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Looking to treat your tastebuds to an explosive array of flavors and textures? These tropical fruits are a must-try for both casual and curious foodies during trips to Central America, Asia, and many other hot and exotic locations.
So let’s open our minds, senses, and palates to a whirlwind of tropical flavors, and discover where to find these fruits, what they’re all about, and some of the best foods to try them in.
Tropical Fruits You Need To Try
1 – Jackfruit
We start with a tropical fruit that hugely divides opinion, and an incredibly complex food, native to India but today grown throughout tropical regions globally.
Jackfruit’s flavor and texture is so unique and distinctive, most people have their own opinion on what it tastes like. Its sharp, powerful taste many believe is a combination of apple and banana, but when cooked, some compare its stringy, meaty pulp to the taste of pulled pork.
Its fibrous, slimy texture shares similarities to mango or banana, while its aroma, due to its high sugar content, is almost bubble-gum-like, with many describing it as a cross between the sweetness of a banana or pineapple and the odor of an onion.
Difficult to wrap your head around, it’s no surprise that jackfruit divides opinion. Some love its uniqueness, while others find its chaotic fusion of tastes, textures, and aromas overbearing.
Jackfruit is used in so many foods. From topping burgers and wrapped in tacos, to a core ingredient in chilled desserts and sorbets, there’s no shortage of dishes in which to try this utterly outrageous tropical fruit.
2 – Lychee
Native to Southeast Asia and cultivated in China as far back as the 11th century, its nickname ‘alligator strawberry’ perfectly describes the ying-yang relationship between the lychee’s skin and pulp.
Wrapped within its hard, scaled, and bumpy red shell, you’ll be treated to a milky white, jelly-like layer of pulp, that coats a smooth, black seed that you need to remove before eating the flesh.
Lychee pulp has a similar sweet-yet-sour taste to that of a grape, but with floral and citrus undertones, with a fleshier, slightly creamier consistency.
Both a common ingredient and garnish for fruit and savory salads, lychees are also a common fruit in jams and conserves, juices, and many decadent desserts.
3 – Passion Fruit
If you love tart, fruity flavors, the well-known and much-loved passion fruit is a tropical delight you simply have to try.
Known in the west as an exotic flavor for yogurts, dairy products, and desserts, the best way to truly take in the passion fruit’s powerful flavor is by trying it raw.
Purple and yellow passion fruits are two of the most common types. Behind its tough skin, you’ll find a glut of vibrant orange or green pulp, dotted with tiny black seeds.
Jelly-like in texture, passion fruit’s deeply citrusy and tart flavor, combined with the crunch of the seeds, make for a refreshing, unique, and intense burst of tropical goodness every morning.
Packing such punch means not everyone can eat them raw, which is why passion fruit is often enjoyed in a range of juices, sorbets, desserts, and drinks.
4 – Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)
The aptly named ‘dragon fruit’ is native to Central America, but it is cultivated in many other places, including Southeast Asia.
While the green-tipped spikes covering the inedible skin may initially be a little more threatening than alluring, the delicious flesh within most certainly is the opposite.
There are three main types of pitaya. The red variety has both red skin and flesh, the white variety red skin with white flesh, and the yellow variety yellow skin with white flesh.
All three treat you to a texture and flavor similar to that of a pear or kiwi fruit, with a sweet, slightly sour flavor, and moist, fleshy texture, with an added crunch from the tiny seeds.
With highly nutritional flesh, and in particular its seeds, pitaya is used in a range of juices, smoothies, sliced in salads, and even has its own alcoholic drinks, like the ‘Dragontini’.
5 – Cherimoya (Custard Apple)
A truly unique tropical fruit, cherimoya’s nickname is the ‘custard apple’, and for good reason.
A staple of the ancient Inca diet, encased within its rough, green-scaled skin, lies a glut of viscous, creamy pulp, which has a very similar texture and consistency to custard, hence the name.
