Have you ever had fruits from Asia? When I first moved to Florida after living in a small town in New Jersey for twenty one years, I was surprised to find so many different types of fruits in the grocery stores of Orlando. There were so many colors and shapes and names I could only attempt to pronounce, it almost felt as if I had left the country!
No matter where in the world you come from, chances are high that you have had your fair share of fruit throughout your life, but if you are like me and have not had the chance to explore past the common banana or strawberry, then the following list of 25 weird and exotic fruits from Asia you’ve probably never heard of is going to be quite the adventure for you!
Declared Japan’s national fruit, sweet persimmons are popular around the world today. Persimmons are high in vitamins and minerals, especially tannin, which is linked to cell health and regulating blood flow. Resembling a tiny pumpkin, persimmons are very popular to bake with and can be used in any manner of dessert, from cake and pies, to cookies and bread.
A Southeast Asian fruit, the noni may lack visual appeal, but certainly makes up for it in medicinal properties. Noni juice helps protect against damage caused by strokes. The juice is also full of antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial.
The Philippines are home to the santol fruit, an extremely sour, sub-acid fruit that resembles an apple. The seeds, along with youthful fruits, can actually be cannied and turned into marmalade and preserves. The roots of the fruit can be used as a tonic, and even applied in a poultice to treat ringworm.
Found mainly in Japan, yuzu resemble lemons and are very sour and tart. They are usually not eaten raw, but used for their zest and juice when cooking. Yuzu juice is traditionally used to make ponzu, a citrus soy sauce that is great in a marinade for chicken or fish.
Wood apples, like durian, can scare away potential consumers with its intense odor, but if you can push past the smell, the many health benefits of the wood apple will certainly be worth it. From relieving indigestion, constipation, and ulcers, wood apples are delicious when eaten raw, but especially when mashed and made into jam.
This tiny fruit is found mostly in Malaysia, and only recently made its way into Hawaii. Similar in taste to a bittersweet grapefruit, the langsat is sectioned like an orange and must be husked from its tough outer skin. Their bitter, inedible seeds have actually been shown to be able to kill malaria, with an anti-pathogenic compound that interrupts the life-cycle of the malaria pathogen.
Also known as pitaya, the dragon fruit is actually of the cactus family and found in Southeast Asia. The flavor is light and sweet, with the consistency of a kiwi. Dragon fruit are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients, boosting the immune system, reducing risk of of respiratory problems, and alleviating heart problems. The only down side to this delicious fruit is the its high fructose levels, so if sugar is an issue for you, be sure to enjoy this fruit in moderation.
Breadfruit finds its roots in Southeast Asia, but it is grown and enjoyed all over the world for its bread-like consistency and flavor. In can be mashed or sauteed, baked in banana leaves, or added to a spicy curry. Breadfruit is even candied, pickled, and cut into strips to make breadfruit French fries. The leftover pulp can even be recycled to make paper.
The tinniest member of the citrus family, kumquats grow in bunches and are ready to eat plucked right off the tree. They are native to southeast China, but are found all across Asia today. The peel, as well as the inside flesh, is full of vitamins and minerals. Kumquats possess anti-viral and anti-cancer properties, act as co-factors for metabolizing protein, fats, and carbohydrates, and even balance insulin and glucose levels in the body.
Rarely found outside of Malaysia, the pulasan is easily confused with its cousins the rambutan and lychee. Pulasan are much sweeter with shorter, thicker spines on its outside skin. They are high in vitamin C and antioxidants, and are even used to manage blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Starfruit are similar in texture and consistency to a kiwi, but much more light and sweet in flavor. When sliced, they look exactly like their namesake of five-pointed star. Found all across Asia, it is high in fiber and vitamin C, but also in oxalates, which make it adverse to people suffering from kidney complications.
