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South America is a continent rife with cuisines of color, heat, and flavor, and the exotic South American fruits contribute a huge amount to the diversity and creativity in sweet and savory dishes throughout.
The fruits of South America are an eye-opening array of colors, textures, aromas, and flavors. Many have been eaten in the region for centuries, even millennia, and can be found in foods, drinks, and dishes from the mountains to the coast.
Whether you’re in South America or looking to bring some Latin American flair to your home kitchen, there’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to the fruits of the region.
So let’s take a culinary journey to a place of color and passion, and open up our minds and palates to 14 of South America’s most intriguing, unique, and delicious fruits.
Exotic South American Fruits
1 – Araza (Amazonian Pear)
Araza, or the Amazonian pear, is a rare fruit, found in the Amazon rainforest, spreading across Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia.
Around the size of an orange, araza adorn a bright yellow color when ripe. Encased within a wafer-thin peel, the fruit has a slightly sweet and very sour taste.
This means they are rarely eaten raw. However, this distinctive taste, along with its creamy texture and very pleasant aroma, make it the perfect ingredient for a range of South American foods.
The Araza fruit is used in a wide range of delicious jams and marmalades, ice cream, purees, and even beers.
2 – Cherimoya (Custard Apple)
A staple of the ancient Incan diet, cherimoya is native to the northern countries of South America, but over time spread south along the Andes and north as far as Central America.
While its green, dragon-scaled-like skin may look a little tough, there’s a reason this fruit has been nicknamed the custard apple.
Inside, its thick, creamy flesh tastes like a cross between a banana and pineapple. Its flesh has the consistency of custard and can be scooped out and eaten with a spoon.
For this reason, cherimoya is often served chilled, like custard. They are also used in a wide range of desserts, pies, sorbets. The seeds, however, are toxic when broken down, so need to be removed before eating.
3 – Spondias Mombin (Hog Plum/Yellow Mombin)
Native to the central American region, from Mexico to Brazil, the bright yellow hog plum has traveled as far as Southeast Asia and is a very unique fruit.
Behind its thick, leathery skin, you’ll find a thin layer of pulp. The pulp is clung to its large stone and can be difficult to remove.
While it can be eaten raw, the yellow mombin pulp can be highly acidic and very sour, depending on how ripe it is. The flesh has a similar consistency to a northern plum.
Hog plums, therefore, are used to make a wide range of delicious jams, jellies, and juices. In Mexico, hog plums are even pickled to make a spicy appetizer.
4 – Curuba (Banana Passionfruit)
Known for their distinctive elongated shape, there are over 60 native species of banana passionfruit throughout South America.
The curuba grows in areas of vegetation at high altitudes, so you will commonly find this fruit in forests throughout Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.
Texture-wise, banana passionfruit are very similar to purple or red passionfruit. Behind its thick, yellow-green mango-like skin, you’ll find a thick glut of tart, sweet pulp, laced with a banana undertone.
The black seeds that dot the pulp are edible but rather bitter. They can be eaten as they are, but are commonly used in a wide range of both savory and sweet dishes.
Keep your eyes peeled for curuba in jams, juices, fruit salads, cheesecakes, and sauces. Banana passionfruit is also used in cream sauces for duck. As exotic South American fruits go, this is one of the most diverse when it comes to native cuisine.
5 – Maracuya (Yellow Passion Fruit)
Native to Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, the maracuya fruit may be lesser known than its popular purple sibling, but it is still a delicious and diverse fruit enjoyed across the continent.
Nestled within its thick, yellow rind is a juicy pulp with a bright orange color, dotted with crunchy, brown seeds. It has a tart, acidic taste, with an undertone of floral notes.
Yellow passionfruit are larger than purple passionfruit, around the size of a grapefruit. They also have a stronger, sweet aroma, making them ideal for a range of dishes.
You’ll find maracuya in fruit salads, sorbets, ice creams, jams, sauces, and toppings for various desserts and cocktails. This exotic fruit is also used in savory dishes, such as pies and cakes.
6 – Lulo/Naranjilla (Little Orange)
Known as naranjilla in Ecuador and lulo in Colombia, little oranges are also common in the Central American countries of Panama and Costa Rica.
This vibrant, smooth tropical South American fruit is known as little orange more-so in appearance rather than flavor.
Beyond its orange skin, the wrinkled, fleshy pulp tastes like an eclectic combination of the tartness of lime and the sweetness of rhubarb.
In Colombian cuisine, the green juice from lulo is used in lulada, a native beverage that fuses lulo juice with lime, water, sugar, and sometimes aguardiente in a thick, sharp, and refreshing drink.
Highly nutrious, lulo or naranjilla is also used in a wide range of jams, juicies, ice creams, and other drinks.
7 – Papayuella (Mountain Papaya)
As its name suggests, papayuella can be found in South American forests at high altitude. This unique species of papaya is found in the Andes region, spreading from Colombia to Chile.
Found at altitudes beyond 1500 meters, the inside of mountain papaya is an adventure of textures. Its pulp is usually firm and has a dry, sour taste to it.
Around the black seeds, the yellow-white pulp is fleshy and jelly-like, tasting like a combination of pear, peach, and regular papaya.
Great for digestion, mountain papayas are used in both sweet and savory dishes. The fruit is added to salads, juices, relishes, and many different curries and pastries.
8 – Tamarillo (Blood Fruit)
Hailing from the forests of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, the tamarillo is a vibrant red fruit, sharing several characteristics with its close cousin, the tomato.
