I like to share information that makes life more joyful and meaningful. My main interests are health and general wellness in body and mind.
The World's Most Unusual Fruits
What are the world's weirdest and most exotic fruits? And who gets to define which fruits are weird and which fruits are not? What looks or tastes strange to one person might be the most common thing in the world to someone else. It may all depend on where in the world you live and in which culture you were raised.
What follows is a list of what might be considered the world's weirdest and most exotic fruits from a Western perspective. I've saved the weirdest three for last!
Scientific Name: Citrus medica
Common Names: Buddha's hand, Buddha's fingers, bushukan (Japanese)
This fruit is shaped like a hand, with finger-like protrusions growing out from the base. The fruit and the light-purplish flowers are both very fragrant, and they are commonly used for religious offerings. The name "Buddha’s hand," then, is fitting and appropriate.
The fruit itself is not edible, as there is hardly any flesh or juice. It is usually sliced into small pieces and eaten as part of a salad. It may also be preserved as a candy. In both Japan and in China, the fruit is popularly used for perfuming clothes and rooms.
Scientific Name: Synsepalum dulcificum
Common Names: miracle fruit, miracle berry, sweet berry
What's odd about this fruit is not its appearance but rather its aftereffects. The berry itself has a low sugar content, but after eating it, sour foods begin to taste sweet. For example, lemons will begin to taste sweet.
This strange effect is the result of a protein substance present in the berries called miraculin, which causes the taste buds to perceive sour foods as sweet. This effect will last for about an hour—or until the protein substance is drained away by the saliva.
Originally from West Africa, miracle fruits are cultivated today in Ghana, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and South Florida.
Scientific Name: Cucumis metuliferus
Common Names: kiwano melon, horned melon, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, melano, blowfish fruit
This fruit is considered to be the earliest cultivated melon. When ripe, it has yellow-orange skin with a green, jelly-like flesh that tastes similar to cucumber. Because of its texture and shape, the kiwano melon is used as a popular decorative item for food.
Scientific Name: Plinia cauliflora
Common Names: jabuticaba fruit, Brazilian grapes
Native to Brazil, the jabuticaba fruit has an odd feature related to the way it grows. If you look closely at the photo above, you'll notice that they grow directly from the tree's trunk and branches!
The fruit itself has purplish-black skin, and its flesh is like ordinary grapes. They are relatively large in size, measuring 3 to 4 centimeters in diameter, and each fruit has 1 to 4 seeds each. They are often eaten fresh, just like grapes, but they can also be made into juice, jellies, jams, and even wine and liqueurs.
Scientific Name: Monstera deliciosa
Common Names: monster fruit, monsterio delicio, monstereo, Mexican breadfruit, banana pineapple
Monster fruits are grown in Mexico. They look like an ear of corn (maize), and they are covered with hexagonal scales. They are typically around 25 centimeters long and 3 to 4 centimeters in diameter. The scales must be removed in order to reach the flesh, which is similar to pineapple in texture and taste.
Scientific Name: Mauritia flexuosa
Common Name: aguaje fruit
The aguaje fruit grows on a type of palm tree called the moriche palm, known in Peru as the aguaje palm. The fruit is chestnut-colored with shiny scales. The flesh is yellow in color, with a high vitamin C content. Peruvians believe that the fruit has special properties that can enhance the female figure. For this reason, aguaje capsules are often sold as beauty aids in Peru.
Scientific Name: Morinda citrifolia
Common Names: noni fruit, Indian mulberry, mengkudu (Indonesia and Malaysia), apatot (Philippines), beach mulberry, cheese fruit, vomit fruit
The pimpled noni fruit may look strange, but modern health enthusiasts have dubbed it a superfruit. The fruits, leaves, and roots have curative properties and are used by many communities to treat ailments such as menstrual cramps, bowel problems, diabetes, liver disease, and urinary tract infection.
I personally have benefited from Hawaiian noni juice. I experienced a bowel problem with constant visits to the toilet. After taking noni juice, however, my problem resolved.
