I love finding foods I’ve never tried before – and so, when I came across a company called Toucan Fruits at the Natural and Organic Products Show in Olympia a while back, I was instantly fascinated. It was a whole stand of fruits I had never, ever seen before with names I hadn’t heard either.
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At the time, I was trying a challenge of eating as many foods I’d never had before and I really hoped they’d become involved and I was thrilled with owner Soraya replied to my begging email with an invite to go down to their showroom in Notting Hill Gate for a taste test.
When I got there she had a selection of South American fruit ready for me to take home to share with The Boyfriend. My first question was – can I kill him with any of it?
Not that I’m trying to but after a nasty experience with a GAC fruit in Vietnam where I didn’t realise you weren’t supposed to eat the skin or the white stuff around the sides and nearly ruined The Boyfriend’s holiday with a few days of GAC poisoning, I’m a bit nervous of anything more exotic than an orange. Soraya assured me I couldn’t do any damage. So, what did she give me to try – here’s the selection…
Of all the fruits this was my stand out favourite – although I admit it doesn’t exactly look much when you first see it. It’s basically grey mush in an orange shell.
I’d been told that to eat it, I had to cut it open and just scoop out the gooey frog-spawny stuff within. You don’t eat the skin.
Okay……I admit it didn’t look hugely appetising. It’s grey, stringy and has seeds in – but wow. It’s a really unusual sweet sherbet-like taste and the seeds do an odd mix of a pop and crunch in your mouth.
If ever there was proof you shouldn’t judge books by covers, this was it – as, not only is it delicious, granadilla is also healthy.
Looking at it, it’s probably not going to surprise you to hear that the granadilla is a member of the passionfruit family. And as such it’s likely to have some of the same health benefits.
And it turns out that passion fruit seeds are a rich source of a substance called Picceatanol which seems to improve how well our body handles the blood sugar balancing hormone insulin
Another major benefit is that Picceatanol might have anti-aging effects on the skin. Trials taking the substance in supplement form have shown that it increases skin hydration and also boosts collagen synthesis. Helpful eh?
A granadilla contains about 20 calories per fruit.
Of all the fruits I tried, these are now probably the easiest to get in the UK with Waitrose, M&S and numerous online shops all having sold granadilla at some point so have a look for it next time you’re in the supermarket.
This is also known as pitaya or yellow dragonfruit – and is basically, the sunshine-coloured version of the pink dragon fruit you often see in Asia.
And not surprisingly, it tastes pretty much the same. At first, it’s very bland but then a subtle sour sweetness kicks in. In my opinion, the way the taste changes as you eat a good dragonfruit is one of the nicest surprises in fruit-eating!
As with the granadilla, you don’t eat the outside skin of a pitahaya. Instead, you cut it in half and either scoop out the white flesh and seeds with a spoon or, peel off the skin and eat the insides as slices.
It also works pretty well in a fruit salad.
High in vitamin C and antioxidants, pitahaya is traditionally used to help keep the colon healthy! Eat too much of it and you’ll quickly find out why. It’s pretty high in fibre.
There are about 60 calories in the flesh of a whole dragon fruit.
You can order pitahaya – and a heap of other amazing fruits from around the world at My Exotic Fruit.
I used to have a tamarillo tree when I lived in New Zealand – it never had any actual tamarillos on it though so I didn’t get to taste any so, finally getting my hands on some was fun.
This was the only fruit where Soraya said to be a bit careful.
The skin can be astringent so she suggested I cut open the fruit and scoop out the flesh.
After my GAC experience, I was treating it a little bit like napalm, but I escaped unharmed.
Also called the Tree Tomato, to me tamarillo taste like a cross between a tomato, a peach and a passionfruit – although apparently, I’m unusual in that I liked the taste of them raw. Most people find them tart and add sugar to them – although I really like bitter things so that might account for why I liked it.
They’re one of the few fruits here that can also be used in savoury dishes (rather like normal tomatoes). They work well in salads and can be made into chutneys and sauces.
Cooking tamarillo does seem to cut through the tartness other people experience so you might also want to try them in cakes or stewed.
In terms of nutrition, tamarillo is very high in antioxidants. In fact, in one review comparing antioxidant levels in a selection of Brazilian fruits, it was one of the highest.