While a tamarillo’s bright, blood-red skin may catch your eye, its bitter, tough skin is rarely eaten and instead has to be peeled.
A blood fruit’s pulp has a similar taste and texture to a tomato, but with a sweeter undertone.
The tiny black seeds can be eaten. Because of this, its texture is often compared to that of a kiwi or passionfruit.
As with common tomatoes, tamarillos are used in a range of both sweet and savory dishes. From ice creams to chicken dishes, South Americans love tamarillo fruit.
9 – Uchuva (Cape Gooseberry)
Native to Colombia and also found in Peru, the exotic South American uchuva is a bright and complex fruit.
While its husk isn’t eaten, the gooseberry itself is a multi-layered hybrid of tomato-like acidity, fused with a sweetness similar to the likes of a peach, grape, or strawberry.
Cape gooseberries are a versatile fruit. They can be eaten raw, cooked, and used in a range of both sweet and savory dishes.
You’ll often find uchuva in salsas, chutneys, and as a garnish for various desserts and salads, and even dipped in chocolate!
10 – Acai Palm (Acai Berries)
Today it is one of the world’s most sought after superfoods, but the humble acai berry has been on nothern South American plates for thousands of years.
The acai berry comes from the acai palm, a species of tree that grows in floodplains and wetlands areas of all the northern countries of the continent, from Colombia to Venezuela, and down to Brazil via Guayana and other countries.
Acai berries are small, purple, and grape-like. Their taste has a tartness to it, similar to that of a raspberry or blackberry, but with an earthy, even slightly chocolatey undertone.
However, unlike many other berries, you cannot simply eat acai berries. The pip or seed, which makes up a large amount of the berry’s mass, needs to be removed.
It is common practice to soak the berries in water to soften up their tough skin and help remove the pip.
Traditionally eaten with poultry and other savory dishes, today acai berries are sought after for their high antioxidant and nutrient content. You’ll find them in smoothie bowls and added to a range of salads and other sweet and savory dishes.
11 – Feijoa (Pineapple Guava/Guavasteen)
Feijoa hails from the mountainous regions of Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. It is a fruit packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Wrapped within its thin, green, slightly sour skin is a creamy, off-white flesh that tastes like a sweet combination of strawberry, pineapple, and guava.
Guavasteen has a pleasant, fragrant aroma, with floral hints, making it both a delicious and alluring addition to a wide range of Latin American dishes.
Guavasteen can be eaten raw, used in salads, smoothies, or sorbets, and as an addition or garnish to a range of savory and meat-based dishes. As South American fruits go, it is one of the sweetest and flavorsome.
12 – Maqui Berry (Chilean Wineberry)
Native to the rainforests of Chile and western Argentina, the maqui berry, or Chilean wineberry, is a fruit with a huge array of medicinal and nutritional qualities.
Chilean wineberries are a deep, rich purple in color, and taste similar to blackberries. Chileans have been harvesting this fruit for centuries and use it in various native foods and drinks.
As the name suggests, maqui berries are used in wine production. They are also the star in chicha de maqui, a native fermented Chilean beverage with an intense, alluring purple color.
While the berries are used in juices, smoothies, and other foods, they are largely sought after for their health benefits. Chileans eat maqui berries to help with weight loss, diabetes, dry eye, heart conditions, and many other conditions.
13 – Jabuticaba
Jabuticaba is the eye-catching fruit of the Brazilian grapetree, growing directly on the trunks of the sturdy, winding trees that canopy the luscious rainforests across the country.
Beautiful to look at, these shiny orbs of flavor look like large grapes. Their thin skin can be eaten but is often a little too tangy and acidic for some tastes.
There are two main types of jabuticaba, red and white. The red variety, pictured, has a dark velvet skin, and its flesh has a sweet taste, similar to that of blueberries or white grapes.
You can also find white jabuticabas, with a flesh that tastes similar to lychees or white grapes, a little more sour. In both, the crunchy seeds can be eaten, and you’ll find jabuticaba used in jams, marmalades, jellies, juices, and plenty of other sweet dishes.
14 – Mortiño (Andean Blueberry)
Native to the Andes, spreading through Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, the Andean blueberry is an exotic fruit with a truly unique history.
The fruit is an integral ingredient in many of the ritual foods prepared for the annual Day of the Dead festival, including the beverage Colada Morada.
Mortino berries’ taste differs depending on the ripeness, variety, and the altitude at which they are grown. Some can be acidic and sour while riper Andean blueberries have a sweeter taste and waxy outer texture, similar to a blueberry or bilberry.
High in antioxidants, mortino berries are eaten raw for their various nutrients and goodness. The fruit is also found in a range of both sweet and savory foods, including purees, smoothies, jellies, pastries, and breads.
Exotic South American Fruits Summary
South America is a continent that simply keeps on giving. The more you explore, the more awe, wonder, and flavor you find, and that’s certainly true of its beautiful fruits and cuisines.
South American fruits play an integral role in the continent’s history, providing a culinary foundation on which the indigenous people ate and survived for many millennia.
Today, the fruits of South America can be found in a staggering selection of both sweet and savory dishes. No matter what your preferences, there’s undoubtedly a South American fruit out there you’ll fall in love with from the first bite.
Enjoy the fruits. Marvel at their appearance. Savor their flavors. And let them help elevate your home cooking to new levels, and inspire a whole new range of foods and dishes to try.
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Author: Dale Johnson is a content designer, writer, and strategist, who has been a digital nomad for several years. A traveler who loves to try new foods, he has collectively spent several months living in South America, in cities such as Buenos Aires, Lima, and Santiago.