Now That's Unusual: Eight Exotic Fruits to Seek Out
Sometimes we take fruit for granted; other times we marvel at these sweet, colorful foods. If you think about it, they can also be the item that traveled the farthest to reach your kitchen. Some of the most exciting fruits, might be in the produce section at your grocery store. They are found growing far off the beaten path and they're unlike anything you've ever seen or tasted before. That doesn't mean you can't find them in your area or hunt them down on your next road trip or weekend getaway.
Perhaps the most under-the-radar fruits in the U.S. are special varieties of fruits you already know and love. Case in point: the Kaua'i Sugarloaf pineapple, which is grown on a small family-owned establishment, Hole in the Mountain Farm, in the heart of Kauai, Hawaii. On the outside, the Sugarloaf pineapple looks similar to any other pineapple. The true magic is when you slice into the fruit to discover a stark-white hue and creamy soft flesh, which is not quite the firm, tart fruit you know and love. According to lucky visitors who have visited Hole in the Mountain Farm, this special variety is so sweet that you can even eat the core.
While many of the most luscious fruits grow in tropical regions of the United States—chiefly in Hawaii, California, and Florida—there's one on this list as far north as the upper Midwest. Speaking with industry experts, we've sourced fruits that can be found locally where they're grown, and in some cases, can be ordered online (you can order the sweet, white Sugarloaf pineapple here). What all these fruits have in common is that they are rich in flavor, remarkably beautiful, and grow only under the most unique circumstances. Follow along as we highlight some of the rarest fruits in the United States.
Originally native to South America, the cherimoya is a heart-shaped fruit that is also known as the custard apple. It has a tough, scale-like skin but its flesh is sweet and custard-like. According to produce manager and rare fruit expert Chris Mathews, who publishes
, this cousin to the soursop has to be hand-pollinated on the Southern California farms where it's grown. That explains why it can cost between $5 and $10 per pound in the United States. In South America, this sweet fruit with a flavor profile similar to a mix of papayas and strawberries is a popular smoothie addition.
Feijoa (Pineapple Guava)
It's a native of Brazil but this guava variety is easy to find in Southern California, where Matthews says many homeowners plant it for its red flowers. "The feijoa looks like a green chicken egg and is very aromatic," he says. "The skin is edible—although I don't recommend eating it—and has a tart flavor, while the flesh is juicy and sweet, similar to an aromatic pineapple, with a slightly gritty consistency." This guava variey can be found in grocery stores in California, Texas, and Florida, and is sold for about $2.50 a piece.
According to Julia Skinner, PhD, a food historian and author of
, pawpaw fruits are found across the Eastern half of the United States, growing as far north as Illinois and Michigan. Pawpaws are related to a handful of tropical plants, and this tree fruit grows elongated with thick skin, and in many different sizes. "The shape reminds me of a bean, or maybe a stout cucumber. It has a handful of large seeds inside," Skinner says. She compares their flavor to kiwi, mango, and papaya. Also popular in the South, Skinner says you can find pawpaws occasionally at farmers' markets and farm stands for between $3 and $5 each.
This fruit has several different varieties and goes by many names—mamey sapote, white sapote (found in California), or sapote chico. Mathews says the sapodilla is actually quite common in the Florida region. Native to Central America, the sapodilla's has brown skin and looks like a very large kiwi: "The sapodilla is the size of a baseball with a thick, rough brown skin with a slightly gritty, caramel brown flesh," he explains. The fruit tastes somewhat like root beer and is often found in traditional Mexican treats such as palletas, agua fresca, and respados. You can purchase sapodillas from local fruit merchants and at most speciality grocers in Florida for about $4 to $7 per pound, Mathews says.
Also known as the "egg fruit," canistel is native to Latin America, and has become popular in Florida where it is grown across the state. It's often mistaken for a champagne mango, but is sticky and sweet, and has flesh that with a texture similar to a hard-boiled egg. Found in culinary markets in Miami and throughout South Florida, Mathews says it's extremely sweet and that together with its unique texture, means the canistel resembles an egg custard. It's normally sold for $3 to $4 per pound in local markets.
Found in California and Florida, this cherry is closely related to the Myrtaceae family (which includes feijoa and eucalyptus) and is often mistaken for a chile pepper. Mathews says that Surinam cherries are generally smaller than a raspberry, and packed with both sweet and sour juices that can leave a "resinous" aftertaste on the palate. "I haven't seen these cherries commercially available in grocery stores," he adds and he suggests seeking them out at farmers' markets in the areas where they are grown.
It grows in most of the United States, but many people aren't familiar with the elderberry. Skinner explains; "It's a decent-sized shrub, getting to be about 10 feet or so in height, with slender leaves and creamy, fragrant flower clusters that give way to tiny green, unripe fruits, and later, big fat clusters of dark and juicy berries." There are a few different varieties of elderberry and that dark purple varieties are edible and "taste somewhat like blackcurrant or maybe blackberry," says Skinner, whereas red elderberries are not edible. Dried elderberries are often for sale in the bulk section of natural food stores. "These are not as intense as the fresh fruit, but good in a pinch for cooking," she says. The fresh berries are sometimes for sale at farmers' markets in the Midwest and South, and can be found on restaurant menus incorporated into beverages and desserts.