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Exotic Tropical Fruit

ababai  Pronunciation:   ABBA-bye  Notes:  Ababais are similar to papayas, only they have their own unique flavor.  They're good raw, but they can also be cooked or grilled without losing their shape.  The biggest drawback is that they're as yet hard to find in markets.   Substitutes:  papaya (This also holds its shape when cooked.) OR mango

achee  See ackee

ackee = achee = akee = vegetable brains = vegetable egg    Pronunciation:   uh-KEE  Notes:  The pulp of this fruit looks and tastes like scrambled eggs when cooked, and Jamaicans like to serve it with salt cod.   Look for cans of it in Caribbean markets.  Warning:  Only the yellow pulp on ripe ackees is edible.  Eating underripe ackees that haven't opened on their own, or eating the pink portion of ripe ackees, can cause vomiting and death.  

Adam's fig   See plantain.

akee  See ackee

apple cactus  See pitaya.

asam gelugor  Substitutes: tamarind

asam jawa  See tamarind

atemoya   Notes:  This cherimoya-sweetsop cross has sweet custard-like pulp.   Look for it in specialty produce markets during the fall.   Substitutes:  cherimoya OR sweetsop OR mango  

barbary fig   See prickly pear

bilimbi   Substitutes:  star fruit

black sapote  See sapote

breadfruit = panapen = pana de pepita   Notes:    This is the plant that the H.M.S. Bounty was carrying in the South Pacific when its crew mutinied. Captain Bligh's goal had been to transport the seedlings from Tahiti to the Caribbean, so that slaves there would have a ready source of starch and calories.  Breadfruit is highly perishable, so fresh ones are hard to find outside the tropics.  The canned version is a good substitute. A seeded version is called a breadnutSubstitutes:  jackfruit (larger than breadfruit) OR plantain (especially for tostones) OR potatoes   

breadnut  See breadfruit.

cactus fruit   See pitaya

cactus pear   See prickly pear.

caimito  See star apple.

canistel = egg fruit  Shopping hints:  This is a very sweet fruit, roughly the size of an egg, with a shell the color of an egg yolk.  Substitutes:  black sapote (not as sweet) OR mamey sapote (not as sweet) OR sapodilla (not as sweet) OR cherimoya (not as sweet) OR persimmon (not as sweet) OR yams (if the recipe calls for the canistel to be cooked)

Capuli   See Capulin (cherry)

Capulin cherry = Capulin = Panama berry = Capuli = tropic cherry = tropical cherry  Substitutes:  sweet cherries

carissa = natal plum   Notes:  You won't find these in markets, but these tart plums are great for making preserves.  Substitutes:   cranberries (for jellies) OR raspberries (for jellies and preserves) 


cashew apple = cashew fruit = marañon = merey = caju = cajueiro   Notes:   This Brazilian fruit looks like a squishy apple with an odd-looking stem growing out of it.  According to botanists, though, the grayish "stem" is actually the fruit, and it encloses the kidney-shaped cashew nut that we're familiar with.  The cashew apple is the yellowish-orange part that's attached to the fruit.  Cashew apples are juicy but somewhat astringent due to a high concentration of tannin.  Be careful of the grayish fruit that encloses the nut.  It contains toxic oils. 

ceriman  See monstera.

cheremai  See Otaheite gooseberry.


cherimoya = custard apple = sherbet fruit = chirimolla = chirimoya = (incorrectly) pawpaw   Pronunciation:   chair-uh-MOY-yuh  Notes:  This South American tropical fruit is shaped like a pine cone and has a gray-green, scaly skin. The soft white pulp inside has large black (inedible) seeds and tastes like a creamy blend of tropical flavors.  Hard cherimoyas should be stored at room temperature until they give a little when squeezed, then they should be refrigerated until they're ready to serve.  Substitutes:  atemoya OR sweetsop OR soursop (larger) OR llama OR combine equal parts strawberries, bananas, and pineapple  

Chinese date (fresh) = jujube (fresh)  Notes:  These are usually dried, but you can sometimes find fresh dates in late summer and fall.  When you get them home, let them ripen on the counter for awhile until they become soft and sweet.   Substitutes:  apples OR prunes

chirimolla  See cherimoya

chirimoya  See cherimoya

chocolate pudding fruit  See sapote. 

