Trying new foods can be fun and exciting, especially when they are as sweet and savoury as exotic fruits. With choices such as passionfruit, ground cherries, dragon fruit, and tamarillo, there is a whole world of beautiful colours and unique flavours to enjoy. By understanding what to look for, how to store them, and the tastiest ways to serve them, you can confidently make exotic fruits a regular addition to your fruit bowl.
Passionfruit are stemmed fruits with either purple or yellow skins that fit in the palm of your hand. The edible part is the jelly-like pulp and seeds at the centre, which have a pleasant sweet and sour flavour.
Common varieties readily available in the Canadian marketplace are Granadilla and Purple Passionfruit. Additional varieties include Maracuya but they are not typically available in most Canadian grocers. Granadilla tends to have the sweetest taste and the other varieties have a lovely sweet-sour flavour, similar to sour candies!
To select, look for orange Granadillas with hard and shiny skins. Purple passionfruit skins can be leathery and slightly tender and as they ripen, they become more wrinkled. Purple passionfruit taste sweeter when their skins are wrinkled. Another suggestion is to smell them; when they have a sweet tropical scent, they’ll taste that way too.
Don’t be put off by Maracuya with wrinkled skin! A wrinkled texture doesn’t mean the fruit is overripe, but rather it is perfectly ripe! Just when you think you might need to throw it away is when it will taste the sweetest.
How to Store: Passionfruit can be kept at room temperature until ripe then stored in the refrigerator. Once opened, the seeds and pulp should be refrigerated and consumed within one or two days.
To prepare passionfruit: Wash and cut in half with a knife, trying not to let the juice run out. Scoop out the pulp and seeds with a spoon, leaving the bitter white pith inside. Discard the skins. Enjoy the seeds with a spoon as they are, or add them to smoothies and fruit salads. Try spooning some passionfruit over ice cream and slices of cheesecake, stir into yogurt and oatmeal, or spread onto toast and muffins.
Passionfruit is a versatile flavour that can glam up any dish! Try it in a layered pudding, use it to flavour cheesecake parfaits, make a bubble tea with it, or even fill some cream puffs or eclairs with a passionfruit cream filling!
Physalis, Golden Berries, or Ground Cherry
These pale orange gems wrapped in a beige husk go by many names, ground cherries, golden berries, Inca berries or Cape gooseberries. Many of us have seen them in restaurants as a garnish, often sparking debate between diners about what they’re called.
With a texture similar to a grape or a cherry tomato, ground cherries have a combination of sweet mango-like and cherry tomato flavour. Despite their name they are not actually related to cherries, but are closely related to tomatillos which also grow inside a husk.
Select fruit with smooth, unbroken skins. The skins may be slightly sticky, which is normal. To keep them fresh, they should be stored in the refrigerator and used within one week. They can also be frozen. Wash under cool, running water and use a clean dishtowel to pat them dry. Place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and place in freezer until frozen. Remove and place in an airtight-freezer bag for up to six months.
To prepare, gently twist off and discard the papery husks, then wash the fruit. Ground cherries are a delicious treat eaten on their own, but they also make a colourful addition to fruit salads, whole or sliced in half. For a tasty tropical salsa, chop ground cherries and toss with lime juice, cilantro and a pinch of cayenne. They can also be baked in muffins, cakes, pies and tarts.
Dragonfruit or Pithaya
Dragonfruit is usually pink or yellow on the outside but the pink variety is more commonly available in stores. You may also be able to find dragonfruit with a vibrant pink flesh but the white fleshed varieties are more widely available.
The bright exterior of this exotic fruit contrasts to the mild sweet flavour inside. Some suggest it is similar to eating kiwi because of its edible black, crunchy seeds. It should be relatively free of blemishes or blotches but a few are ok and are usually present when it is ripe and ready to eat because the sugars have developed in the fruit, similar to a banana. Dragonfruit shouldn’t be hard, but rather should yield to gentle pressure when they are ready to eat. If they are overly soft, they will likely still taste good but the texture will be somewhat mushy. Fruit like this shouldn’t be wasted, but rather can be added to smoothies or pureed and made into a sorbet. Ripen dragonfruit on the counter but once cut, cover and keep refrigerated for one or two days.
Dragonfruit is typically enjoyed fresh, on it’s own or as addition to desserts or salads. To eat, wash and cut in half, then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. The flesh should come away from the skin easily if it is ripe. The skin is not edible and should be discarded.
Many prefer to eat dragonfruit cold and enjoy it right off the spoon as it is scooped out of the skin. It can also be sliced or diced to add to recipes. Dragonfruit pairs well with other fruits including banana, kiwi, berries, apples, or tropical fruits as well as creamy bases including yogurt, milk (and milk alternatives such as almond or soy milk) and juices like apple or grape for a smoothie, and even peanut or almond butter. It can also be pureed and made into a sorbet or grilled similar to other tender fruit.
Tamarillos range in colour from yellow to orange, red and even purple. Yellow varieties have a sweeter flavour and are sometimes compared to a mango or apricot. The darker, red varieties are more commonly available and have a more savoury, tart flavour. The most common variety sold in the Canadian market is red. This is ready to eat when it’s dark red, the darker the better.
Tamarillo’s are ripe when they are soft. Leave them at room temperature to ripen. When ripe, keep refrigerated and consume within two to three days.
The skin is thin like an apple but incredibly bitter and therefore must be removed before eating. To eat the fruit raw, wash, then cut in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon or peel it like an apple. Take care to avoid the flesh immediately touching the skin as this is also very bitter.
If you plan to cook the tamarillo, peel the skin as you would a peach. With a small knife, score an “x” on the bottom, then place in boiling water for 30 seconds and transfer to an ice bath (to stop the cooking process). Their skins should slip off easily. After peeling, immediately return them to the ice bath to prevent discoloration.
They freeze well. Remove the skins and freeze them whole or freeze them in pureed form. Transfer your puree to an ice cube tray and place in freezer. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer-safe airtight container or plastic bag to have on hand to add to recipes later. Use frozen puree within six months.
Tamarillos are very versatile. They are often eaten raw on their own but some prefer to scoop out the flesh and spread it on toast! Others cut them up and incorporate them into a sauce, dip, compote, chutney, curry or even as an addition to salads. The savoury red variety go well with chili, paprika and jalapeno, onion and garlic, tomatoes, peppers, apples, other tropical fruits, leafy greens, avocado, mild cheeses like brie and cottage cheese, honey, pine nuts and balsamic vinegar. If you wish to eat a red tamarillo in a sweeter application, blend it with sweet tropical fruits like mango. Try this beautiful salsa with cheese, chicken or fish.
Kiwano Horned Melon
Some describe the flavour of kiwano melons as a cross between a cucumber, zucchini, and a kiwi. The more ripe it gets, it’ll take on a flavour close to a banana.
How to Select and Store: Kiwano melons should have a bright orange rind. Avoid any with bruises or overly soft spots. The Kiwano or horned melon is soft to touch when ripe. Store melons on the counter for up to 3 days.
To prepare kiwano: Cut the melon in half and scoop out the green seedy flesh. You can eat the seeds like cucumber seeds, but some prefer to eat the jelly-like flesh and discard the seed.