16 Fruits You've Probably Never Heard Of

Exotic fruits and vegetables
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A stroll through the produce aisle in a modern supermarket may give the impression that you've got a wide variety of fruit choices, but in reality that's only a small sampling of Mother Nature's bounty. The world is full of bizarre and exotic treats you've probably never heard of before. So take a journey through the following list of fruits and learn about some of the other delicious options out there. Apples and oranges will look downright boring after you take a look at these wild fruits.

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You have to commend the bravery of whoever first tried these strange-looking fruits. The ackee is sometimes called a "vegetable brain" because only the inner, brain-shaped, yellowish arils (seed coverings) are edible. Native to tropical West Africa, this fruit has been imported and cultivated in Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba and is incorporated into some Caribbean cuisine, where it's treated more like a vegetable than a fruit.

Time magazine points out in a list of the ten "most dangerous foods" that if improperly eaten, this odd-looking fruit can also make you quite sick. It can cause what is known as Jamaican Vomiting Sickness which, in addition to vomiting, can also lead to coma or death.

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Native to the Malay Archipelago, the name of this fruit is derived from the Malay word meaning "hairy," and you can see why. But once the hairy exterior of the rambutan is peeled away, the tender, fleshy, delicious fruit is revealed. Its taste is described as sweet and sour, much like a grape. Though it has its origin in Southeast Asia, rambutan has been imported around the world and now is commonly cultivated as close to home as Mexico and Hawai'i.

Rambutans are generally eaten raw but are sometimes stewed with sugar and cloves and eaten as a dessert, reports Purdue University.

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These fruits (also known as ground cherries) are encased in an unusual papery, lantern-like husk. It's part of the nightshade family and thus shares a relation with the much more familiar tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Since it has a mild, refreshing acidity similar to the tomato, it can be used in many of the same ways. Imagine enjoying some pasta with fresh physalis sauce!

Native to the Americas, they are typically imported from South America. Some people grow them in the garden just because they like the way these interesting plants look with their large, brightly colored husks and their small fruits. However, they are difficult to grow because the fruit tends to fall from the vine before it ripens.

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The jabuticaba fruit is unusual in that it appears to blossom right out of the bark and trunk of its tree. The tree may even look covered in purple warts or pimples when it is fully in season, which may only happen once every six to eight years.

It is most often enjoyed in its native region of south and central Brazil, as it has an extremely short shelf life after harvesting and is difficult to export. According to National Geographic, this is why it's sometimes described as "veritable gold dust outside Brazil."

Jabuticaba fruit looks like thick-skinned, deep purple-colored grapes. Embedded in the pulpy flesh are several large seeds. The fruit is typically eaten fresh or made into tarts, jams, wines, and liqueurs.

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African Horned Cucumber

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When it is exported to the U.S., the horned cucumber is often labeled as "blowfish fruit" or a kiwano melon. With its spiky yellow exterior and juicy green interior, this is one fruit with vibrant contrasts. It tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini, and it is rich in both vitamin C and fiber. It's most easily eaten by scooping the flesh out of the rind with a spoon. Native to Africa, it has been exported and cultivated as far away as New Zealand, Australia, and Chile.

Think this fruit looks otherworldly? Interestingly enough, it once was featured on an episode of "Star Trek."

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Revered in Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits," durian is relatively unknown in the United States. Famed naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (who, like Darwin, independently discovered the theory of natural selection) described its flesh as "a rich custard highly flavored with almonds." This large fruit can be recognized by its thorn-covered husk and pungent odor, which has been likened to the smell of gym socks or rotten onions. That may not sound appetizing, but for those who enjoy it, the smell is worth the taste.

Smithsonian magazine describes the taste as "heavenly," yet quotes French naturalist Henri Mouhot: "On first tasting it I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction."

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Miracle Fruit

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Native to West Africa, this berry got its name from its incredible ability to make sour fruits (like lemons and limes) taste sweet instead, when the juices are mixed together. It accomplishes this feat by utilizing a molecule called miraculin, which works by distorting the shape of sweetness receptors on the taste buds. It's often used in West Africa to sweeten palm wine.

Be careful, though, because although the miracle fruit can distort the taste of sour foods, it does not change the chemistry of the food. Thus, it could leave the stomach and mouth vulnerable to high acidity.

The New York Times says that for all the interesting ways it interacts with other foods, the miracle fruit isn't very exciting on its own. "It has a mildly sweet tang, with firm pulp surrounding an edible, but bitter, seed."

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The fragrant, edible flesh of the mangosteen (unrelated to the mango) can be described as sweet, tangy, citrusy, and peachy. Naturally grown in tropical Southeast Asia, it has been so prized that Queen Victoria is said to have offered a reward of 100 pounds to anyone who could bring her a fresh one.

The sweet meat of this fruit is, perhaps appropriate to the legend, well protected by its hard shell, which typically must be split with a knife and cracked open before it can be enjoyed. They were imported and put on sale in New York City in 2007 for the hefty price of $45 a pound.