cooking banana   See plantain

custard apple  See cherimoya.  


dragon fruit = strawberry pear

dragon's eyes   See longan.

duku   See langsat

durian = stinky fruit    Notes:   The weird and smelly durian has attracted a cult-like following.  It's called the King of Fruits by aficionados in Southeast Asia, but Westerners usually don't care much for its mild oniony flavor.  Once cut open, the durian gives off such a strong and foul odor that it's banned on Singaporean subways.  Look for it in Asian markets.  The boiled seeds of the durian are called betons.   

egg fruit  See canistel.

feijoa = feijoda = pineapple guava   Pronunciation:   feh-JO-uh   Notes:   To eat feijoas, just cut them in half and scoop out the pulp with a spoon.  They also make terrific preserves and syrups.  Look for them in large supermarkets.  If they're hard when you buy them, allow them to ripen at room temperature until they give a bit when you squeeze them, then store them in the refrigerator.  Substitutes:  kiwi fruit OR pineapple OR strawberries OR guava  

feijoda   See feijoa

goyave  See guava

granadilla   See passionfruit

grosella  See Otaheite gooseberry

guanabana  See soursop.


guava = guayaba = goyave = guyava   Equivalents:  One guava yields about 1/2 cup pulp.  Notes:  These bruise easily, so markets usually sell them while they're still hard and green.  Allow them to ripen at room temperature until they become yellow and very aromatic, then either eat or refrigerate them.  Don't peel them, just remove the seeds. Substitutes:   pineapple OR strawberries  

guayaba  See guava

guyava  See guava.

illama   Notes:  These are hard to find outside of Mexico or Guatamala.  Substitutes:  sweetsop OR cherimoya

Indian date  See tamarind

Indian fig   See prickly pear

Indian pear   See prickly pear

jackfruit = jakfruit = jak = nankga   Notes:   This is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world--it weighs up to 100 pounds. It's hard to find fresh in the United States, but Asian markets sometimes stock canned jackfruit. The yellowish pulp tastes a bit like banana.  The seeds can be boiled and eaten. Watch out for the sap--it can stain your clothes.   Substitutes:  breadfruit (smaller than jackfruit) OR papaya OR pineapple OR lychee  

jak   See jackfruit

jakfruit   See jackfruit

laichee   See litchi.

langsat = lanzone = duku = lansek = lanson = lanzon   Notes:  This sweet and sour fruit from Southeast Asia looks like a small potato. Don't eat the bitter seed inside.

lansek   See langsat

lanson   See langsat

lanzon  See langsat.

lanzone   See langsat

leechee  See litchi

lichee  See litchi

lichi  See litchi

litchi = lychee = lichee = lichi = leechee = laichee   Notes:   This popular Chinese fruit is about the size of a walnut, with a bumpy red shell encasing white translucent pulp that's similar in texture to a grape. The flavor is sweet, exotic, and very juicy. Don't eat the shell or the seed. Fresh litchis are available from May to July.  If you can't find them, canned litchis are a good substitute.  Don't confuse fresh litchis with litchi nuts, which are sun-dried litchis that have a much different texture.  Substitutes:  rambutans (slightly larger) OR longans (smaller and sweeter, but not as juicy) OR grapes   

longan = lungan = dragon's eyes  Notes:  Longans are very similar to lychees and rambutans. You can buy them fresh (in the summer), dried or canned.   Substitutes:  lychees (larger and juicier, but not as sweet) OR rambutans

lungan   See longan

lychee  See litchi

mabolo = velvet apple  Shopping hints:  These look like rust-colored fuzzy apples.  Substitutes:   peach

mamey  See mamey sapote 


mamey sapote  = mammee = mamey Notes:   These are about the size of a large sweet potato.   The flesh is salmon-colored, with a sweet, berry-like flavor.  They're great for eating out of hand, or for making fruit salads or smoothies.  Markets often sell them while they're still hard and underripe, so you need to set them on the counter for a few days until they yield when gently squeezed.  Peel them and remove the seeds before serving.   Substitutes:  white sapote OR black sapote


mammee  See mamey sapote

mangostan  See mangosteen.


mangosteen = mangostan   Notes:   Some claim that this is the most delicious fruit on the planet.  It's hard to find outside of the tropics, but I've seen some in Amsterdam.  It's about the size of a tomato, and has a leathery, mottled skin.   Substitutes:  strawberries OR mango  



maracudja   See passionfruit.  

