Change Up Your Menu With These Six Exotic Fruits


Lots of alien but fascinating fruits have been turning up in Western produce aisles lately. Colorful and peculiar, they have unfamiliar shapes, extraneous features like thorns or fuzzy hair and exotic tastes like cucumber melon and lemon peach. Many of their unusual combinations of flavors are nearly unrecognizable to American palates.

Of course these exotic fruits are nothing new to their countries of origin, where they’ve been savored for centuries. In Vietnam (where I am for the month), they are as common as apple pie. But for Westerners, it can be hard to figure out how to open them, let alone what to do with them. Below is a rundown of six of them and some suggestions for how to incorporate them into your menu. 


DRAGON FRUIT is a sweetly flavored fruit with bright white or shocking pink flesh and black seeds. Ripe fruit can be eaten right out of the skin. Our guide in Vietnam likes to joke that before eating it you should remove all of the tiny seeds (an impossible and unnecessary task given that they are edible.) Although the shocked expressions on foreigners’ faces are priceless.

For an interesting twist, try dragon fruit in smoothies or thread it onto skewers, grill over medium-high heat and dust with sugar for a delicious treat.  For the more ambitious, there’s a great recipe for scallops and dragon fruit salsa on food network.

imgres-1Cherimoya, sometimes called custard apple, is a green, grapefruit-sized fruit with a reptilian-looking exterior. Its sweet flesh tastes like a blend of pineapple, banana and strawberry.  You can cut it in half and eat it on its own with a spoon (avoid the black seeds, though) or blend it with lime for a great cherimoya-lime sorbet. Or try this unusual twist on a traditional favorite; cherimoya avocado chicken salad.




RAMBUTAN, related to the lychee, has a red hairy outgrowth on the shell and sweet white tropical fruit inside. For obvious reasons, it’s also sometimes referred to as the ‘hairy fruit.’ It looks impossible to open. But, our guide showed us how if you turn it upside down and pull it apart at the long line that looks like a scar, the bright white fruit shaped is revealed.

High in antioxidants, it is already being hailed by some as the Superfruit of the future.  Cut it open and eat the delicious flesh all on its own, or try rambutan jam over ribs or  cherry, litchi and rambutan cheesecake. You can also combine it with dragon fruit to make a delicious mojito.

imgres-2African Horned Cucumber, also known as horned melon or kiwano, is a cross between a melon and a cucumber. Its bright green flesh with soft edible seeds tastes like a blend of banana, kiwi and cucumber. Check out food network’s recipe for grilled beef with horned melon sauce. You can also slice it into cubes or rounds for salads or use it as a substitute for vinegar in salad dressing, whisking the flesh into a little olive oil.

images-1-1Mangosteen, considered the  “queen of all tropical fruits,” is a small-sized, purple skinned fruit that tastes like a blend of citrus and peach. It has a delicious floral taste and is usually best served simply. To release the fruit, cut a circle around the stalk (like a pumpkin) and scoop out the flesh. To spice things up a bit, drizzle mangosteen with lemongrass syrup, chamomile or lemon juice for an added punch of flavor.


imgres-3Star Fruit, also called carambola, takes its name from the five-pointed star shape it assumes once it’s sliced. Paper-thin greenish-yellow skin encloses crisp, tart flesh with a unusual blend of plum, pineapple and lemon flavors. Look for fruit with the least amount of green on the edges for optimal ripeness. Star fruit is best appreciated as a fun-shaped garnish (click here to learn the best way to slice), which adds a tangy note to salads.  It also makes a great snack when sprinkled with a little cinnamon.


Top photo/Shutterstock



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This entry was posted in Plant Profiles and tagged by carole funger. Bookmark the permalink.

About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

7 thoughts on “Change Up Your Menu With These Six Exotic Fruits

  1. They look scrumptious! As vegetarian ( and part time vegan) I can appreciate the challenges of the plant based diet and always looking to introduce more variety to my dishes. Cannot wait to try some of the lovelies. Thank you!

  2. The pictures that go with this article are beautiful! I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a few fruits that were new to me. I’ll have to keep an eye out next time I’m in the produce section to see what’s available in my area. Are there any ripeness indicators I should be checking to make sure I’m getting the best quality available?

    • Hi Jess, I’m glad you liked the article. I have been enjoying these fruits for a while now, ever since I started the research for this article. In general, the fruits are ripe if the flesh yields to a little pressure, but here are a few additional pointers: Dragon Fruit – overripe if the stem is brittle; Cherimoya – treat like an avocado; Mangosteen – if the shell is too hard it is overripe; Horned Melon – wait for it to turn fully orange; Rambutan – ripe when the skin is fully red; and Star Fruit – fruit should be firm with yellow skin and some brown at the edges. Hope this helps! Enjoy!

  3. Wow, I am amazed by how many of these exotic fruits I have tried before. I haven’t tried the mangosteen before but from the way you described it, it sounds like something I should try! I love the rest of the other fruits (in fact, I’m eating starfruit right now, haha.) and I think I’m going to try the cherimoya-lime sorbet; it sounds delicious!

    • I’m glad to know you’ve tried these fruits- I was a newcomer to most of them. I especially love the rambutan, though it’s a little odd looking! Thanks for visiting the blog and have a great day!

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