10 Exotic, Unusual, and Weird Fruits and Veggies
The world is full of so many wonderful fruits and veggies in addition to the apples, oranges, potatoes, and broccoli that we've grown so accustomed to. I was lucky enough to have traveled to some exotic destinations (including Peru, Brazil, Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand) that have opened my eyes to the huge variety of fruits out there that we're just not exposed to in the U.S. or Western European countries. (I've been living in Portugal for about two years, and the fruits and veggies are pretty similar to the US).
With growing globalization, you just might see some of these unique fruits and veggies that sometimes look really funny and smell funky at your local supermarket. And perhaps you'll want to buy them because they all have some fantastic health benefits.
So, let's take a look at some fruits and veggies that you probably have never heard of. This way when you come across them, you'll know exactly what they are and whether you want to give them a try!
Let's start with the durian. Perhaps you've already heard of this fruit due to its infamous reputation of being quite the stinker.
Durian is native to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia and is known as the “King of Fruits". Why is during called the "King of Fruits"? Perhaps because of its immense size. Maybe it's due to its thorny skin. Or it could be its very potent odor.
Speaking of durian odor, what exactly does it smell like? Well, some describe it as skunk spray, others as sewage, and more as stinky socks on a hot summer day. Its smell gets it banned from hotels and public spaces in Southeast Asia. Is it really that bad? I personally didn't think so or maybe I had the wrong durian?
I had my first taste of durian at a Vietnamese restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia and I loved it! My Asian-American friend, Vil warned me about durian before I chose the durian bubble tea but that only enticed me further to get it. Even the lady taking my order asked if I know what it is and if perhaps I wanted to change my order but I didn't. I wanted to try durian. And what did I think? I loved it! The bubble tea had a strong fruity flavor and had pieces of durian in it, which I thought tasted really good.
I tried durian again when I traveled through Southeast Asia in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and had durian in fruit form which is sold by vendors already sliced and ready to eat. I liked it even more then because of its creamy and custardy texture and a flavor that something like banana and vanilla, with maybe a bit of onion. Apparently, when the shell is removed from the fruit, the smell goes away.
Durian Is Banned in Some Places!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Would you try durian?
Now let's take a look at the mangosteen. You'd think it's somehow related to the mango but it's not. It's actually a pretty bizarre fruit.
Native to the Sunda Islands and the Moluccas (located in Southeast Asia), the mangosteen actually comes from an evergreen tree. The fruit is about the size of a tangerine, purple, creamy, has a citrusy flavor with a hint of peach and litchis, and is very starchy. It's also been called the “Queen of All Fruits,” and as “food of the gods.”
The fruit is also rich in antioxidants and it has been found to lower risk against ailments like cancer.
Legend has it that Queen Victoria (who ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1837—1901, and was the Empress of India) offered a 100-pound reward to anyone who brings her a fresh mangosteen.
Cherimoya, also known as Custard Apple and Bull’s Heart, is native to the Andes. Nowadays, they're grown in Mediterranean climates. Hence my first encounter with this fruit, which was in Portugal. Cherimoya thrives in Madeira.
Beware, cherimoya's seeds can be poisonous when eaten! Although, you may not want to throw out the seeds because they can be used as an insecticide. They're also really pretty since they have a pearly black shine to them.
Mark Twain referred to cherimoya as "the most delicious fruit known to men."
The Incas used the fruit as an aphrodisiac and to improve fertility.
I've had cherimoyas on many occasions since they're sold at the local supermarket, and I find the flesh very creamy, like a custard cream, and the taste reminds me of perhaps a mix of pineapples, strawberries, and bananas. Cherimoya is referred to as "anona" in Portugal.
Buddha's Hand Fruit
Let me introduce a very weird looking fruit to you. Please meet Buddha's Hand. Buddha's Hand also goes by the name Fingered Citron or Bushukan. What are you? You may ask. A citron fruit will be the response, and you'll be shocked. This fruit, which looks like a creepy yellow hand or maybe a yellow squid, is in the same category as lemons and limes.
Native to southwestern China and northeastern India, Buddha's Hand is said to be very aromatic with a smell similar to violets. It's used for decorative purposes, and the rind is used to make jam and to flavor spirits.
I've never seen this fruit, but it's said to also grow in California.
Now, let's take a look at the Osage orange, which isn't an orange at all. This creepy fruit that resembles a green brain is said to smell a little like an orange when it's ripe but humans don't eat them although squirrels (for their seeds) and horses are known to love them.
The Osange orange is also known as Hedge Apple, Hedge Ball, Horse Apple, Green Brains, Monkey Balls or Mock Orange and is native to the mid-western and southeastern United States.
The brain-looking surface of Osange oranges are actually many tightly-packed ovaries of the flower!
Crosnes (pronounced "crones") is the French name of this root vegetable and member of the mint family. It's also referred to as Chinese Artichokes and chorogi, probably due to the rich flavor which is similar to that of artichokes.
