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.