Looking to lose weight but still crave creamy and savory desserts? Take a brisk jog down to the tropics and try some fruits unlike any you've ever tasted: A rotting fruit with slimy brown flesh that just so happens to taste like chocolate pudding; creamy blue bananas that taste like vanilla ice cream; a fruit that tastes and feels like a baked pumpkin pie. You could technically eat apples and grapes for an after-dinner treat, but they would pale in comparison to the flavors in this natural ice cream parlor.
More and more, I've been held captive by the appeal of unusual fruit. First I started buying exotic fruits from the grocery store and planting their seeds, and now that they've grown into saplings my obsession has become full blown. My house is littered with piles of books about fruit, and my refrigerator sees a different type of fruit every week. While I'm willing to go out of my way to sample unusual fruits at citrus groves and botanical gardens hours away from home, it's unfortunate that tasting good fruit can be that difficult.
Sadly, low demand and short shelf lives limit the fruits at the grocery store to all but the sturdiest varieties despite their comparative blandness, and because new fruits are often received by shoppers with trepidation and reluctance, demand remains low. I hope to change all of that by letting the secret out of the bag: When it comes to fruit, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Let me start off by showing you five creamy and rich dessert fruits from the tropics.
Canistel is quite unlike any fruit you've tasted. When soldiers of the British Royal Air Force were stationed in the Bahamas during World War II, they found the canistel to be so delicious that they bought up every last fruit in Nassau. It's no wonder. Bite into the dense and creamy flesh of the glossy yellow fruit and you'll swear that somebody baked up a pumpkin pie in a fruit shaped mold just to pull a fast one on you. The only reason I would be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test is that the canistel is far tastier, but that's just my opinion.
The canistel is also known as 'eggfruit' because the texture is very similar to the yolk of a hard boiled egg, but the pumpkin pie analogy seems a bit more appealing. So remember: If ever you've found yourself marooned in the Bahamas against your will, you'll know why the residents frantically run away from you and lock up their doors. Experience has taught them to keep a watchful eye on their canistel crop.
The black sapote is one paradox of a fruit. To fully enjoy it, you'll have to wait until the shiny green fruits begin to turn soft and squishy as if they're ready for the compost bin, when the skin turns a disagreeable hue of split pea soup, the flesh turns a slimy dark brown and the fruits are falling to the ground. Be sure to snatch one up before the flies beat you to the punch. Even if you have to close your eyes, force yourself to sample the pasty brown flesh and you'll instantly know why it's also known as 'chocolate pudding fruit.' The texture is surprisingly creamy and satisfying, and the flavor is mildly sweet with a strong resemblance to chocolate.
Unrelated to other fruits called 'sapotes,' it's actually closely related to persimmons and some persimmon varieties reportedly have a bit of the cocoa flavor themselves! For anyone looking for a taste of chocolate in a fruit, here's a little disclaimer: Just because you can pick up the sticky brown lumps of black sapote from the ground and eat them, make sure that it's a black sapote you're eating and not... something else.
Blue Java Banana
The 'Blue Java' banana is not only blue, it develops that blue-green hue that for some reason is so hard to find in the plant kingdom. Once you get over the initial shock of seeing a blue banana, let it ripen to a yellow and break out the ice cream scoop for a taste of what has led many to call it the 'ice cream banana.' Regarded by some as the most delicious banana for its creamy texture and vanilla ice cream flavor, it has yet to make an appearance in your produce aisle because it bruises too easily.
We're stuck with the chalky and relatively flavorless Cavendish bananas because, like the Tommy Atkins mango, they travel well and have a long shelf life. I have planted one at my apartment complex and when those blue bananas are ripe, I'm holding an ice cream banana social for all of the residents.
Early European explorers seemed to give every new fruit that they encountered a familiar name, leading to a baffling variety of 'cherries,' 'plums' and 'apples' that bear little to no resemblance or relation to their namesakes. The sugar apple, for example, is nothing like an apple. That is, unless you're tripping on acid.
There are several related fruits in the Annona genus that can be considered custard apples: The snotfruit resembles lemon meringue, the cherimoya tastes like a fruity custard, the American native paw paw has been called wild banana and the pond apple of the everglades is a food fit only for alligators and raccoons, but the most highly esteemed member of the custard apple gang is the sugar apple. The sugar apple is made up of overlapping mounds like one of those fluffy cartoon clouds you used to draw in algebra, or the hanging bosoms of a mammatus cloud. It tastes like a dream too. The sugary flavor and custard texture is also strangely cloud-like; soft, airy and soaking the delectable juice like a sponge before it finally precipitates into your mouth in a welcome downpour.
Ice Cream Bean
Imagine letting a puff of sweet vanilla flavored cotton candy dissolve in your mouth. Though I have yet to try it for myself, that is how many describe the ice cream bean; a member of the legume family with greenish brown pods filled with a juicy cottony pulp and black seeds. My new favorite blogger the Fruit Maven begs to differ, comparing the fruit to "...saturating a cotton ball in sugar water and then sucking on it." She rated it a mere two and a half stars on her fruit rating scale.
Even so, a fruit that combines features of cotton candy and vanilla ice cream seems pretty darned cool to me, and chocolate and coffee growers also think it's pretty nifty. They plant it as a shade tree for their plantations because in addition to tasting awesome, it fixes the nitrogen in the soil with the nodules on its roots, thus improving fertility. It also grows fast and provides food for wildlife, earning it extra stars on my rating scale.
Want to Sample this Dessert Menu?
You won't find these fruits at your grocery store, but if you still can't wait for some canistel, some online dealers sell fruit and ship it to your door. Others will ship you the entire plant, which can be grown in a greenhouse or sunroom.
The best way to try these and other exotic fruits is to take a trip to the tropics. Some Hawaiian farms offer fruit tasting tours, and the Miami Fruit and Spice Park in Florida lets you sample whatever is in season. If a trip to Hawaii or South Florida isn't in your budget, check out local Asian, Latin or specialty markets periodically to see what's in season. You might not find the fruits in this article, but you're likely to find something extraordinary if you time it right.
Illustrations and writing by Steve Asbell, and the credit goes to Penny Carnathan of digginfloridadirt.com for the awesome title of this post. She's been writing headlines for years!