Interestingly, one of the main health-boosting substances in tamarillo is chlorogenic acid – which is also one of the substances that gives coffee (another South American fruit) its health-boosting potential.
Chlorogenic acid has also been shown to help the body handle insulin more effectively.
You might find tamarillo in some supermarkets. If not, try exotic fruit suppliers like My Exotic Fruit which has a huge list of amazing fruit (seriously, if you’re looking for a gift for someone healthy or a foodie, you could try a gift card for this place – I spent ages going ‘ooh, what’s that’) ,or Lemons and Limes
Also known as Spanish Lime, Soraya said these can be quite hard to get so I was very lucky to get to try them.
You eat them like a lychee, by taking off the skin and then sucking off the flesh from around the seeds (being very careful not to swallow said seed which apparently is quite common and can see people needing surgery to remove them! See this is why I have trust issues with fruit!)
They taste exactly like lemon sorbet. They’re a bit of a faff to eat and while my tastebuds liked them, the inside of my mouth wasn’t so keen as it started to itch – at this point I decided maybe I’d better not have another one, which was a shame as they were really, really nice.
Mamoncillo is high in vitamin C and vitamin A and apparently also help the body make the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.
There are also only about 60 calories per 100g of the fruit itself – which considering it tastes like ice cream sounds like the perfect dessert to me.
I haven’t seen Mamoncillo listed anywhere for sale in the UK (sadly Toucan Fruits are no more so you can’t get them from there). In the US though have a look at the kejora fresh store who do sometimes have it.
I was amazed that Soraya managed to come up with four fruits I’d never tried before – and two I had never even seen before – and that was just from one region and only things currently in season. But there are a heap of other healthy South American fruits that you might also want to try including….
Okay, so you may well have had some of this bright purple fruit as it’s been quite popular in health stores for a while now – not least because its bright purple colour means it makes for a very pretty base for smoothie bowls.
But if you haven’t, acai is popular for more than its photogenic potential. For starters, it tastes a bit like a cross between berry and chocolate – why would you not like that in a fruit?
But also, like many other purple foods, acai is very high in antioxidants that have been linked to improved health – and consumption has directly been linked to improved function in the blood vessels.
In their natural state acai look a bit like blueberries- and like these, they don’t travel particularly well in their fresh form, which is why you’re more likely to find them as a frozen berry, or superfood powder.
Do not however believe the claims that say they are a miracle weight loss superfood. They’re not.
Also, yes, they do contain all the good stuff here, but only in about the same quantities as blueberries so, don’t go bankrupting yourself buying them (or any of the exotic fruit mentioned here). Eat them because you like them or you’re interested in trying something new not because you think they have superpowers.
Oh, in case do you go and order it somewhere super trendy, it’s pronounced a – sigh – ee – not ak – a –eye.
Because it’s become so popular, acai is relatively easy to get now. You’ll find the pulp in the frozen section of most health food stores and even some supermarkets. If you want to buy the powder. Naturya Organic Acai Powder is a good one to try.
Lacuma fruit is grown in Brazil, but, like acai, it doesn’t normally leave the country in its natural form, but instead is made into a powder.
Naturally, Lacuma looks a bit like a mango – but, it doesn’t taste like one. While I’ve never had the fresh fruit, to me Lacuma powder tastes rather like butterscotch or caramel.
It works well in smoothies and I’ve also tried it combined with yoghurt. It’s also a good way to liven up porridge or on top of cereal. You can also use it instead of sugar when baking.
One tablespoon of powder contains about 30 calories. It’s yellowy colour also gives away that it’s a source of a family of antioxidants called carotenoids.
You can buy Lacuma powder in most health stores – or, order it online. Again, Naturya is a good brand to try. Try Naturya Organic Lucuma Powder 150g
So there you have it – six super healthy South American fruits you might want to try on your next shopping list. I know there are others I haven’t included – like cherimoya, feijoa, tomatillo – and I’d love to try one called Stinky Feet fruit – but I really want to be able to try the fruits and tell you what they taste like and it’s a bit harder to get some of the things here in Australia than it was in the UK (where I was living when I first wrote this post) but I will keep my eyes out and add to it when I can – so, if you know anything about South American fruit, what do you think I should add?