Lesser known fruits such as Jackfruit, durian, lychee, longan, and rambutan are all usually available at Asian markets and are relatively inexpensive (sans durian). Expanding your palate via these exotic goodies is fun and rewarding! There are so many variations of fruits and vegetables throughout the world you would not be able to try them all in your lifetime…but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to! Eating healthfully via natural world cuisine is a delightful way to mix things up without doing much work other than opening and eating (which is timely but well worth it in the cases of fresh jackfruit and durian, and ridiculously easy for the rest of the above named fruits).
Part of the mulberry family, jackfruit hails from India, and is found in South and South East Asia, parts of Africa, Brazil and Jamaica. Jackfruit is the most magnificently large of all tree borne fruit, and can grow up to 80 pounds. The pleasant aroma can be smelled through the rough and bumpy outer skin, which takes a bit of hacking to get into, and seeps a white gummy latex. This can be abetted by oiling your knife and hands before you cut into the jackfruit. Once the fibrous hairs are removed, the inner fruit will reward your efforts: yellow, angel sweet, soft yet firm, fleshy and moist, it shreds easily, and tastes like a combination of mango, pineapple, apple, and banana. I think of it as the cake of fruits in terms of sweetness–it is so good! It can be eaten raw, cooked when ripe, or cooked when unripe. The seeds of the jackfruit if boiled, baked or roasted are edible, and the roasted seeds can be made into flour. Young jackfruit is cooked like a vegetable, and is wildly popular among vegetarians and vegans as a meat substitute where it is well known. I made jackfruit tacos using last week, substituting fresh jackfruit for canned, and cabbage leaves for tortillas. Add in some cashew sour cream, salsa, and raw veggies and your mouth will be VERY happy. 100 grams of Jackfruit has 6g of protein, and is a good source of vitamin C, B6, and potassium.
Referred to as the “king of fruits,” durian is a heavy spiked weapon hiding a delicious secret. Known for its pungent odor and widely critiqued flavor, durian is either adored or scorned, depending on the person. The best way I’ve heard it described was like eating a baby alien…a really tasty one. Durian fruit is a slimy custard, sweet, and oh so strange. People are often disgusted by the smell and have compared it to rotten onions, garbage, or even sewage. But for those whose palates are pleased by this concoction of nature, no fruit can compare. durian seeds can be eaten when cooked, but the seeds are toxic raw. Currently the only variety available internationally is the Durio zibethinus, but there are many varieties of durian, and different flavors and textures unique to each type. Durian can be cooked or eaten raw, and a popular way to eat it is with coconut milk and sticky rice as a dessert. Frozen durians will be much different than fresh, because freezing changes the texture. However, it is difficult to find fresh durian in America so if buying frozen let it sit outdoors (because of the smell) for 5-7 hours to let thaw. Durian is rich in fat and contains tryptophan, vitamin C, potassium, and B6,
A member of the soapberry family, the lychee is a sweet and tart gem of a fruit with a rough reptilian-like shell that cracks or pops open easily to reveal a smooth white juicy inner flesh containing a dark seed. Lychees originated in China and were considered a delicacy by the Imperial Court. Today lychees are found in South East Asia, Brazil, India, Jamaica, California, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida. Lychees are best eaten fresh, but can be dried, and in fact dehydrate naturally into black wrinkled raisins. Nine lychees provide the entire amount of Vitamin C most people need in a day, and can prevent the growth of cancer cells. Lychees contain B2, B3, B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, and protein.
Longan is the “little brother” of the lychee. The word longan literally means dragon’s eye because the peeled fruit is a translucent white with a black seed–which looks like an iris. The longan is more easily peeled than the lychee, but is not as distinctly sweet or flavorful. It is known in China more for its medicinal value moreso than its food value, but it has an interesting woody sweetness which I favor. Longans grow in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Florida, Hawaii, and wild longans grow in Puerto Rico but don’t bear fruit abundantly. Longans can be cooked, canned, dried, or eaten fresh. 100 g of longan contains 10 mg of calcium, and it is renowned by herbalists in China for it’s relaxing effects, and medicine for stomach aches and amnesia. In Vietnam the seed is thought to counteract snake venom when pressed upon the bite.
Rambutan is the hairy fruit! At least the literal translation of Rambutan means “hairy,” for it is covered with soft harmless spines. Rambutans can be 2-3 inches long, oval shaped, and ripen only on the tree. They grow in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, India, Ecuador, Australia, and Hawaii. The flavor is sweet and sour, and milder than the lychee, but with the same internal texture. In traditional medicines it is used to treat diabetes, hypertension, and to prevent bloating. Rambutan contains antioxidants which stop the damage caused by free radicals.
Persimmons are berries that look like orange tomatoes. The fuyu persimmon, native to China and grown in Japan, is the only persimmon that can be eaten either hard or soft (other varieties are too astringent to be eaten hard and will taste terrible). Fuyu persimmons stay hard up to three weeks after harvest and will then begin to soften. When crisp they have an almost apple like texture, which eventually softens to a texture similar to jelly. Fuyu persimmons taste like pears, dates, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and can be dried, cooked, canned, or eaten raw. Fuyu persimmons contain high levels of vitamin C, lycopene, fiber, beta carotene, antioxidants, and B6.
TROPICAL HEAVEN SMOOTHIE
For one person:
1 fuyu persimmon
2.7 ounces frozen wild blueberries
At least 1c deseeded jackfruit flesh
Orange juice to blend
Combine everything in a blender, smoothify, and have the best day ever :3 More jackfruit will give it a very distinct flavor, feel free to add as much as you can eat!
Also by Jessica: The Importance of Breathing
Photo: Jessica Ferguson; Child of Midnight; Luc Viatour; Surukuku; Muhammad Mahdi Karim; Nesnad