There are some places where certain fresh foods are more common than others, and no matter how well we package, wrap, freeze, and preserve them they don’t taste the same or stand up under certain conditions. The other day I was thinking about foods I genuinely miss from the Caribbean. Even in today’s rush to market exotic fruits, it seems they would rather sell them in pills, detox juices, or organic products. I seldom see them in their original forms; when I do, they never taste the same, they are overpriced and lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. The only way to get the real flavor of many of these fruits is to pay the premium price at some fancy supermarket. Or you can drive to a big city like New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, and dig deep into the ethnic communities where you can find East Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, or West Indian markets that might have these fruits. The other option is to travel to the Caribbean and perhaps you might be lucky enough to taste some of them depending on the season. The best part about doing this is you get the best tasting product and the marvelous local stories that accompany these fruits.
The Quenep, Quenepa, Quenepas, Kinnep, Spanish Lime, or Skinep as they are called are at the very top of my list. I have only ever had it while in the Caribbean and have tried looking for it in other places such as Thailand and at exotic food markets in Kuwait. It is also known to grow in the northern parts of South and Central America, and I have heard rumors of it growing in Southern Florida. As far as I can tell, India is the only other place where this plant is documented as growing, and if you look long and hard enough, you can find vendors on Amazon selling them. There are many names for this fruit depending on where you are from, but the number one name for it is delicious. Trust me when I say I have tried to get friends to mail them to me, but they always spoil by the time I get them. Sometimes in the summer, I can find them in New York City, but they are never as sweet as the ones in the Caribbean.
The Quenep as I call it is a small round or sometimes oblong-shaped fruit, with a single seed inside which takes up much of the fruit. The color is always green as it doesn’t change like other fruits. The only way to tell if its ripe is by the sweet smell of the skin and the slight plump suppleness of the skin cushioned by the yellowish-orange flesh. Best time to eat is in season, which is from July to September.
How to Eat: Crack the seed out of the green shell or skin by biting or squeezing it. Then pop the seed in your mouth and suck off the flesh. Do not swallow the seed as that can be a choking hazard, instead save it for growing your own Quenepa tree. The flavor of the quenepas is hard to describe as I have not found any fruit like it yet, it is usually sweet, but depending on the season or the tree they can also be somewhat bitter if they are picked before ripe.
The Mammee Apple sometimes called the Mamey Apple, Sweet Apricot, West Indian Apricot or Antilles Apricot is another fruit found throughout the Caribbean, Central, and South America. This fruit is said to be closely related to the Mangosteen (I don’t believe that). This is a fruit that I have not seen anywhere outside of the locations mentioned above. It is fragrant and have a flavorful tasting, but looks very bland on the outside. The Mammee Apple tree can grow to about 59ft and looks similar to a Magnolia tree. The fruit itself is a berry, and the outside reminds me of the honeydew melons with the rough-textured skin. Mammee Apples are often perfectly round with brownish-grey textured skin which protects the fruit from the long fall from the tree to the ground.
How to Eat: You will need a knife to eat this one, as the outer skin is a bit tough. Once the skin is peeled back, it will reveal a fragrant bright orange or a yellowish-orange flesh. The flesh itself is easy to handle as it’s not as juicy and almost have a dense quality with one or two seeds inside. Once you bite into the fruit its total heaven and has a sweet tropical flavor that gives a floral aroma but has the quality of a mildly flavored mango or ripen apricot.
Now the Sugar Apple is second on my list, but unlike the Quenepa and Mammee Apple, it is somewhat more accessible as I have found them in the Caribbean, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar, and Thailand. This is an odd fruit because it looks bizarre in comparison to an American apple. Do not let the look deceive you as this fruit has more flavor than a regular apple, with a sweet custardy consistency.
The Sugar Apple does not necessarily change colors as it ripens, but it becomes large and soft-bodied spewing an aromatic odor that begs you to eat it. Once it is ripe, the lumpy skin starts to separate and you can see a hint of white or yellowish color peeping out between each of the space that separates the bumps on the skin.
How to Eat: A Sugar Apple is only ripe once it’s soft, you can cut or tear into it to separate the skin from the white flesh. Inside there are many seeds in pods, remove the seeds and eat the white pods.
The Water Apple, Wax Apple, Java, Semarang Rose-Apple, and Wax Jambu is another fruit I found in the Caribbean but is native to the Malay Peninsula, the Greater Sunda Islands, Andaman, and the Nicobar Islands. Lucky for me, the Water Apple is also grown in the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
The Water Apple looked like it should be called the wax pear as it has a pear shape with a waxy pinkish-red skin with a white center.
How to Eat: Wash the skin and bite into it, the skin is edible and even the seeds. It has a lightly sweet flavor with porous juicy flesh. You may find some that are not overly sweet and are more watery than sweet. This is a refreshen fruit that is sold as-is or in juice form.