Although I love artichokes, I'd be a bit hesitant of eating this artichoke-tasting veggie since it looks so much like a caterpillar's.
How are crosnes used? They get pickled, sauteed or eaten as a garnish on salads.
Horned melons go by many different names, including jelly melon, hedged gourd, English tomato, melano, and kiwanos. These prehistoric-looking fruits are native to the Kalahari Desert.
In Zimbabwe, the horned melon is a popular fruit, where the people eat the whole fruit, including skin, seeds, pulp and all.
The fruit is grown nowadays in Australia, California, Chile and New Zealand and the varying climates in these regions give the melon different tastes where it can taste something like a mix between a cucumber and kiwi or similar to a banana.
The flavor of the horned melon is enhanced by simply sprinkling it with either some salt or some sugar.
Horned melons are rich in vitamin C and fiber.
Cupuacu is one of those super-fruits that seem to not only have lots of health benefits, but it is also said to taste great. This large fruit comes from the Amazon and its creamy pulp, which tastes like a chocolatey pineapple, is used in desserts and sweet. It's also used as a moisturizer!
Health benefits of cupuacu include:
- Boosting the immune system
- Improving mental abilities and focus
- Increasing energy
- Reducing the signs of aging
- Decreasing blood pressure
What's weird about this fruit is that it appears to blossom right out of the bark and trunk of the tree! Actually, when the Jabuticaba tree is in full bloom, it looks like it had a bad purple pimples breakout!
Jabuticaba is native to South America and is similar to grapes, and in its uses as well. Wine and liquor are made from Jabuticaba.
Wondering what salsify is? Why it's a weird-looking vegetable! It's also referred to as Goat's beard and Oyster Plant. Oyster Plant because it apparently tastes like oysters! It's actually kind of popular in Europe and the southern United States. (Although it's not grown commercially.)
The flowers and stems of salsify plants are not eaten but their roots are. It is used to add savory flavor to everything from soups to stews.
You have to marvel at the bravery of whoever was the first to try these strange-looking fruits. The ackee is sometimes called a "vegetable brain" because only the inner, brain-shaped, yellowish arils are edible. Native to tropical West Africa, this fruit has been imported and cultivated in Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba and has been incorporated into some Caribbean cuisine."
Jackfruit, or Artocarpus heterophyllus, is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, growing to the hefty weight of 80 pounds. It is also the national fruit of Bangladesh and may have been cultivated in India as early as 6,000 years ago. Related to the breadfruit and marang, its buttery flesh is thick with fiber and often described as starchy in flavor. One popular way to prepare this fruit is to deep fry it into crunchy, delicious jackfruit chips. "
Native to the rain forests of Central America, monstera deliciosa looks more like an ear of corn than a fruit. To get to its pineapple-like flesh, the scaly exterior must be flaked off and delicately prepared. Interestingly, this fruit takes as long as a year to ripen and to be safe enough to eat—it can be toxic if unripe.
Well, in short, it is the newest ‘superfood’ to enter my world. It is sweet and delicious. It looks like an avocado sort of. You can get it in dried powdered form from your fave superfood supplier (soon to be me, when that bit of my website is up and running). But really, what is this strange fruit?
It comes from Peru—as too many superpowers do. In Peru, the Lucuma is used as an emblem to represent those fine peeps. It is celebrated for its amazing flavor and smooth as silk creamy texture and is actually considered one of the most unique fruits in the world. Now I have your attention, right?
My best description of the taste is, well, indescribable. Um, kind of sweet and caramelly. In spite of its sweet flavor, it is still amazingly low on the glycemic index which makes it a great thing to add to our raw hot chocolates in the morning if we want some sweetness without the sugar kick.
The goodness packed in this punch soothes the nervous system—it is loaded in vitamin B3, the nutrient known to aid in depression. This amazing fruit is rich in fiber, iron and carotene. Carotene, by the way, is what gives it the pretty orange color and the even prettier ability to protect our DNA from cancer.
Lucuma can be tricky to find in stores, but easy to order online and one of my fave companies, Navitas, offers it as well.
Get some and try it! Over here in the kitchen, we loved it in our Holiday Nog (which, by the way, was hated on by a few food blogs, and not because they didn’t like the taste, but because they didn’t like that it didn’t have milk and sugar).
Of you're wondering what that strange-looking cross between asparagus and cactus is doing in your salad, don't fret—it's probably just samphire. Also known as salicornia, sea asparagus or sea beans, samphire is available in two varieties: rock and marsh. Though it grows easily in the wild, it can also be cultivated in saltwater farms. A dazzling shade of green with a salty flavor, marsh samphire is a crunchy veg that can be eaten raw or steamed, depending on your taste. Check for them at your local farmers' market and specialty food store.
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© 2012 Anna