For a long time, I would walk through a grocery store and see an unusual-looking fruit I hadn’t eaten before. I’d be tempted to buy it, but be put off by the price (usually slightly higher than for more quotidian fruits) or by the unfamiliarity. Then several years ago, I made a pact with myself to try new fruits at every opportunity. Several of my discoveries are now favorites of mine; others have been remarkably disappointing. All have been interesting.
Some good places to buy interesting fruits are: a market or grocery store that caters to an international clientele; a large and well-known farmer’s market; or a specialty grocery and cuisine shop.
Pomelo / Pummelo / Shaddock
A simply enormous citrus fruit: in the grocery store, they’re usually a little smaller than a soccer ball. The white pith under the peel is over an inch thick, but even after you remove that, the edible part is still larger than a grapefruit. The rind, pith and all, makes lovely candied peel that you can use in fruitcake and similar items, or eat as a snack. The (often slightly dry) fruit tastes a bit like grapefruit, but also like all the other citrus; the sweet complex taste reveals its nature as the ancestor of many of the more modern citrus fruits.
These are round or slightly pointed, red fruits about an inch and a half in diameter. The peel is rough and pebbly, and comes away from the translucent white fruit with ease, like a shell. The juicy fruit is wonderfully sweet and uniquely flavored, but hints at grapes and strawberries, and it surrounds a beautiful glossy brown pit that somehow adds a definite aesthetic pleasure to the experience. I definitely recommend them.
These small, round melons have a smooth cream-colored rind with bluish-green veins, and are not netted. They have deep orange flesh that is reliably sweet and delicious, and tastes much like American muskmelon. The difference is in a certain spiciness of the Charentais that muskmelon does not always possess. When you eat a very sweet, ripe American cantaloupe, sometimes you’ll taste a slight spicy bite as you swallow, near the back of your throat. Charentais always have that flavor. They’re quite wonderful.
I was suckered into buying one of these expensive and stunningly beautiful fruits by the delicious pink Vitamin Water. These taste nothing like Dragonfruit Vitamin Water. Dragonfruit have bright pink petals of skin over pink or white flesh that’s randomly and densely speckled with small, crispy black seeds. The seeds are inoffensive—much like those of kiwifruit—but the fruit has an exceedingly bland, slightly acidic and “green” flavor without even a hint of sweetness. The texture is similar to that of a papaya or melon (though perhaps more watery), but of course with lots of little seeds. Supposedly, dragonfruit have tremendous health benefits. I’d rather take a multivitamin and stay away from them.
These are small, round fruits, about an inch or slightly less in diameter, with a dull brown shell or skin. They have much the same texture and configuration as the lychee, with translucent white fruit surrounding a brown, glossy pit, and many elements of the flavor are also similar; but the longan has an additional note of savory or meaty flavor that I think is most unwelcome. In season, they are much more affordable than lychees, but not nearly as tasty.
Extremely hard and waxy pome fruits that look like a cross between an apple and a pear: knobbly on the bottom like a Delicious apple, with an elongated neck like a Bartlett pear, and with a light yellow skin. They smell delicious, but they’re bitter, hard, and unpleasant raw. Luckily they make simply wonderful preserves that convey all that aroma into an appropriately delicious taste. One doesn’t even need to add pectin; they’re loaded with it naturally. In fact, a traditional Spanish preparation for quinces is to cook them with sugar until they reach a sliceable degree of coagulation; this is known as membrillo or “quince cheese”. (If you aren’t interested in making preserves, I would suggest experiencing this fruit through a good jar of specialty jam or block of membrillo. Quinces require a lot of work to be enjoyable.)
Kiwano / African Cucumber / Cucumber Melon
This fruit looks really extravagant. The one I bought was orange with many small green blotches; there were some in the bin that were all green and others that were all orange. They are oblate, about six inches long, and covered in short spikes—not little thorns like needles, but thick and pointy cones. The fruit is a bit disappointing, though. It’s a transparent green jelly in which many seeds are suspended, and when you take a bite you realize that this is really nothing more than a fancy cucumber that’s a bit lacking in substance. It tastes just like cucumber, but it’s watery and jellylike instead of crisp and firm. Not an offensively bad taste or texture, but nowhere near as exciting as its exterior.
