Although an estimated 20,000 edible plant species grow on earth, most people only partake of fewer than 20 species. These 20 species make up about 90% of the world's food energy intake. Thus, the average human goes through life never enjoying the extreme variety of tropical fruits that is available.
Granted, many fruits are too fragile to make the trip to international market and are instead enjoyed locally. But many exotic fruits do make it to specialty markets in the United States. These fruits have notable health benefits, in addition to wild new tastes to please your palate. Not only are they nutritious, but some can even stave off disease.
So, if you're growing tired of the same routine of apples and oranges, consider picking up these seven equally healthy alternatives:
These fruits are large and can grow up to a whopping 100 lbs! They are native to southern India but are also grown in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. Jackfruit has an edible pulp and nutritious seeds. Its flesh and seeds—rich in antioxidants and B vitamins (eg, thiamine and riboflavin)—can be eaten raw or dried. The jackfruit is also high in fiber and low in calories.
Because of its subtle taste and meaty texture, the jackfruit is well-suited for absorbing spices and seasonings, and complements a range of foods, including barbeque, curry, and pasta dishes. According to some studies, routine dietary supplementation with jackfruit may offer protective benefits against several cancer types and health conditions, including stomach ulcers and cardiovascular disease.
Durian is native to Southeast Asia, where it is called the "king of fruits." Spiny and oval-shaped, durian has a creamy pulp and is famous for its pungent odor. The flesh of durian is rich in fiber, potassium, iron, and B vitamins, and—because of its high antioxidant content—is best eaten when ripe. In addition to its unique taste and nutritional value, researchers have shown that the fruit's outer shell can offer some analgesic and antibiotic benefits. Keep in mind, however, that durian is high in calories.
Pitaya, or dragon fruit, grows on certain cacti, and the oval-shaped fruit comes in red, yellow, or white. The skin is leathery, and the flesh is speckled with tiny black seeds, which are edible. Dragon fruit is indigenous to Central America, but is also grown in Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii, and is now one of the highest grossing crops in Vietnam. Pitaya is considered a superfood, and is filled with antioxidants, such as carotenoids, lycopene, and polyphenols. It is also rich in fiber and vitamin C. According to some studies, pitaya consumption may reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and may improve blood pressure and blood glucose control.
This fruit is indigenous to China but is now grown worldwide, including in parts of the United States. It is small and roundish with a pink, yellow, or reddish leathery rind. The flesh is sweet to slightly acidic in taste, and surrounds a central stone. This superfood contains polyphenols, vitamins, and fiber. It also contains oligonol, which has been linked to the prevention of obesity. Lychee can be dried, with the resulting texture reminiscent of raisins.
This fruit is mostly grown in Southeast Asia. It has a hard, purple rind complemented by saccharine white flesh, and can be consumed raw. Mangosteen is filled with vitamin C and antioxidants—particularly xanthones, a type of polyphenol associated with anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-aging properties. Mangosteen is also rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin C, potassium, and zinc.
These crimson, tart berries are indigenous to China. They are laden with vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A and C, fiber, iron, zinc, and antioxidants. Goji berries also contain all eight essential amino acids. One 4-oz serving of goji berries contains almost 10% of the protein you need for a day. Further, these berries are complex carbohydrates, which raise serum sugar levels slowly, thus decreasing the risk of a sugar crash later on.
These glossy orange fruits are native to East Asia but are now grown in California, too. They were originally brought to the United States in the mid-1800s by a military officer returning from Japan. Persimmons are rich in vitamins A and C, and fiber. They also contain plenty of antioxidants including Β-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. Furthermore, persimmons are an excellent source of catechins—which have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic properties—and betulinic acid, which has antiretroviral, antimalarial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and may be an anticancer agent via inhibition of topoisomerase. Persimmons come in two varieties: hachiya and fuyu. Hichaya dominates the market, is acorn-shaped, and must ripen before being consumed. Fuyu, on the other hand, is smaller and sweeter, even when unripe.
Although these fruits are not native to the United States, most are imported and can be found in some supermarkets across the country.