I do not think many people know that the Cashew plant also bears fruit that highly sort after in the Caribbean. They are sold at markets places, made into juices, and cooked in curries. It grows attached to the Cashew nut and once ripe it turns from green to yellow, then pink, and red.
How to Eat: Once the seed is removed from the top, you can wash and eat the fruit. The skin is somewhat edible, the inside is yellow with stringy fibers. Please note that the seed must not be eaten unless adequately dried and roasted. I like Cashew Fruit but this is one that is much harder to appreciate for some people.
Upon first glance, the West Indian Cherry looks like a normal cherry, but if you look closer, they are not quite like the usual cherries we see on top of ice cream or in fancy drinks. The scientific name is Malpighia Emarginata, and they are also called Barbados Cherry or Wild Crepe Myrtle, just like the other fruits they can be found in the Caribbean, South and Central America, Florida, Texas, India, and other subtropical parts of Asia.
These cherries aren’t as sweet as regular cherries if not properly ripened. They are often made into juices and contain a great deal of vitamin C, A, B1, B2, and B3. The trendy food crowd will know that many of the detox and diet juices sometimes contain West Indian Cherry.
How to Eat: They are eaten when red and have a small soft seed that could be chewed up and swallowed, but most remove the seeds. I would say the redder the cherry the better it is, depending on the tree if the fruit is not totally red it can be a bit tart.
The Golden Apple or June Plum is a fruit that I do not necessarily like, but once it is ripe, it has a very sweet taste. I added it because while I don’t like it, I miss having this around. They grow in a tropical location such as India, Asia, Central & South America, and the Caribbean. It’s only ripe when golden yellow, but it can be pickled, and a drink is made from it.
How to Eat: Peel the skin off and cut it up, carefully eat it because the seed resembles a thorn and can bring great discomfort if you bite into in a hurry. The taste can range from tangy-sweet with a slight acidy undertone.
While you can find a host of drinks and food products made with Passion Fruit, I miss the days of picking this fruit for free and making Passion Fruit juice for less than it cost to buy a bottle of water. This plant is a vine plant that produces beautiful flowers that are often white, purple, and yellow in color. The berry produced by the vine is often yellow or purple, the shape is round or oval, and inside there are tiny seeds suspended in a semi gelatinous yellow liquid. The fruit often reminds me of a small waxy ball with an outer shell that wrinkles as it age.
How to Eat: Cut open the fruit and use a spoon to remove the seeds and juice from the shell. The seeds are edible, and the juice has a strong flavor, but also a bit tart. I often ate this fruit by drizzling honey or sugar on the inner flesh. The Passion Fruit’s taste is unique and can be off-putting to some, which is why it’s always added to other food products because it works with a variety of flavors.
The Baygrapes or Seagrapes are common in coastal areas of many Caribbean and Floridian shores. They tend to grow close to the sea in sandy areas in large groups and are wind and salt tolerant. They can be a sweet treat while spending a long day at the beach. The reasons why they are referred to as grapes is because the fruit tends to grow in clusters like wine grapes, but not on a vine. The leaves are wide and fan-shaped, and many Caribbean people use them for cooking tropical dishes. Just like the banana leaves, you can use the Baygrape leaf to wrap food in to boil, steam or bake.
How to Eat: The red or burgundy grapes are the sweet ones; they have a large seed inside which means you have to suck the flesh off the seed.
The West Indian Gooseberries are a bit different from the ones you find in England and northern countries. The West Indian Gooseberry is also called Star Gooseberry, and many of the locals make jams, chutneys, and juices with them. The fruit grows on trees and not bushes (shrubs), and the color when ripe is a pale yellow or light green.
How to Eat: Clean wash and eat the outer flesh, remember there is a seed in the middle. Best way to eat is in jams, it’s very sour fruit.
The Sorrel plant isn’t technically a fruit; it’s more of a flowering plant that most Caribbean people turn into a drink. The Sorrel drink is enjoyed during Christmas time mostly because it’s an annual perennial that blooms during that time. It is a relative of the Hibiscus plant and a native of West Africa. The plant looks like a small waxy rose and is also called a Roselle looking like a cross between a Hibiscus bud and rosebud.
How to Eat: Pick the red Sorrel flower, wash, then remove the red petal-like parts from the green inner seed. Place the petal part of the plant into hot water and let soak for a few days, remove from water, and add sugar.
The Carambola is a well-known fruit and is often called the Star Fruit or Five Finger Fruit. The fruit can be found in tropical Asian countries, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. It has a waxy outside and looks like two fruits merged to form an X. The inside is juicy and succulent and has a light, fresh smell, and this fruit can be found in the U.S at fancy supermarkets or ethnic markets.
How to Eat: You can wash and eat it as is.
Well, folks, that’s the end of my list! I do have many more tropical fruits for the next blog about Caribbean Fruits.
Perhaps if my Ghost Audience can think of more exotic fruits found in other locations, feel free to post them in the comments. If you live in the U.S and can somehow get a whole of these fruits please do share where you got them from.