A variety of exotic fruits have been making their way onto South African shelves and plates. Here is a brief overview of the most popular exotic fruit you are likely to encounter and how to prepare it.

Star fruit

Star fruit, also known as Carambola, is native to Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. There are sweet and tart variants, each used for different purposes. The sour varieties are commonly used in iced drinks. Star fruit has a texture similar to that of grapes and the taste has been compared to a mix of apple, pear, grape and citrus. The entire fruit is edible and can be enjoyed as is, or in sweet or savoury dishes. It is also ideal for making relishes, preserves and beverages. In Southeast Asia, star fruit is stewed with cloves and sugar, in China it is cooked with fish, and in Australia it is enjoyed as a vegetable.

Tomatillo

The tomatillo, or Mexican husk tomato, is a small, spherical, green or greenish-purple fruit related to the tomato family. Tomatillos is a staple in Mexico, where it is eaten raw or cooked. The fruit is mostly used for its lovely green colour and its tart flavour. It is especially well-known as the main ingredient of salsa verde, literally translated as green sauce. The purple and red cultivars are sweet and can be enjoyed as is, while the green and yellow cultivars are used in jams and preserves. It can also be harvested at different stages and used for different purposes. This little fruit can be used in stews, soups, salads, curries and stir-fries, in baking, when cooking with meat, and in preserves and desserts.

Dragon fruit

Dragon fruit, also known as Pitaya, is an epiphytic cactus native to Mexico that has made its way across the globe. Older cultivars have a watery taste, while new cultivars offer better flavour. Dragon fruit can be enjoyed scooped out from the scaly skin, or in a fruit salad or smoothie. Cultivation of dragon fruit in South Africa has recently expanded, so you can look forward to seeing more of this fruit on shelves. Why not try the smoothie recipe below? 

Persimmon

The persimmon has its origins in Asia and Japan. Most persimmons are astringent. The entire fruit is edible and seedless. An artificial ripening method was developed to make the fruit sweeter – Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) stores the fruit in a low-oxygen, high-carbon dioxide environment for 24 hours to speed up natural ripening and remove the astringency. This version is known as Sharon fruit, and makes for a sweeter fruit that can be eaten at all stages of maturity. The immature fruit has a firm, crisp and succulent texture. As the fruit matures, the flesh softens to a custard-like consistency. It can be eaten fresh, or used in sweet or savoury cooking and baking. It also makes good jam, chutney or atchar. Add it to salads or roast it as a dessert and serve it with mascarpone cream. In South Africa, Sharon fruit production is mostly centred in the Western Cape, where it is enjoying a boom.  

Jackfruit

The jackfruit is originally from southwestern India and is also popular in Southeast Asia, the East Indies, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It also grows in Africa. Although it is not very likely that you will see a whole jackfruit on the supermarket shelf in South Africa, many supermarkets have started selling it as a processed substitute for pulled pork or shredded BBQ chicken. It is an ideal plant-based meat alternative because the young unripe fruit has a stringy meat-like texture and a neutral taste, so it easily takes on other flavours. It is also highly nutritious. It works well as a filling for tacos, pitas and sandwiches.

Recipes

Dragon fruit smoothie bowl

Chop up one dragon fruit, half a papaya and one banana and freeze overnight. Add the frozen fruit and a splash of coconut, almond or regular milk to a food processor. Mix until it reaches an airy consistency. Fill bowls with the dragon fruit smoothie and top with fresh fruit.

Star fruit drink

Trim the ends of the star fruit and cut the fruit into pieces so that it fits into a juicer. Cut a few pieces to use as a garnish and keep aside. Juice the pieces of fruit, along with a thumb-sized piece of ginger and half a lemon. Serve in a glass and garnish with a star fruit slice. – Ursula Human, Farm fare

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