Cherimoya / Custard Apple
These roughly globular, green fruits are about four or five inches in diameter and covered in rounded scales. This gives them a passing resemblance to artichokes, but their flavors are by no means similar. Cherimoya has a unique and juicy texture that’s between custard and pineapple: creamy and tender like custard, slightly fibrous like pineapple. The delicious white flesh has elements of pineapple and vanilla in its flavor, but there are really no useful comparisons. It’s studded with large, flat, easily removed brown pits. Do try this fruit; it’s wonderful.
Pomegranates may not seem terribly unusual, since they have recently grown in popularity due to being touted as a “superfruit”. However, the company doing the touting advertises pomegranate juice much more energetically than the fruit itself, and I’m sure this juice omits many of the pomegranate’s health benefits. Also, I find that pure pomegranate juice is almost unbearably piquant and richly flavored; you may like pomegranate quite well even if you don’t like pomegranate juice. The best way to experience the bright red flavor of pomegranate is to break one open and eat the arils and seeds together—just chew up the crunchy seeds and swallow them, they’re quite tasty. Pomegranate juice deletes the health benefits of the fibrous seeds and the delightful burst of juice when one chews the arils; and it isolates the flavor, making it unpleasantly intense. Whole pomegranates are delicious!
Persimmon / Asian Persimmon / Kaki
Two sorts of these bright orange fruits are available in stores: Hachiya and Fuyu. Hachiya tend to be larger and elongated, shaped somewhat like acorns; these are the ones that stay inedible and bitter until they’re completely soft and ripe. Fuyu are smaller, flattened, and shaped more like tomatoes; they are sweet at all stages of ripeness. (A nice mnemonic: acorn=bitter, tomato=sweet.) Fuyu are the kind you’ll find most often, and they are certainly good, though I think even they are best when they’ve at least begun to soften. Hachiya are similar in flavor but much softer and creamier in texture, which can make them seem sweeter. Both types are often seedless, and the skin is thin and tasty—just pull the four-cornered bract from the top and take a bite. The flavor is rich, sweet, and mild; they’re quite enjoyable.
Mangosteen are truly adorable fruits. They're little purple spheres, about two inches in diameter, with a four-leaved bract on top and a little flower-shaped boss on the blossom end. Cut the fruit equatorially, about 1/4 inch deep, and carefully pull the halves apart: the juicy white segments will remain in one half of the thick purple shell, whereupon you may remove them as needed. One or two large segments will contain a seed; the others will be seedless.
The taste is mildly sweet and typically "tropical," a bright and tasty peach-pineapple sort of taste. (Although I'd go for a good peach or pineapple before a mangosteen, any day. It's not unmissably delectable.) The texture is a bit slimy when you first put a segment into your mouth, but then it's very juicy and clear-feeling. Overall, mangosteen is enjoyable. But it's pretty expensive, and not mind-blowingly delicious. I think a great use for them would be to adorn a fruit-bowl centerpiece, or similar arrangement that would take advantage of their charming appearance.
These are quite large (larger than basketballs usually), irregularly-shaped fruits covered in sharp, brown or green, pyramidal spikes. When they are being sold, their distinctively revolting aroma is usually detectable long before its source is visible. These fruits smell much like well-rotted onion, but perhaps a bit more fecal. They are renowned for their stench--in fact, in several Southeast Asian countries where they are grown, bringing a Durian into a building or onto public transportation is illegal. You may read elsewhere that Durian taste wonderful although they smell horrifying. This is not true! To my mind, the senses of smell and taste are too closely affiliated for that to be the case. The pale yellow arils that surround the large seeds have the consistency of cream cheese and taste exactly like they smell: like well-rotted onion, but perhaps a bit more fecal.
(Edit: tinker2 informs me that while a bad durian does indeed taste putrid, a good one is actually delectable. I simply had the bad luck to try two bad durians in a row.)
(A 2018 edit: in the last five or so years, pomelos have gotten consistently smaller and are now usually only about half again as large as a grapefruit. However, it truly was once quite easy to find near-soccerball sized ones.)
Happy shopping and eating! (Do /msg me if you find a new favorite I haven't included here!)