Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fruit Of My Labor

My original plan was to write about the "5 Most Heinous Doomsday Devices of the Cold War". But that's not happening this week. Instead, you're going to read about something even more frightening than nuclear annihilation...

...exotic fruit.

Buddha's Hand

Native To: Either China or India

What it looks like: A lemon crossed with an octopus.

Buddha's Hand is a kind of citron; a citrus fruit related to lemons. It's also a tentacled monstrosity.

Buddha's Hands are typically too small to eat, juiceless and sometimes even seedless. But they have a very thick peel which makes a good zest. They're also very fragrant. Generally, Buddha's Hand is cultivated for ornamentation and fragrance, with only nominal use in cuisine. I guess you could glue googly-eyes to it too if you wanted.

Fruit of Hala

Native To: The Pacific Islands

What it looks like: A cross-section of the Earth, or some kind of demented golf ball.

This suspiciously grenade-shaped fruit goes by many names; Thatch Screwpine, Hala, Fala, Bacua, Vacquois, Mudu keyiya. But from what I can gather, Hala doesn't actually taste very good. In fact, it's full of stringy fibers that can make it very unpleasant to eat. Most of Hala's value comes from what it can be made into; baskets, thatch roofs, sails, even grass skirts. And maybe, in a pinch, you could actually convince someone it's a grenade.

Pitahaya (Dragon Fruit)

Native To: Central America

What it looks like: A sacktick.

Dragon fruit is a variety of cactus apples belonging to the genus Hylocereus. Despite it's vibrant color, Pitahaya apparently only has a very mildly sweet taste, with a texture comparable to kiwis. Only the creamy pulp and seeds are edible. Apparently it's also used to make wine.


Native To: Probably Central America, but grown throughout South Asia, South America and California

What it looks like: A pangolin crossed with an avocado.

If I was stuck on an island and forced to eat something from this list, I would want it to be Cherimoya. Cherimoya is described as a strange combination of pineapple, banana, strawberry and even peach and papaya, all with a texture like sherbert. It's also said to taste like bubblegum, so I don't know what to believe.

Whatever it is, it must be good. It got Mark Twain's seal of approval, who said the Cherimoya is "the most delicious fruit known to men.". With a reputation like that, I can't help but wonder why I haven't heard of it before. 


Native To: West Africa, but popular in Jamaica

What it looks like: An Alien

On the other hand, if there's one thing I would desperately like to avoid, it would be ackee. Despite being native to West Africa, ackee is most common in the Caribbean where it forms half of Jamaica's national dish: Ackee and saltfish. Despite this, I can't actually find out what this stuff is supposed to taste like. When cooked, it's said to have a texture eerily similar to scrambled eggs, without actually tasting like it.

Also, fun fact: the black, eye-like seeds and skin are completely inedible and, in fact, dangerously toxic. Both contain hypoglycin A and B which can result in acute illness called Jamaican vomiting sickness. When unripe, the whole fruit, even the otherwise edible arils are dangerous to eat. How something that causes hypoglycemia ever became cultivated as food, let alone became part of a national dish is a mystery.

Oh and I wasn't joking about it looking like an alien. Compare ackee to the alien pilots from The Thing. Coincidence or family resemblance?

It's the eyes I tell you.

Monstera Deliciosa

Native To:  Southern Mexico

What it looks like: A banana-snake hybrid.

Monstera deliciosa is a species of flowering plant native to the rainforests of southern Mexico, typically cultivated as houseplants. As you can guess, they also produce fruit. These apparently delicious monsters are said to have a taste similar to jackfruit or pineapple. But you have to make sure to brush away the scales that grow on the outside of the fruit, as they contain calcium oxalate, which can't be anything but unpleasant to eat.

That's all there is to it really. I don't know how excited you can get to eat the fruit from a plant growing in your hotel lobby.

Carambola (Star Fruit)

Native To: The South Pacific and East Asia

What it looks like: I don't have a clue.

Star fruit are grown absolutely everywhere, which is appropriate, because unlike most everything else on this list, the entire fruit is edible, even the skin. They have a grape-like texture and a taste like a combination of apple, pear and grape. They're slightly tart, due to having a much lower sugar content than most fruit. In Australia, they're typically either pickled or turned into jam.

But really, most of the appeal is probably pretending they're little starfishes.

Black Sapote (Chocolate Pudding Fruit)

Native To: East Mexico and Central America

What it looks like: A rotten tomato.

Alright, besides Cherimoya this is the one fruit I would like to try. This might be surprising because it looks just like a mushy tomato. Black sapote is actually a species of persimmon and is said to have a texture similar to papaya. It's skin is inedible. But that's okay, because Black Sapote's real claim to fame is that, apparently, it taste just like chocolate pudding.

How? I have no idea. But everywhere I go I hear the same thing: this fruit has the exact same taste and consistency as chocolate pudding. Honestly, it sounds like the kind of thing a little kid would make up. But no, apparently this is a real fruit. And somehow, it hasn't already cornered the entire worldwide fruit market.

Go figure.


Native To: Southeast Asia

What it looks like: A spiky Tribble.

Durian is basically the archetypical exotic fruit. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground with Durian; either you love it or you think it's revolting. The biggest reason for this is it's unusual flavor and infamously pungent stench. The smell of Durian has been described as something like gym socks, raw sewage and vomit and no one seems to be able to adequately describe what it tastes like. Anthony Bourdain just called it 'indescribable' and left it at that. Others have tried to compare it to rich, almond-flavored custard.

Whatever it tastes like, Durian is almost always under some kind of ban in the countries that grow it. In Thailand, it's illegal to bring Durian on the subway, in public buildings or in airports due to it's formidable stink.

Nevermind trying it, I'm not sure I want to be on the same continent as this stuff.


Native To: Japan

What it looks like: A sea cucumber.

Akebia gets a lot of attention in Japanese literature where it's used to evoke a pastoral setting. Authors often describe an idyllic childhood out in the country where they would forage in the hills for akebia. In spite of this, there's isn't much demand for the stuff. The fruit isn't imported anywhere but urban Japan and even then it's mostly as a novelty.

The white, translucent pulp is edible and described as having a sweet, but ultimately bland taste. This is a shame, because you'd expect such a vibrantly purple fruit to be, like, psychoactive or something.


Native To: Southeastern Brazil

What it looks like:  Those scarabs from The Mummy.

As far as I can tell, Jabuticaba is the only fruit to grow on tree trunks. And honestly? That frightens me.

But it can't be all bad. I've only ever heard it's taste described as sweet, with a rosy-white, gelatinous texture. Plus, it's apparently full of antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds. The reason why it isn't exported to other countries is because of it's extremely short shelf life. But within it's native Brazil Jabuticaba is used to make jam, wine and tarts.

That's good, because otherwise I'd be afraid of them growing legs and walking around like the robot spy from Jonny Quest.


linda said...

I feel like I have a complete glossary of weird fruit......I bet there will be tons more coming in the future. I have heard that the Durian is just revolting. Maybe Big Foot likes it. The star fruit is good. I think I might pass on the rest though.

Shadgrimgrvy said...

I think it's safe to say the Durian won't be part of my life any time soon.

mom said...

the fruit of hala is very beautiful. in fact, most of them are very look at it. to eat? ehhh i'll pass

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