maracuja  See passionfruit.

marmalade plum  See sapote. 


mellowfruit  See pepino

melon pear  See pepino

Mexican custard apple  See sapote

monstera = ceriman = Mexican breadfruit   Notes:   You'll probably have to go to Florida to find this bizarre tropical fruit.  It looks like a banana covered with green scales, which buckle and separate as the fruit ripens.  Beneath the scales are kernels of pulp, which you scrape off like corn from a cob.  The kernels have a pleasant tropical flavor and creamy texture.   Wait until the scales separate before eating the kernels--unripe monsteras can irritate your mouth.  Substitutes:  bananas OR pineapple

moya   Notes:   The family of moyas includes atemoya, cherimoya, soursop, and sweetsop, all of which can be used interchangeably.  All these fruits have scaly peels and hard black seeds, which you need to remove before eating.   Substitutes:  mango  

nankga  See jackfruit.

naseberry   See sapodilla.

natal plum  See carissa.

Otaheite gooseberry = grosella = cheremai   Notes:  This tart fruit looks and tastes like a gooseberry.   Substitutes:  gooseberries

pana de pepita   See breadfruit

Panama berry   See Capulin (cherry)

panapen  See breadfruit

papaw  See papaya or pawpaw.


passionfruit = passion fruit = granadilla = maracudja = maracuja  Equivalents:  Pulp from 12 passionfruits will yield 1 cup of purée.  Notes:   This aromatic fruit has a tart, tropical flavor.  The red granadilla is more highly esteemed than the more acidic yellow granadilla or sweeter purple granadilla.  They're ripe when their skins are wrinkled.  The seeds are small and edible, so leave them in if you like.   Substitutes: guava OR pineapple (especially for juice)  

pawpaw = papaw    Notes:   Australians use this name for the papaya, while others use it for the cherimoya.   A real pawpaw has a dark brown peel and orange flesh. Eat only after it's completely ripe.  Substitutes:  bananas


pepino = pepino melon = mellowfruit = treemelon = melon pear = sweet cucumber = melon shrub = pear melon   Pronunciation:  pah-PEE-no  Notes:  These are juicy and have a mild melon flavor.  You can eat the peel if you like.   Substitutes:  tamarillo OR pear OR cantaloupe OR prickly pear OR papaya OR cantaloupe 

pepino melon  See pepino

pineapple guava   See feijoa.

pitahaya   See pitaya

pitaya = pitahaya = cactus fruit = apple cactus    Notes:  A few companies are starting to import this yellow cactus fruit from South America.  Substitutes:  kiwi (similar, but not as sweet)

pitomba  Substitutes:  apricots


plantain = cooking banana = platano = platano macho = Adam's fig = macho banana   Shopping hints:   These look just like large green bananas, and they're usually cooked before eating.  Hispanic and Caribbean use them like potatoes, either frying them or boiling them in stews.  Different recipes may call for plantains in varying stages of ripeness, with their skins either green, yellow, or black.  A green plantain will first turn yellow and then black if allowed to ripen at room temperature.  As it ripens, the pulp becomes sweeter and less starchy.   Substitutes: bananas (preferably underripe ones) OR sweet potatoes OR breadfruit (especially for tostones) OR potatoes (especially if fried)  

platano   See plantain

platano macho   See plantain

prickly pear = Indian fig = Indian pear = barbary fig = tuna = cactus pear   Notes:   The pulp of these cactus fruits is a brilliant red or, occasionally, a yellowish green, and it tastes a bit like watered-down watermelon.  Cooks exploit the color by adding slices of the pulp to fruit salads, or by puréeing it and straining out the seeds.  They're quite popular in Hispanic countries and around the Mediterranean.   Substitutes:  pepino melon OR watermelon  (much larger)   

rambutan   Notes:   These are similar to litchees and longans, but they're covered with soft spines.  Substitutes:  lychees (smaller) OR longans (smaller yet)   Cooking hints: Peel before using.  

rose apple  Notes:  These rose or green fruits are pear-shaped and are said to taste like rose water.  The seeds are poisonous.   Substitutes:  apples (not as acidic)

roselle  Shopping hints:  This is grown in Africa. Substitutes:  cranberries

salak  Shopping hints:    These are about the size of a plum and are covered with brown scales.