Traditionally found in Southeast Asian countries, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, the fruit is now becoming highly commercialized, with Hawaii leading the way.
The fruit is an irregular oval in shape, and it's about the size of a small potato. It has a foul smell when ripe (no wonder it is also called the "vomit fruit"!). The fruit is usually cooked with savory foods.
Scientific Name: Artocarpus altilis
Common Name: breadfruit
The breadfruit is found across Southeast Asia and most Pacific Ocean islands (although I should mention that I have not personally seen this fruit in my country, Malaysia).
Bright green in color, the breadfruit is quite large—about the size of a soccer ball. It is rich in starch, and as it ripens, the starch converts into sugar. When cooked, the texture and flavor are similar to fresh-baked bread; hence its name.
Scientific Name: Physalis peruviana
Common Names: physalis, golden strawberry, Cape gooseberry, groundcherry, Chinese lantern
This fruit looks like a very small tomato. What's interesting about this fruit, however, is that it grows with a papery husk encasing it, which makes it looks like a bougainvillea flower. Once the fruit is removed from the husk, the tiny fruit is revealed. Because of its shape on the plant, it is also called the Chinese lantern.
Physalis is eaten like a tomato. It can be used in salads and desserts, or it can be made into jams and jellies.
Scientific Name: Akebia quinata
Common Name: akebi
Akebi plants are found in China, Taiwan, and Japan; however, the fruits are most popular in Japan. In fact, the name "akebi" is Japanese. The fruit is about palm-sized with a purple pod protecting the white, finger-like flesh inside. The flesh is studded with lots of small, edible black seeds.
The akebi is now regarded as a specialty fruit in Japan and is used for cooking specialty dishes. It is mildly sweet in taste.
Genus Name: Hylocereus
Common Names: dragon fruit, pitaya, pitahaya
The dragon fruit looks like the fiery tail of a dragon; hence the name. It comes from a cactus family known as "hylocereus."
There are two main varieties of this fruit. The outside appearance of both varieties is the same, but the inside pulp is different. One has a deep purplish pulp that is sweeter; whereas the other has a lighter in color and is less sweet. Both varieties have countless edible seeds that enhance the delicious taste.
The outer skin can be easily peeled off, especially when the fruit is cut into small pieces. The pulp is very juicy and sweet, especially the dark purplish variety.
Scientific Name: Atemeoya
Common name: custard apple
Native to the Andes, the custard apple looks like an off-green apple covered with blisters. Apparently, Mark Twain once commented that the custard apple is the "most delicious" fruit known to man. I have to disagree with him on this point. Perhaps Mr. Twain did not have the good fortune to taste other fruits, which in my opinion are far more delicious. Poor Mr. Twain!
To me, the best-tasting fruit in the entire world is the one I'm saving for last in this article. It's the weirdest of them all, too.
The custard apple has clumps of soft fleshy pulp encasing many inedible black seeds.
Scientific Name: Theobroma grandiflorum
Common Name: cupuacu
The cupuacu fruit is related to cacao, or cocoa, and is common in the Amazon basin. Brown in color, the fruit has an oblong shape that is typically about 20 centimeters long. It usually weighs between 1 to 2 kilograms.
The outer skin is thick and hard. The flesh is whitish and soft. It has a unique, fragrant flavor of chocolate and pineapple. Cupuacu is packed with vitamins and rich nutrients, which are thought to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, and rejuvenate the skin and hair, though there is currently a lack of scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Scientific Name: Blighia sapida
Common Names: ackee, achee, akee apple
This fruit is a Jamaican delicacy and is used as a vegetable, especially in the popular Jamaican national dish, ackee and saltfish. The fruit is related to the lychee and longan fruits.
When the fruit ripens, its pod bursts open to reveal three large, shiny black seeds. The soft flesh is the only part of the fruit that is edible. The unripened parts are highly toxic.
