You know that shelf of fruits and veggies that usually hangs above the lettuce rack in the supermarket -- and contains gnarly, hairy, or Day-Glo colored pods of all shapes and sizes? Don't pass those by and grab that same old apple. Boring!
"Variety in your diet is a great idea," Paula C. Bickford, PhD, professor at the Center for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, tells WebMD. "People get worried, though, because of the high-carb thing. Fruit does have some carbs, but the carbs are of a type that doesn't add weight, unlike the man-made, ultra-sweet high fructose corn syrup that is found in so many prepared foods."
Apparently, many Americans are not being scared away from fruit. In 2002, the average American downed 100 pounds of the stuff. A small percentage of that was of the exotic tropical persuasion.
The more we learn about fruit, Bickford says, the more benefits we find. "Blueberries not only act as antioxidants, but they can lower cholesterol," she says. "That's the nice thing about foods vs. pill-form vitamins. They are beneficial in more than one way."
Blueberries? Even those little nutritional powerhouses are mundane compared with the top fruit rack in the market.
So I skipped the market and dropped $13 in an upscale yuppie food store.
The horned melon, or kiwano melon as it's sometimes called, is about five inches long, screaming yellow-orange, with spiked or horns all over it. "Don't let your kids play with it," Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa's World Variety Produce in Los Angeles, jokes. Melissa's is the largest provider of specialty produce in the country.
I can attest that this thing can hurt you! Horned melons are in the cucumber, not the melon, family. When you get your gloves on and slash it open, it is filled with translucent green pulp packed with cucumber-like seeds. You can put it in a fruit salad, seeds and all, or just dip it out of the rind watermelon style. One dip is all it took for me. The best way to describe it is the taste of green-ness with maybe a touch of cucumber and banana, with pretty firm little seeds in it. The melon looks incredible, cool and weird, and will keep on the counter for up to two months, Schueller says.
Horned melons are low in calories (about 25) and only have 3 grams of carbs.
"This is not like a honeydew or cantaloupe," Schueller warns. Pepino, in fact, means cucumber in Spanish, he says. The fruit -- also called mellow fruit -- comes from South America and is very popular in the Latin community, where cooks squeeze lime juice and hot sauce on it.
My pepino was a pearly oval with purple streaks. I cut it open and it had a pear-like interior, bland and a little grainy. My daughter said it tasted like a lettuce-flavored pear. It's suck-in-over-the-sink juicy, like the ripest of pears or peaches.
It also has fairly low nutritional values, Schueller says, which means to me that it's a perfect addition to something else or a host food for a yummy sauce!
Speaking of pears, the term Asian pear covers at least 25 types of pears available year-round. They come not only from Asia and Chile, but from our own California. They are crammed with fiber and even some protein.
Asian pears are shaped like apples and crunch when you bite, like an apple. Inside, though, they are sweetish and more like pear than any other flavor, although I found the one I ate to be sort of a generic fruit taste.
Melissa's recommends putting a few leaves of lettuce covered in cream cheese (Neufchatel is lower fat) on a plate, then adding two Asian pears, cubed, sprinkled with chopped salted peanuts.
Ugly fruit also goes by Uniq fruit or the trademarked spelling of Ugli. Think baggy grapefruit or a grapefruit crossed with a shar pei. Technically speaking, this is a tangelo from Jamaica. It comes into season in late October and is available nine months of the year.
The store I went to didn't have an "ugly" section, so I can only report what others say. The rumpled skin makes it easy to peel and section. It is citrusy -- somewhere between a tangerine and a grapefruit. You can put it in sweet or savory dishes. In fact, it also makes a fabulous hot toddy when the juice is mixed with rum and brown sugar (making it a "beautiful" fruit, in my book). It makes a mean marmalade, too.
Ugly fruit is high in fiber and loaded with vitamin C.
Speaking of citrus, I sampled an Australian orange and can report that this is an orange, whatever its Down Under pedigree. It looked like a tangerine with a snout and peeled easily.
Pronounced "cheer-i-moya," this pale green "hand grenade" with shingled skin reportedly tastes like pineapple, mango, and strawberry. Schueller describes the taste as tutti-frutti. Cherimoyas are generally available year-round, and the white flesh can be eaten as a snack or baked into treats, such as a waffle.
Cherimoyas contain vitamin C, phosphorus, and thiamine. A respectable chunk contains 95 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.
This unusual fruit from the Iran (Persia) area figured in Greek mythology. "It's been around for a long time," agrees Schueller. It's a rosy pod of gel-covered seeds. Apparently, the gel is highly successful as a dye. Don't open one unless you have a shirt you use just for opening pomegranates, Schueller jokes. Even then, open the fruit and rake the seeds out of the overturned rind underwater, he advises.
People eat both the seeds and pulp, although some prefer the surrounding gel to the seeds. Pomegranates are tart! And low in fat and sodium while high in fiber and potassium.
OK, here I go. Opened it. Should have worn the shirt! Nuts. It's seedy, with some clear, rose-colored goo around the seeds. Quite tasty!
Also called a carambola, star fruit looks like an oval with fins running the length of it. When you slice it sideways, the fins form a star pattern. It's available from Florida year-round.
Buy it green and let it sit out, Schueller recommends. Wait until the fin edges turn black and it emits a fruity smell.
Star fruit reportedly has pale yellow, juicy flesh with a distinctly tropical flavor, whatever that might imply to you. It contains vitamins A and C and potassium.
Melissa's recommends combining sliced star fruit with 20 ounces of crushed pineapple, a pack of lemon sugar-free gelatin, two cups of buttermilk, a cup of shredded cheese, and 8 ounces of whipped topping. Mix up and chill thoroughly, then place some "stars" on top. Voila!
Like all of these, star fruit pudding may be an acquired taste.
Doctors recommend you eat at least five servings of fruit or veggies a day. Better yet -- nine! Sometimes you can do this best by combining fruit in a smoothie in the blender, says Bickford.
I also noticed some recipes for exotic fruits called for alcohol. I guess "margarita-ed" is also acceptable.