A Taste of the Exotic in South Florida

Right after the great weather this time of year, the best thing about living in South Florida is its abundance of tropical fruit.  I’m not just talking about oranges and grapefruit — there is a variety of fruit grown and sold right here that you may have never tasted.  But once you do you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried them sooner!

Here are four fruits you can enjoy right now:

Mamey Sapote
This fruit comes from a tree that is native to southern Mexico, though today you’ll find mamey sapote throughout Central America, the Caribbean and South Florida.

mamey sapoteFrom its shape to its seed this fruit resembles a large avocado, except for its brown skin that has the feel of fine sandpaper.  You cut into a mamey like you would an avocado, but instead of green flesh you’ll be dazzled by the mamey’s sunset red-orange color.

The taste is out of this world.  It’s a mix of pumpkin pie and sweet potato with a mamey sapotefruity sweetness similar to papaya.  The mamey has such a rich and creamy texture that you won’t believe it came from nature.

I like to eat mamey raw, scooping out the flesh with a spoon.  It can also be used in milkshakes or smoothies.

A mamey is ready to eat when it feels mushy and the skin begins to pucker.  Unripe mamey will need about three days to ripen.

Monstera
Monstera is a fitting name for this tropical fruit that seems to come alive as it ripens.  It grows on a vine that is native to the Central American rainforest.

monsteraThe monstera fruit resembles an ear of corn that is covered in hexagonal scales.  As the fruit ripens it takes on the look of a snake shedding its skin — the scales begin to fall off, revealing a sweet-smelling light yellow flesh inside.

Once the green skin has fallen off, the monstera is ready to enjoy.  You eat it like you would eat corn, biting off the monsteraflesh from the fruit’s core.  The flavor is a delicious mix of pineapple and banana, with a texture similar to very ripe pineapple.

Because the monstera sheds its skin, you may want to store it in a bag until ripe for easier cleanup.  Be sure to wait until the scales fall off to eat the monstera, otherwise the fruit will be extremely tart.

Tamarind
If you’re familiar with Indian or South American cuisine, you may already know about tamarind (called tamarindo in Spanish-speaking countries).

tamarindThough native to Africa, tamarind is produced and consumed the most in India.  It was brought to Mexico and South America in the 1500s by Spanish and Portuguese colonists.

You can find tamarind in paste or jelly form at the grocery store, but the more difficult to find fresh tamarind is a special treat.

The tamarind fruit is a large brown pod, with dark burgundy flesh surrounding seeds inside.  Sweet and slightly tart, snacking on tamarind is like snacking on candy.  Just crack the thin shell and take a bite of the flesh inside, being mindful to spit out the seeds.

Dragon Fruit
Fruit doesn’t get much more exotic-looking than the dragon fruit.  This fruit comes from cacti that are native to Central and South America.

dragon fruitThe flesh can range from white to dark pink in color, and resembles a kiwi in texture because of its small, edible black seeds.  You can eat the fruit by cutting it vertically in half and scooping out the flesh, or by cutting it into watermelon-like slices.

For its bold appearance, the taste of dragon fruit is surprisingly mild.  It’s slightly sweet with a subtle flavor similar to melon or grapefruit.  Eat it before you try the strong-flavored mamey sapote, monstera and tamarind fruits, otherwise you may be disappointed by its delicate taste.

Want to try these fruits?  You’ll often find them at farmers’ markets and Latin American grocery stores.  If you’re not having any luck, you’re sure to find these and other exotic fruits at Robert is Here, a well-known Homestead fruit stand that also sells salsas, preserves, mustard, honey and fresh fruit milkshakes.