry flavor,” a “mild tartness,” and a texture reminiscent of “gummy bears.” Look for brightly colored, fragrant fruit with intact bristles. Peel and eat raw.