Cherimoya pulp, in fact, is so similar to custard, it can even be eaten with a spoon straight from the fruit. The seeds, however, should be discarded immediately, as once crushed are incredibly toxic to humans, so be careful when preparing this fruit.
With a sweet, pleasant taste, similar to a banana and pineapple hybrid, cherimoya’s flavor makes it perfect for a range of desserts and sweet treats, including sorbets and tarts.
But, if you just want to sit there and gorge on the pulp with a spoon, as you would a bowl of custard, no one is going to judge!
6 – Guava
Believed to originate from the tropical climates of Mexico and Central America, today the guava fruit is one of the most loved and adored exotic fruits.
Commonly green when ripe, guava can also be yellow or maroon, depending on the type.
With each mouthful, you’ll be treated to a juicy, sumptuously soft pulp, with the sweetness of a strawberry and the sweet-sourness of a pear.
Guava’s red, orange, or pinkish hue of pulp is so aesthetically pleasing, there’s even a color named after it!
In addition to its fragrant aroma, there’s no surprise guava can be found in a wide range of dishes, including jams, desserts, juices, ice creams, and its leaves even used for medicinal reasons, such as lowering blood pressure.
7 – Carambola (Star Fruit)
A staple of Asian cuisine for thousands of years, the striking appearance alone of carambola, aptly nicknamed ‘starfruit’, make it a must-try tropical delight.
Its rich yellow (when ripe), slightly crinkled skin does not need to be peeled, as both skin and pulp can be enjoyed with every fleshy bite.
Easily sliced, starfruit has a mildly sweet flavor with a sour undertone, in a similar vein to a grape, apple, or pear. However, depending on the type and ripeness, its flavor can range across the bitter-to-sweet scale.
Similarly to a pear, it has a soft, fleshly texture and mild flavor that isn’t too overbearing. Its fragrant, somewhat floral aroma makes it a very pleasant fruit to eat.
Naturally, carambola’s appearance makes it a go-to showstopper fruit for garnishing smoothies, salads, and other dishes. But it is also a common ingredient in various cakes, pies, and other desserts.
People with kidney problems however should avoid this fruit, so be sure to check with a doctor before trying this tropical favorite.
8 – Papaya
Believed to date back to the Mesoamerica region, papaya is a must-try tropical fruit for those who love to feel energized and refreshed.
Coated in a thin skin, that can be green, orange, or yellow, depending on ripeness, is a bed of beautiful orange-red pulp, on which a cluster of black seeds gently sits.
Papaya is commonly compared to a cantaloupe melon or described as having a similar texture to pumpkin, but with a sweeter, more refreshing taste.
And don’t forget about the seeds. While many people through them away, papaya seeds are in fact not only edible but packed with nutrients and goodness for the body.
Papaya pulp and seeds are used for a range of medicinal purposes, but you’ll commonly find this fruit in many jams, smoothies, juices, and savory dishes, such as salsa and stir-fry.
9 – Rambutan
Native to the Malaysia and Indonesia region of Asia, the Malay word rambutan, meaning ‘hairy’, you can instantly tell is a highly appropriate name for this tropical delight.
But peel back the fiery red, spiked skin, and you’re treated to an orb of white, creamy pulp, that has a similar taste to a pear or grape, with a slightly woody undertone.
A relative of the lychee and logan, rambutan’s sweet, refreshing taste means they can be enjoyed raw, but also make a wonderful addition to both fruit and savory salads.
While many prefer its sweetness in juices, smoothies, and sorbets, the rambutan is also a welcome addition to many curries, as its flavor helps balance out various spices used.
10 – Salak (Snake Fruit)
Native to Indonesia but cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, salak, or snake fruit, on first glance may not appear the most appetizing of fruits.
Its nickname comes from its scaled, red-brown skin, which resembles many of the snakes in the region. However, beyond its dark, spiked skin lies a pulp packed with flavor, beloved by so many in the region.