sapodilla = naseberry  Shopping hints:  This fruit looks like a bald, brown kiwi fruit.   Substitutes:    pear OR black sapote OR mamey sapote OR canistel (sweeter) OR cherimoya OR persimmon OR apricot

sapota  See sapote

sapote = sapota = zapote = Mexican custard apple = marmalade plum   Pronunciation:  sah-POH-tay OR sah-POH-tee   Notes:   This is a family of sweet, tropical fruits.  Varieties include the black sapote = chocolate pudding fruit, the brown-skinned, pink-fleshed mamey sapote = mammee = mamey, and the white sapote = zapote blanco  Substitutes:  sapodilla OR canistel OR soursop OR cherimoya OR persimmon OR plum OR peach OR mango   

sherbet fruit  See cherimoya


soursop = guanabana   Pronunciation:   sow-ER-sop  Notes:  This large, dark green fruit is covered with soft prickles.  The pulp has a slightly acidic, tropical flavor. Don't eat the seeds or peel.   Substitutes:  cherimoya (smaller)



star apple = caimito   Notes:  These are similar to star fruit, only with purple skins.  Substitutes:  star fruit

stinky fruit  See durian.

sugar apple  See sweetsop.

sweet cucumber   See pepino.

sweetsop = sugar apple  Notes:   This sweet tropical fruit looks a bit like a small cherimoya.  It's great for eating of hand or for making shakes.  It's available in the fall, but it's hard to find outside of Florida.  Substitutes:  atemoya (this is a cross between the sweetsop and cherimoya) OR cherimoya


tamarind = asam jawa = Indian date = tamarindo   Notes:   The pulp from the tamarind pod is used as a souring agent in Latin America, India, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.  To extract the pulp, shell the pods, put them in a saucepan, then add enough water to completely cover the pulp.  Simmer for about half an hour, then strain out and discard the seeds.  It's a nuisance to do this, so many cooks simply buy the extracted pulp in bricks, jars, cans, powders, or bottles.  There's also a sweet tamarind, which looks like the sour variety and is used primarily to make drinks.   Substitutes:  asam gelugor OR lime juice OR lemon juice OR vinegar mixed with some sugar OR amchoor  

tamarindo  See tamarind.


tamarillo = tree tomato = tomate de árbol  Pronunciation:  tam-uh-RIHL-oh  Notes:   This fruit is notable more for its ravishing beauty than its flavor.  It's about the size of a oblong plum, with a smooth peel that can be purple, red, orange, or yellow, with the yellow variety tending to be a bit sweeter.  Slicing it in half reveals black or orange flesh (the darker the peel, the darker the flesh) surrounding a nest of seeds.  It's more acidic than sweet, and tastes a bit like a tomato.  It's best if it's peeled and cooked before eating.  Substitutes:  papaya (sweeter, not as acidic) 


toddy palm seeds = loog than (Thai) = tad gola  Notes:    These are seeds from the toddy or jaggery palm.  Sap from the same tree is used to make jaggery (a kind of sugar), wine, and vinegar.  You have to cook them before you can eat them.   People in Indian and Southeast Asia roast and split the seeds, then suck out the yellow gelatinous pulp inside.  It's available frozen or canned in Indian and Southeast Asian markets.  Be careful if you pick your own:  the red fruit surrounding the seeds contains oxalic acid, which can burn your skin and do even more damage if eaten. 

treemelon  See pepino

tree tomato  See tamarillo.

tropical cherry  See Capulin (cherry).

tropic cherry   See Capulin (cherry)

tuna   See prickly pear

vegetable brains  See ackee

vegetable egg  See ackee.

velvet apple  See mabolo.

white sapote = zapote blanco = matasano = casimiroa = custard apple   Notes:  This tropical fruit has sweet, creamy pulp that's wonderful in fruit salads or shakes.  They arrive in the summer.   Since they bruise easily when ripe, they're usually sold while they're still hard.  Take them home and let them ripen on the counter for a few days until they yield to a gentle squeeze.  Remove the peel and seeds before serving.  Substitutes:  sapote


zapote  See sapote

zapote blanco  See white sapote.

Copyright © 1996-2005  Lori Alden