Mighty Life List
May 28 2012

10 Fruits to Try Before You Die

My Taste 1,000 Fruits Project began as part of my Life List, but my mom passed on an interest in botany, so fruit has always intrigued me. Plus, it’s pretty much all I ate as a kid. Here’s a little background on the project from an interview with Bon Apetit:

My childhood home was on a half acre of land in California, and my mom was always planting fruit trees. I’d help her dig and say, ‘Could this tree be mine?’ She always said yes. So all that fresh fruit early on taught me that grocery store varieties of apples and lemons and other fruits were just terrible. Practically inedible, really.

Around the time I was making the list, I was reading Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner. I found it so inspiring, the idea of people obsessively pursuing new flavors. Once you’re an adult, you have so few opportunities for genuine novelty, to feel something you’ve never felt before, or taste something you’ve never tasted. The book said there were over 1,000 varieties of mango alone, which sounds so mythical doesn’t it?

I started tracking the fruits I was trying in 2009, nerd-style, and on a recent trip to Hawaii, I crossed off my hundredth fruit. Of those, these are the ten you must try if you get a chance. Do it. Put them in your mouth:

1. Mountain Rose Apple
One of the nicest things about trying all this fruit has been the surprises you find under mundane exteriors. Mountain Rose Apples are among my favorite fruits just because they’re so gorgeous. The unusual color makes you think more about the flavor. I love that about food, how eating better focuses everything and makes it easier to stay present. Maybe that’s why some of my happiest memories are of great meals.

2. Chico
This was actually my hundredth fruit, and I’ve never seen one outside of this fruit stand in Hawaii (you?). I described it as eating a baked apple plucked directly from the tree, and that’s the dominant memory. It tastes like fresh brown sugar.

3. Lemon Cucumber
Last year, my sister grew Lemon Cucumbers on her farm. So far, they’re the only kind of cucumbers I crave — very crisp and much less dense than the supermarket variety. Also slightly salty.

4. Feijoa
I tried these for the first time in the backyard of my childhood friend Liz Carter (hi, Liz!). This photo was taken in New York, where my friend Sarah Brown said they smell like a scented plastic babydoll. Feijoas taste a bit like kiwi with a pineapple edge.

5. Kiwiberries

Kiwiberries still seem magic to me. They’re grape-sized Kiwis without the fuzzy exterior, and you can just pop them in your mouth. It doesn’t seem like they should exist.

6. Mangosteen
It used to be that you couldn’t get Mangosteens in the States, but recently the laws have relaxed so it’s not necessary to take a trip to Asia to try one. Click through on that link to see the interior, Mangosteens are gorgeous. The purple outer shell is like a thin layer of carrot over a wide hunk of red pith. The white sections inside taste like juicy, peach-perfumed pineapple candy. The flesh is a lot like a very ripe peach.

7. Passionfruit
Tendrils attached to orange goo with bright green crunchy seeds that pop when you chew them. The goo tastes a little like a perfectly ripe, tart mango, but with more depth of flavor. With the pleasant crunch of the seeds, it reminded me of orange flavored Pop Rocks.

8. Guineps
I tried these in Jamaica where they’re called Guineps and in Puerto Rico where they’re called Quenepas.You smash or bite the outer shell, which cracks open to reveal a jelly-like fruit inside with a large pit. They taste like citrusy peaches. You suck the fruit away from the pit, and the texture is a little like slimy algae. Much of the fruit pulp will stay on the pit. I’d love to freeze a bunch and use them as ice cubes in a tropical drink.

9. Tamarind
Tamarind grows in a hard pod with paste-like brown fruit around its seeds. It doesn’t look particularly appetizing. The fruit is very sour, but not like a lemon, there’s sweetness there too. It tastes almost like Crystal Light powder, but less chemical of course. You suck the fruit away from the seeds.

10. Cherimoya
Cherimoya is one of my favorite new fruits, which is good because you can often find it at fancy grocers in California. Like a cross between a banana and a pineapple with texture a little like a peach. The flesh inside is white with large brown seeds in it. If you see one anywhere, try it.

18 Responses to “10 Fruits to Try Before You Die”

  • Sara Rosso Says:

    I’ve eaten a few of these – the Feijoa was great :) Also, a good friend’s grandparents have a chikoo (chico) plantation in India and we had some when we went there. People are still climbing up in trees, without shoes or ladders, to harvest them.