Salak’s taste is often described as a blend of apple and banana. It fuses the acidity and dryness or crunchiness, depending on the type (Salak pondoh, bali, or gula pasir), of an apple, with the sweetness of banana, laced with a honey-like finish.
Salak’s high-fibre content makes it a desirable fruit for digestion and weight loss, and you’ll find it in a range of both sweet and savory dishes.
Salak is used in syrups, jams, juices, and salads, and can also be fried, pickled, and canned to use in savory dishes. Vendors will also serve it in a simple mixture of sugar and salt.
11 – Mango
Originating from India over 4000 years ago, a definitive list of tropical fruits simply cannot be complete without the fruit many believe to be the king of juiciness: the mango.
Wrapped within a tough, inedible red-green spotted exterior, lies an oblong of beautiful yellow flesh, renowned for its sweet, juicy, and delicious taste.
Mangoes have a fleshy, fibrous texture, renowned for their juiciness, and their flavor fuses a mouthwatering blend of orange and pineapple, bringing tartness, juiciness, and undertones of floral notes to the forefront.
You won’t struggle to find mangoes in a range of dishes in all tropical regions. A beloved choice for juices and smoothies, mangoes also work well in many savory dishes, including garnishing salads and in chicken dishes.
Oh, and a visit to Southeast Asia simply isn’t complete without trying everyone’s favorite mango sticky rice!
12 – Breadfruit
Another unique fruit originating from the Indo-Malay region, breadfruit is another tropical wonder that breaks the boundaries of what we conventionally believe to be a fruit.
Aptly named, the flesh that sits enveloped within its prickled green skin is rich and starchy, resembling that of a potato.
However, when cooked, the flesh has a flavor and texture very similar to freshly baked bread, hence the name.
While the debate over whether this tropical food is a fruit or a vegetable continues to this day, the breadfruit’s savory flavor and potato-like qualities mean it is very much used solely as a vegetable.
This means you’ll find breadfruit in a wide range of curries, served with meats and seafood, and mashed, baked, or sautéed in a similar vein to potatoes.
13 – Mangosteen
Finally, for sweetness and a delicate touch, few fruits can satisfy your palate quite like the mangosteen. Believed to be originally from the Indo-Malay region, today, the mangosteen is enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia and many other regions of the world.
While its rich purple skin may be tough and inedible, inside a segmented cluster of pearly white pulp awaits you.
Mangosteen, both in flavor and texture, is a real treat for anyone with a sweet tooth. Its flavor strikes a mild sweet balance somewhere in-between a peach and pineapple, without being overbearingly sweet.
Bite in, and the soft, juicy flesh will coat the tongue lovingly and refreshingly, similarly to that of a lychee.
Renowned for its health benefits, you’ll find mangosteen in jams, conserves, juices, and various desserts throughout Asia.
Tropical Fruits Summary
Tropical fruits come in all shapes and sizes. And while our list only covers the tip of the iceberg, it’s a wonderful start for anyone who wants to experience new and exciting foods when traveling to the Americas, Asia, and many other tropical countries.
Tropical fruits are renowned for their vibrant colors and strong flavor. The hot and wet climates they grow in allow them to develop flavors with plenty of zang, zest, tartness, and intensity, depending on the geography.
Be they topping an icy cold sorbet or baked deep into the base of a rich, buttery pastry dessert, tropical fruits can be enjoyed in so many ways.
In most countries, you’ll be able to try these fruits for a very inexpensive price if you venture out and wander through food markets, food festivals, or seek out street food vendors on street corners.
So don’t miss out on exploring new, exciting, and refreshing flavors, while getting plenty of the nutritional benefits that come with these fruits. You won’t regret it!
You Might Also Like to Read:
- Exotic Asian Fruits You Must Try
- Exotic South American Fruits That Will Blow Your Mind
- Weird Vegetables That Will Suprise You
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Author: Dale Johnson is a fruit-loving content writer and strategist who has traveled to and lived in over 30 countries to date.
Images licensed via Shutterstock