Fan R.W. Apple Jr. wrote in the New York Times that he would rather have a mangosteen than a hot fudge sundae. He quoted British-born Malaysian author Desmond Tate who wrote: ''By popular acclaim, the mangosteen is held to be the most delectable of all the tropical fruits, and it has been proclaimed their queen. There is no doubt about the luxury of its taste. It has won unstinted praise down the ages from all who have encountered it.''

It sounds like an excellent excuse to plan a trip to the Malaysian Peninsula, Borneo, or Sumatra, just to be able to sample these delicacies in their native environment.

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These small translucent, orb-shaped fruits are most often found in Southeast Asia, India, and Bhutan, but have more recently been introduced in Hawai'i. The trees thrive in an ultra-tropical environment with lots of moisture, humidity, and a minimum of lengthy dry spells.

They can taste quite sour when unripe, but are perfectly sweet when ripe with a flavor similar to a bittersweet grapefruit. Since they are found in bunches along the trunk and branches, langsat are often harvested by shaking the tree. The riper the fruit, the more likely they are to be shaken free.

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Mark Twain once referred to the cherimoya as "the most delicious fruit known to men." Although its flavor is often likened to that of a cross between a banana and a pineapple, the flesh of this exotic fruit has also been described as similar to commercial bubblegum.

But it isn't just about tasty eating. The seeds, leaves, and other parts of the cherimoya contain poisonous alkaloids that can be used to kill lice, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Although they are native to the Andes, cherimoyas thrive in a Mediterranean climate and have been introduced to climates as diverse as Spain, Italy, Peru, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, and California.

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Aguaje fruit

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This unusual fruit is covered in reddish scales, which must be peeled away to get to the flesh. Popular in the Amazon jungle, the fruit is often eaten by scraping the flesh over your bottom teeth to separate it from a large internal seed. The taste has been described as similar to "pumpkin pie and caramel with a lemon tang." It is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and the pulp is occasionally used to treat burns. When fermented, it makes a delicious, exotic wine.

The fruit is so popular in the Amazon region, NPR says, that it's raised concerns that people are chopping down the trees it comes from faster than they can naturally grow.

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Jackfruit, or Artocarpus heterophyllus, is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, growing to the hefty weight of 80 pounds. (The smallest weighs around 10 pounds.) It is the national fruit of Bangladesh and may have been cultivated in India as early as 6,000 years ago. Related to the breadfruit and marang, its buttery flesh is thick with fiber and often described as starchy in flavor. Many say it tastes like a cross between an apple, pineapple, mango and banana. One popular way to prepare this fruit is to deep fry it into crunchy jackfruit chips.

Jackfruit is growing in popularity as a meat substitute, as it offers a consistency similar to pulled pork when cooked and absorbs flavors readily. It's extremely healthy, filling, and easily grown, which is why some say it might just be the fruit to save the world.

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Monstera Deliciosa

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Native to the rain forests of Central America, monstera deliciosa looks more like an ear of corn than a fruit. To get to its pineapple-like flesh, the scaly exterior must be flaked off and delicately prepared. Interestingly, this fruit takes as long as a year to ripen and to be safe enough to eat; it can be toxic if unripe. In fact, all parts of Monstera deliciosa are poisonous except the ripe fruits. According to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the ripe fruit tastes like a combination of banana, pineapple, and mango.

And to those of you eyeing up your favorite household plant with suspicious, yes, this is the fruit of that same plant, also known as the Swiss cheese plant or Mexican breadfruit plant.

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Found throughout the Amazon basin, the flesh of this fragrant fruit is often used in desserts and sweets because of its chocolatey pineapple flavor. The juice from the fruit takes mostly like it's from a pear, with a mix of banana thrown in.

The fruit is also full of nutrients, and has been heralded by some as the next great "superfruit." Due to its thick, buttery flesh, it has been used as a hydrating lotion as well.

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Resembling a cross between a melon and a pear, the pepino is a sweet fruit that grows to the size of an adult's fist and is related to nightshades such as tomatoes and eggplant. Common throughout its native lands in South America, this fruit has been exported as far away as New Zealand and Turkey. It can bear fruit within four to six months of being planted and makes a resilient crop, so it's a favorable option for farmers who know of it.

The pepino tastes like a mix between a cucumber and a honeydew melon.

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Hala Tree Fruit

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The fruit from Hawaii's hala tree is very unusual looking, described as looking like an exploding planet. Inside the hard, fibrous husk are dozens or sometimes even hundreds of colorful wedges that each have seeds. The tree it comes from, called Pandanus tectorius, is actually a species of screwpine that is native to parts of Australia and the Pacific Islands.

The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked and can also be used as a natural dental floss. The individual wedges are often made into necklaces or leis. The leaves are used for thatch roofs, grass skirts, mats, and baskets, and are said to have medicinal properties.

View Article Sources
  1. Lipatova, Olga, and Matthew M. Campolattaro. "The Miracle Fruit: An Undergraduate Laboratory Exercise in Taste Sensation and Perception." Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education. 2016.

  2. "Langsat." Purdue University.

  3. "Researchers from Spain and U.S. discover 'seedless' cherimoya gene." University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. 2011.