Summer at the Pine Island Tropical Fruit Market means customers from all over the world come to sample up to 30 different kinds of mangoes at a time. Steve Cucura, co-owner of FruitScapes, the nursery connected to the market says “It’s a cultural destination."
Other popular fruits offered include different varietals of papayas, lychees, bananas, and star fruits, just to name a few. We've got the lowdown on how to choose the best ones at the market and how to cook with them.
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According to Gary Schneider, co-owner of Pine Island Tropicals, which specializes in organic produce, "You can tell when most varieties are ripe because they're slightly soft and smell fragrant." Mangoes have a very short season -- just June, July, and August -- so snap them up while you can!
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Papayas are available year-round and best gauged by color -- make sure they're more yellow than green. If you find papayas that are still very green at the grocery store, let them ripen naturally, ideally in a warm spot without direct sunlight.
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In this salmon with a spicy mango barbecue sauce, a chile and the fruit’s acidity cut the richness of the fish, as does a cool fennel-and-radish salad.
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Be sure to use only ripe and flavorful mangoes in this recipe; otherwise, the tartness of the limes and the sweetness of the condensed milk will be overpowering. Get the balance right, however, and the two tropical fruits meld into a yin and yang of yumminess.
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In the U.S., lychees are only available two months out of the year: June, which is when they peak, and July. You'll need to seek them out at Asian or international grocery stores -- look for fruits with a bright red, pebbly rind.
It's important to choose lychees that are already really colored (the redder the rind, the sweeter the fruit!) because they stop ripening once they've been harvested. If you can’t find fresh lychees, canned ones are available year-round.
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Blue Java bananas, pictured above, are also called ice cream bananas because of their creamy, fluffy texture and hints of vanilla flavor. They lose their frosted, bluish green appearance and turn yellow when ripe, peaking in June and July.
They're difficult to find outside of south Florida and Hawaii, so substitute red bananas or baby bananas, which both have more flavor and texture than your standard grocery-store variety, or start planning your tropical vacation now!
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Also known as carambolas, these five-winged fruits are named for the star shape they reveal when cut. They have thin, waxy skin and a crisp, citrusy flavor that's reminiscent of pineapple.
Available year-round, star fruits are usually harvested when they're green and ripen off the tree. They're best when they're completely yellow with brown edges.
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With a breakfast like this, it’s easy to pretend you’re at an exotic retreat (hello, Bali). The mangoes, star fruits (carambolas), bananas, lychees, and papaya are amazing on their own, but a crunchy blend of toasted pistachios, coconut, and cayenne pepper adds a nice kick. Serve it with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt.
Check out Tropic Wonders for more details on the tropical fruit market in Pine Island, Florida that inspired this sensational salad.