Fruits come in all shapes, sizes, colors, flavors and textures. While there are so many fruits you may be able to grow in your own backyard, such as apples, strawberries and grapes, more exotic varieties are becoming increasingly available. Let these three fruits – dragon fruit, cherimoya, and rambutan – offer a world of delicious, nutritious discovery.
Rambutan: The name comes from the Malay word for “hairy.” It’s an appropriate name for this bright red little fruit that has a rind covered in soft hair-like spines. Grown in Southeast Asia and Puerto Rico, this lychee-like fruit has a natural sweet and sour effect that comes from a balance of acids and sugars. About 59 calories each, the two-to three-inch round or oval fruits are packed with nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, niacin, iron and even some protein.
For most varieties, ripe rambutan will be bright red. The tips of the soft spines should have little or no black. To remove the thin rind, cut partway in then pry the fruit open, as if opening an egg. Watch out for sweet, dripping juice! Once the rind is open, gently squeeze the fruit out. Enjoy the flesh, but don’t eat the bitter central seed. Rambutan is best eaten fresh, but it can also be used in cocktails and tropical fruit salad, or simmered into a simple syrup. •
Cherimoya: What could be bad about a fruit with a fragrance so sweet you can tell it’s ripe even from a distance? In the case of cherimoya, nothing. Native to the tropical forests of South America, this greenish-yellow, cone-shaped fruit has a sweet, creamy pulp with smooth, black seeds. It contains a good amount of fiber and an impressive list of nutrients. This fragrant fruit is loaded with antioxidants (including vitamin C) and B vitamins, especially B6. Plus, it has lots of minerals, including potassium, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese.
The skin of a ripe cherimoya should be greenish-yellow to light brown, without blemishes. When you press gently, the flesh should just yield. Keep unripe fruit at room temperature, and eat ripe fruit immediately. Wash, pat dry, cut lengthwise and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. After removing the seeds, eat as is, or puree to mix into fruit salad or as an ice-cream topping. Mix chunks with mangos, jalapenos, red onions and cilantro for a fruity salsa, or warm slices and sprinkle with cinnamon. •
Dragon fruit: It doesn’t really breathe fire, so don’t let this beautiful fruit with deep pink flame-like “leaves” scare you. Cut open a dragon fruit and you will find sweet, crunchy, white flesh, dotted with tiny edible seeds, that tastes like a cross between kiwi and pear. Native to Thailand, dragon fruit is now grown in Southeast Asia, Mexico, Central and South America, and Israel. A type of cactus, dragon fruit is packed with nutrients. High in fiber, vitamin C and B vitamins, plus phosphorus, calcium and a healthy dose of antioxidants, this tropical fruit is a worthy addition to your fruit repertoire.
Look for fruits with a bright, even color. A few blotches are normal, but too many means the fruit may be over-ripe. Avoid fruits with dry brown stems or brown tips on the “leaves.” When you press the skin with your thumb, the flesh should give just a little. To prepare, cut the fruit in half through the stem end, then scoop the flesh out with a spoon; remove all traces of skin, as it’s not edible. High water content makes dragon fruit good for mixing in exotic tropical drinks and smoothies. Or pair it with other tropical fruits like mango and pineapple for a fruit salad or a lightly grilled kabob.