Scientific Name: Anacardium occidentale
Common Name: cashew fruit
What's interesting about this fruit is its appearance: It looks like the seed is exposed at the bottom of the fruit. Actually, the part that appears to be the fruit is a "false fruit," called a hypocarpium, which is pear-shaped and red or yellow in color when ripe. The actual fruit with a seed inside is the crescent-shaped protrusion hanging at the base of the false fruit.
Native to Brazil, this fruit has spread around the world to Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. The commercial value of the cashew resides in its seed: the cashew nut.
Scientific Name: Nephelium lappaceum
Common Name: rambutan
Rambutan is the local name in Malaysia and Indonesia. The root word "rambut" in Malay or Indonesian means "hair." Hence the name rambutan means "hairy fruit."
Oval in shape, the rambutan is about 2 inches long and about 1 ¼ inches at the center. There are two varieties: yellow and red. The yellow ones are not popular. The favoured variety is the red type. Both varieties are green when they are unripe, but after ripening, the red type turns bright red.
The rambutan is very sweet. It is easy to break and remove the hairy skin, and the translucent flesh surrounds a large, inedible seed inside.
If you spot rambutan fruits growing on a tree, you may notice lots of black ants surrounding the fruits.
Scientific Name: Garcinia mangostana
Common Name: mangosteen
And now, may I introduce the queen of fruits. It is called the mangosteen—but it definitely has nothing to do with mango. It is about the size of a tennis ball and is dark purple in color. What's notable about this fruit is the thick, dark purple outer casing, or rind. On top of the fruit are the remnants of the four "petals," and at the bottom, there is a peculiar circular "flower" pattern, which is a remnant of the stigma.
Interestingly, the number of petals shown in the "flower" pattern will indicate the number of the cloves, or aril sections, of the flesh inside. The inside flesh is pure white in color and is divided into cloves, or arils. The "flower" pattern will usually show 5 to 7 petals, corresponding to the number of arils inside the fruit.
This fruit has a very thick rind, or pericarp, and the sap of the rind will leave a permanent stain on clothing if one is not careful when opening the fruit!
Scientific Name: Durio Zibethinus Linn
Common Name: durian
We've reached the climax of this article: the mother of all weird fruits, the king of all fruits in the whole world! This is certainly the weirdest fruit known to humankind in terms of size, shape, content, texture, flavor, and . . . smell! It is the greatest of all fruits, and my number-one favorite, second to none the mighty durian.
The name durian comes from the root word "duri" in Malay and Indonesian, meaning "thorns." The durian is spiky all over, and on average it is about the size of a coconut. Its shape is irregular. Even its weight is not standard; it can weigh anywhere from 0.5 to 3 kilograms.
Just as the shape and size can vary, the color of the outer shell can range from green to light brown. The texture of the fruit's flesh can vary from dry and rough to smooth and moist. The color of the flesh can range from whitish to yellowish to reddish. And perhaps most fascinatingly of all, the flavor can actually vary from one durian to another.
Once ripe, the fruit will drop by itself early in the morning before the sun rises. Durians are best eaten within a day; otherwise, they should be kept in the fridge in an airtight container. The flesh of the durian is divided into sections. Inside each section is an inedible seed.
On a lighter note, this fruit could perhaps be considered for use in an arsenal! It is just like a sharp thorny cannonball, which could explode with the most obnoxious, stinking gas that would wipe out anyone unaccustomed to the smell. And if the flesh were to be forced into their mouths, I think they might die instantaneously! The disgusting smell alone would be more effective than any tear gas. Such is the truly awe-inspiring power of the durian.
On a more personal level, if you are a local like me, the durian smells like heaven and tastes like heaven. If you are new to the durian, however, your first encounter might send you to hell, as it will smell and taste simply awful. But if you persist, you may find yourself coming to appreciate the truly sublime nature of this fantastic fruit.
By the way, the best durians in the world are found in Penang, the paradise island where I happily reside.
© 2013 Justin Choo