Found in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, the Chinese Bayberry is another fruit renowned for its many health benefits. Rich in oligomeric proanthocyanidins, the most powerful class of free-radical-killing antioxidants, the Bayberry also boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and is even used to fight infections. It’s downright tasty too, and is used in jams, jellies, and pastries.
Although technically a tropical American native, sugar apples took root and blossomed across the West Indies after Spanish traders introduced it to the area. In Taiwan, new hybrids started to emerge into the early 1900’s, combining the sugar apple with cherimoya. Sugar apples, also known as sweetsop, have a multitude of health benefits including facilitating milk production for lactating mothers, supporting hearth health, and preventing asthma due to its high levels antioxidants.
The lotus flower is an important symbol of perseverance and strength in Hindu and Buddhist faith. In Cambodia, however, the lotus serves a less figurative purpose: the lotus’s seed pod contains up to two dozen delicious seeds that can be husked and eaten. The taste resembles slightly bitter, juicy peanuts.
Also known as snake fruit, salak are native to Jave, Sumatra, and Indonesia. The skin is textured like a cactus, scaly and prickly, with a slightly acidic, citrus flavor. Salak bloom off the base of the Rakum palm and possess high levels of potassium, calcium, and vitamin C, and are even anti-diarrheal. Be careful how much you consume, though, because too many salak can cause constipation.
Longan find their home all over Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, and China. They are used in sorbets, jellies, salads, and puddings, but more impressive is its list of health benefits. The longan’s fruit, flower, and seeds are full of polyphenols, a compound that eliminate stress-inducing free radicals and toxic intermediates that can lead to cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, longan seed extract has been used to suppress and destroy cancerous tumors.
Hailing from Indonesia, mangosteen are both a miracle fruit and a forbidden fruit. Used for a variety of medicinal remedies, it has been used to treat urinary tract infections, tuberculosis, osteoarthritis, and even applied to the skin to treat eczema. Unfortunately, mangosteens have been barred from entry into the United States because of their susceptibility to the Mediterranean fruit fly, which the the Department of Agriculture fears could contaminate domestic crops.
Asian pears look and taste like a delicious pear-apple hybrid, but they are considered a true pear. Rich in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, Asian pears are as versatile as apples and can be used as sauces, sliced, baked, and for juicing.
Durian are most well known of the strong, rank smell that permeates its tough outer shell. The smell is so strong, the fruit has actually been banned on public transportation in Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Singapore taxis even have signs prohibiting the fruit. Despite its odor, durian are extremely healthy, being naturally rich in iron, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
Rambutan get their name from the Malay word for “hair,” indicative of the soft red spikes that cover the outside of the fruit. Hailing from Malaysia, they can grow in warm, subtropical climates all over the world. A cousin to the lychee, rambutan lack the variety of vitamins found in lychee, but do boast high levels of dietary fiber and iron.
Lychee originate from the subtropical region of China and have some amazing health benefits. From supporting the digestive system, to boosting immunity, they are a great source of vitamin B and antioxidants.
Also known as java apple, water apple, and love apple, the wax apple is native to the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and comes in a variety of colors including white, green, red, purple, and even black. Taiwan is home to the one of the most prized and highly sought after wax apples called “black pearls,” which are actually red and purple in color.
Jackfruit grows abundantly in Southwest India, and thrives in other tropical climates. Jackfruit is commonly used as a plant-based meat alternative because the young, unripe fruit absorbs flavor well and has a string, meat-like consistency.
Found in the mangroves of Singapore, nipah palms from which the seeds sprout are extremely versatile. The fronds are used as roofs for huts, the seeds are harvested and made into a jelly used for desserts, and the sap is tapped and pressed into an alcoholic drink. Unfortunately, the Nipah Seed is now listed as “Vulnerable,” as the palm is not found in protected areas.
Originating from Southeast Asia, pomelos are the largest citrus fruit and are now grown all over the world. Sometimes confused with the grapefruit, the pomelo is actually the “father” of the grapefruit, as it is actually a hybrid of a sweet orange and pomelo.