Fruit deserves your respect.
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s description of receiving the miraculous gift of an orange in the middle of the frozen prairie in the mid-19th century on Christmas day emphasizes our great modern fortune of accessing almost any fruit on the planet at any time it’s available.
We are surrounded by an astonishing variety of fruit heretofore unknown to mankind. Consider the corners of the globe that exist in the produce section of the average grocery store. That said, where I live in Washington, D.C. local fruits are abundant and delicious right now and I’ll generally twist myself into knots to eat locally. But sometimes I yearn for the glories of fruits that simply won’t grow here, and aren’t on usual-suspects lineup in markets.
That’s when I know it’s time to have an exotic-fruits party. If this sounds a little like Mad Men’s Betty Draper having her around-the-world dinner party with Heineken beer “from Holland,” you haven’t experienced the mind-blowing fruit that tastes like chocolate pudding.
My standards for creating the list of the top five best fruits you’re not eating were: first, you have to be able to buy the fruit, either in a specialty store or by online ordering, because the most infuriating thing is reading about some amazing food and then not being able to find it. So no pineberries (white strawberries that taste like pineapple), which I love but are too fragile to ship and I’ve never seen in a store or market anywhere. Second, it has to be easy, something that tastes good eating out of hand, because the second most infuriating thing is getting a piece of ripe fruit and having to work on it for hours, cooking it down into pie filling or jam, when all I wanted to do was taste the damn fruit.
1. Black Sapote. Known as the chocolate pudding fruit, black sapote resembles a small, mushy, dark tomato when ripe. The flesh, eaten squeezed out of the skin, has the consistency of pudding and tastes of mild, nutty chocolate—black sapote ice cream is spectacular. Delightfully, black sapote’s season begins around Hanukah and Christmas to create your own Widler moment of fruit appreciation, and lasts through March for an indulgently lean New Year.
2. Cherimoya. I trust Mark Twain on most things and he called cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men” (without the same playful sneer as when he said things like “God created war so Americans would learn geography”). Inside its inedible skin, cherimoya’s fruit has a fatty mouthfeel with tropical tastes of banana and pineapple mixed with strawberry. Eating it spooned right from the fruit, cherimoya is reminiscent of custard. Cherimoyas are generally available from January through June, but the season, as with all fruits, varies.
3. Jackfruit. Available now, jackfruit enjoyed a flurry of good press recently when several researchers heralded it as a solution to world hunger. But I’m not referring to the 20- to 100-pound whoppers that produce starchy fruit to replace wheat and corn (crops threatened by climate change, according to the World Bank) in noodles, bread, and other flour-based foods. Pick up small jackfruit varieties (about 10 pounds) in Asian markets and eat them as soon as possible—ripe, unopened fruit smells like rotten onions, but once opened it has aromas and flavors of banana and pineapple. The edible part comes in small yellow pods that form around a core, which is a gorgeous site. Invite guests over for the cutting of the jackfruit, even if it’s a mess.
4. Star Apple. Some fruits are spectacular just for their beauty. About the size of a baseball, the star apple tastes not surprisingly like a mild apple but has a spectacular star pattern in the center when cut crosswise. Star apple skin, which is inedible, grows in both light green with white flesh and deep purple with a shockingly beautiful magenta-and-while interior. Slice thin and serve fanned out on a platter.
5. Feijoa. With a granular, pear-like texture and a tropical flavor combination of guava and pineapple with a hint of mint, the feijoa should be in regular rotation with cheeses, nuts, and dried fruit or a smoothie ingredient. The imported market usually ends in June, but American feijoas from California are available in the fall.
This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month Future of Food series.