12 Exotic Fruits Worth Seeking Out
These exotic fruits pack a healthy punch and are surprisingly versatile: Learn what to look for and the best ways to enjoy them.
Adapted by Lauren Gniazdowski from Eat Yourself Healthy (Reader's Digest Association)
Custard Apple (Cherimoya)
The basics: Looking like a plump, yellowish-green pinecone, the custard apple, or cherimoya, has a sweet, slightly granular flesh with large shiny seeds. It is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and niacin.
Quick tips: Choose fruit that is even in color, with no dark or splotched areas. When ripe, it will give when gently pressed (like an avocado). To ripen, keep at room temperature; thereafter store in the fridge for up to four days.
Try this recipe: Cherimoya, Kiwi, and Strawberry Salad
The basics: Crunchy, juicy, and slightly sweet, this type of pear is a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Also called nashi (the Japanese word for pear), Chinese pear, or Oriental pear, it may be small and yellow-green in color or large and brown. The skin may be smooth or sprinkled with russeting, depending on the variety.
Quick tips: Asian pears are hard when ripe, unlike common pears. Store them in the fridge, where they will keep well for a long period—longer than apples. They are delicious raw and chilled, as well as cooked. When cooked, Asian pears never become completely tender, but retain their shape and firm texture.
Try this recipe: Asian Pear Slaw
Cape Gooseberry (Physalis)
The basics: The juicy dense flesh of this fruit, also called physalis, is full of vitamin C, fiber, and beta-carotene. Sweet with a slightly sharp aftertaste, it adds an intriguing flavor to both sweet and savory dishes, either raw or cooked.
Quick tips: Choose yellow or orangey gooseberries, avoiding any that are greenish. If spread out, still in their papery husks, on an uncovered plate, cape gooseberries will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
Try this recipe: Lemon Verbena Tart with Cape Gooseberries
Cactus or Prickly Pear
The basics: The fruit of the paddle cactus looks rough on the outside (handle with care!), but it is filled with sweet, brightly colored pulp that smells of watermelon. This flesh is rich in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.
Quick tips: Choose fruit that has a fresh color and no moldy spots. If it gives when gently pressed, it is ripe (it should not feel soft or squishy). Fruit that is firm can be left to ripen at room temperature. Once it is ripe, store it in the fridge, where it will keep for up to a week.
Try this recipe: Great American Southwest Sliders with Prickly Pear and Grilled Avocado Salsa
The basics: Eating three to four raw lychees will provide two-thirds of your daily requirement of vitamin C. This fruit is so luscious and beautifully perfumed, which means it is much more pleasurable than swallowing a vitamin pill.
Quick tips: Choose lychees that feel heavy and full, with no cracks or shriveling of the shell. The rosier they look, the fresher they will be. The fruit, still in shells, keeps well in the fridge—up to two weeks, although some of the perfume will be lost.
Try this recipe: Cucumber Lychee Salad
The basics: Called a “hairy lychee” because its flesh is similar to that of a lychee. However, the rambutan contains half the vitamin C of a lychee.
Quick tips: Choose fruit that feels heavy and full. If tender and ripe, store in the fridge.
Try this recipe: Rambutan Gelato
The basics: This egg-shaped fruit has a smooth, glossy, deep-red skin, and the dark apricot-colored flesh inside resembles that of a tomato. In fact, its flavor is more like a pleasantly tart tomato than a sweet fruit—all of which explains why it is also called a “tree tomato.” A good source of vitamin C, this vitamin is best retained if the fruit is used raw.
Quick tips: Choose firm heavy fruit. When ripe, it will give slightly when pressed and will be fragrant. Keep at room temperature until it ripens, then store in the fridge for up to a week.
Try this recipe: Ecuadoran Tamarillo Salsa
The basics: This elongated oval fruit has a thin green skin and slightly tart, softish granular flesh. An excellent source of vitamin C, it also provides small amounts vitamin B. Feijoa is delicious both raw and cooked.
Quick tips: Choose fruit that is fragrant. If it is not tender, leave it at room temperature for a few days—eat only when ripe and creamy-soft, otherwise feijoa can be rather bitter.
Try this recipe: Easy Feijoa Loaf
Star Fruit (Carambola)
The basics: This fruit is a useful source of vitamins A and C as well as potassium and fiber. Its juicy, crisp flesh and attractive shape make it a decorative addition to sweet and savory dishes alike. Plus, it does not discolor once cut.
Quick tips: Choose juicy-looking fruit with a good color; avoid any with brown or shriveled edges. If the fruit is at all green, leave it to ripen at room temperature until the skin is completely yellow; the fruit should have a lovely perfume when ripe. Once fully ripe, store the fruit in the fridge, where it will keep for up to two weeks.
Try this recipe: Star Fruit Chips
The basics: A serving of fresh guava can contain over five times your daily needs of vitamin C, and even canned guava contains four times. Guava is also a useful source of fiber. The hard, edible seeds are as high in vitamins as the sweet juicy flesh, so you may want to try eating them too.
Quick tips: When tender-ripe, guava has an intense floral aroma. Fruit that is slightly green, but still tender with some aroma, will ripen at room temperature, so buy it if that is all that is available. Once fully ripe, it can be kept in the fridge for up to two days (do not refrigerate unripe guavas).
Try this recipe: Guava Bread
The basics: A serving of quince is a good source of vitamin C, although this fruit requires cooking to be edible, which means that most of the vitamins are lost. Quince also provides a useful amount of fiber, and it is this fiber, or pectin, that makes quince so ideal for naturally jelled confections.
Quick tips: Choose fruit that is aromatic. Once ripe (it will be yellow all over), it can be kept in the fridge, but wrap each fruit individually as quince bruise easily.
Try this recipe: Quince Butter
The basics: Fresh dates are energy dynamos—these little batteries contain 30 calories per date. They also provide vitamin C (one 3½ oz. portion, which is about four dates, supplies almost a third of the requirement) and useful amounts of fiber.
Quick tips: Choose plump, glossy fruit and store it in the fridge, where it will keep for up to two to three days.
Try this recipe: Classic Date Bars