  • RoseMarie Says:

    Even here, in Laramie Wyoming where when the produce section is finally stocked at Safeway, everything seems past its prime, I had the occasion to try a lemon cucumber. Laramie’s a university town and so there’s a slow food movement, and many folks have organic gardens to the degree they can on the high plains. There’s a small, struggling farmers market here during our 9 week summer, though most of what is offered comes up from Colorado. Last year, a friend of mine bought a lemon cucumber there before meeting me at the bar. We had it sliced thin in our Hendricks and tonics that afternoon. Yum.

  • Susan Says:

    I love your fruit posts! I’m looking forward to discovering American tropical fruits. One of my favorite things about living in Thailand is the exposure to new fruits, including mangosteen, which I tried for the first time a few weeks ago. I bought two kilos for about $1.50 the other day and spent an hour eating the whole dang bag. To me they taste like a real life, super vibrant version of artificial blue raspberry flavor. Heavenly. Visiting friends told me they’re super hot on the Food Network right now.

  • dgm Says:

    Cherimoya:YES.

  • eskimo*rose Says:

    I seriously have to add this to my life list, such a cool idea – my mouth is watering just reading these 10!!

  • becky. Says:

    It’s so interesting to see what’s exotic or unusual in other countries! Growing up in New Zealand we had soooo many fejioas. The chico sounds AMAZING.

  • curlystraight Says:

    After reading your post, the next article I read was this:

    http://www.thedailymeal.com/juice-box-shaped-fruit which features

    fruit grown into the shape of juice boxes for a marketing campaign.

  • Sethonious Says:

    Fejioas are also known as pineapple guava, makes sense right?

  • renée Says:

    Hi Maggie! You asked if anyone had seen chico, which I call chiku, outside of Hawaii, so I wanted to respond and say, yes, yes, I have! My husband and I first discovered them in India, where they are eaten as is (when quite ripe) or made into a smoothie of sorts. I always described the taste as having a bit of waft of alcohol or something fermenting, especially when they are super ripe — at least this was the case in the melting heat of Gujarat, India in June! After I had my first son in 2009, our friends in Gujarat sent us a large bag of dried chiku — what an amazing gift.

    Btw, I discovered more info about the fruit here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manilkara_zapota (and its more formal moniker!)…

    I also wanted to mention that a trip to India would be a good excuse to try many of those 1,000 varieties of mangos. My husband and I tried about 10 varieties when we traveled in India — but be warned, you must go during mango season in May/June, which the hottest part of the year there…

    Pic of some of the mangos we tried: http://www.flickr.com/photos/riam/926652563/

  • Gin Says:

    I grew up eating chico in the Philippines. It’s such a sweet delicious fruit, one of my favorites.

  • Rachel Says:

    I love mangosteens too! I had them for the first time last year in east asia. To me they taste like lychee-grapes.

    I’ve been so inspired by your 1000 fruits project for years. I want to do the same, but not be a copycat. Maybe 1000 vegetables? :)

  • Alli Says:

    I didn’t know tamarind was a fruit when I saw it at my produce market. I confused it with turmeric and categorized it as a spice. I’ve learned my new fact for the day :)

  • Maileen Says:

    I hadn’t realized how lucky I was living in such fruit-abundance in the Philippines till I moved to the US and saw the quite limited selection in the supermarkets here. I grew up eating all that variety of fruit you listed in this post and thinking that was just a part of life, nothing special. And now in NYC I weep for our chico tree, bitter and sweet lanzones, and, most especially, the easy access to reasonably-priced mangosteen.

  • Evilisa Says:

    Cherimoya are also called apple custard. They are my favorite fruit right now. In my house we try a new fruit every week. Last week was Gold Nugget Tangerine and we want more!

  • Roxanna Says:

    So the “Guineps” remind me so much of my childhood — they’re called limoncillos (“little limes”) in the Dominican Republic (where I grew up) and mamoncillos in Colombia (where my father’s family is from). I always laughed at the Colombian name, because it translates to little suckers.

    And I love tamarind juice, but we never ate them off the ground (they’re extremely common) because I could never tell if they were fruit or, you know, poop.

  • Shannon Colleary Says:

    I just had a mouth-gasm. I want that cherry apple and I want it bad. Also you appear fetching and gamine in all of your accoutrement.

  • Elena Says:

    Great post!
    Have you ever tried pawpaw? It’s grown in the south of the US and probably elsewhere. It’s an awesome subtly flavored fruit.

  • graciela. Says:

    As a central american, I can’t get enough of cherimoya! But you don’t have to go to a fancy store to get it. I’ve seen them at latino markets.

    The fruit that knocked my socks off in Hawaii was an apple banana. They’re these small bananas that have a tangy taste to them. Just love ‘em!