Tales of exotic tropical fruits

Fruit surprises on your foreign getaways…!!

Travelling to other countries is more than just experiencing and indulging in its scenic beauty; it’s also divulging your senses to never experienced things in your homeland. I realized this on my first international tour to Thailand, where my sensory organs were exposed to exotic fruits which are not native to my own country. It was amazing to experience the bizarre nature of the fruits like durian, rambutan, mangosteen you can encounter it throughout South Asian countries especially in the hot tropical belt. On my trip to Thailand, I came across these fruits which were alien to me before. However, the curious foodie in me thought of sharing my fruity experience throughout my foreign trip with facts of these exotic fruits which is usually never heard of.  

Durian

Durian is known as the king of fruit. Fresh durian fruit, the infamous and healthy divisive, it’s a giant and costly fruit native to Thailand. This fruit has spiky texture which fins its resemblance to the jackfruit (native to the Indian land). However, the twist here is that, the fruit put you in two minds whether to love it or hate it! As this fruit has a putrid smells along with a ting of sweet smell which tricks with your mind to decide whether you can really put in your mouth. However, once you have tasted the stinky fruit, it is an experience you will never forget. The taste of the core mushy, creamy, custard texture gives a overpowering pungent feel in mouth yet with a sweet flavor which is felt somewhere in your mouth. Even if smelly cream is sealed with heavy spiky cover, it has a strong rank smell that permeates the outer shell and lingers long after the fruit has been removed.  Due to its overpowering smell, durian has been banned on many types of public transport and even hotels across various places in Thailand, similarly is known to be in Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong, elsewhere. Wonder!! Why this fruit has not crossed oceans. No it’s not banned in other countries for stinky nature. But it is one of the expensive fruits to ship, as it requires an ambient climate and also its difficult to cultivate durian as it requires a very optimum climate and soil components to grow, they thrives in a hot, humid and wet climate with average annual temperature of 24 -30 ̊C with relative humidity of 75-90%. Nevertheless, it’s a fruit of high nutritional values; durian is delicacy of Thai people who incorporate durian fruit in every form of eatery items. Although the durian is not native to Thailand, but Thailand is ranked the world’s number one exporter of durian, producing around 700,000 tons of durian per year, 400,000 tons of which are exported to China and Hong Kong. Thailand is in fact the biggest exporter of the durian fruit and home to many durian farms which produce more varieties than the original native locations. But, Durian is an official national fruit of Singapore’s. The design of Esplanade building next to Marina Bay, includes coverings on the building with pointed metal shades, the building appears as a durian that has been cut in half. The durian is a seasonal fruit, which is typically from June to August, coinciding with another exotic fruit the mangosteen. “The Chinese consider durian and mangosteen to be the king and queen of fruits because of their opposing flavours – the durian is ‘warming’ due to its pungent smell and rich consistency however the mangosteen is ‘cooling’ because of its juicy flesh and slightly acidic taste”.    

 Mangosteen

The Mangosteen is a uncanny looking fruit that contains a delicate flavorful white flesh that is eaten in sections inside round, deep purple shell. A delicious, sweet acidic touch makes distinctive flavor makes it wonderful for juices. Usually, the number of sections found inside matches the number of petals found on the bottom of the shell. Major mangosteen production occurs mainly in Thailand giving a total yield of approximate 46,000 tons/year. Normally, mangosteen trees start to bear fruit 7 to 10 years after planting. It produces fruit two times per year. Depending on the age of the tree, it can produce anywhere from 200 to 3,000 fruit per season, with older trees producing more. Fresh mangosteen is marketed for only a short period of six to ten weeks due to its seasonal nature. Originating in Southeast Asian countries, the popular super fruit, mangosteen is quite “high-maintenance”. It only flourishes in tropical climates that are very humid. Young mangosteen trees have very week roots, meaning the seeds can take anywhere from 8 to 10 years to fully mature. That’s why you should always feel lucky when you get your hands on one. The mangosteen fruit has derived this name from Malay language “manggis“, having all the amazing health benefits. “When it comes to enhancing healthy living, the deep reddish-purple super fruit with white, juicy, soft flesh is essential and when it comes to flavour, it’s truly delicious.”  Given its exceptional nutritional value, the mangosteen deserves its queen of fruits title. Mangosteen is the national fruit of Thailand. Mangosteen is often labeled as a “super fruit” due to the high content of antioxidants that it has and because of its high nutritional value. Now I am sure, these super fruit is the reason which keeps South Asia people look so young and energetic. Durian and mangosteen are usually placed next to each other in the supermarkets, because durian produces a strong heating effect that mangosteen easily neutralizes.

Rambutan

The term ‘rambutan’ is derived from the Malay word for rambut, meaning hair, which gives the fruit greenish, reddish and yellowish due to the hairy coat. Peeling this away reveals a firm, white, translucent flesh, something the Thais are especially adept at delicately carving away from its large seed. Rambutan produces fruit two times per year. It starts to produce fruit 5 to 6 years after planting, with each tree producing 5,000 to 6,000 fruit per season. This fruit is a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. The soft and crunchy rambutan seed is also edible; however, it needs to be thermally processed first. It also contains a good amount of copper and offers smaller amounts of manganese, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc as well. Thailand is the largest producer of rambutan followed by Indonesia and Malaysia. The short shelf life and perishable nature of Rambutan are major drawbacks which limits the export of this fruit to the world market. Though treatment with salicylic acid and lukewarm water treatment increase the shelf life, but still there is a scope to develop novel methods which can facilitate a longer storage time, so that the fruit can be exported to distant countries without damaging the taste, flavor and quality of the fruit.”

These are the three highlighted fruits which I have listed. However, there are many exotic fruits like pomelo, salak fruit, etc. native to each country or geographical location that brings new culture and cuisine. Currently, spread of these fruits to other western countries is limited typical due to lack of storage technologies, which can help to retain fruits fresh for longer time. Moreover, when it comes to technology there exists a huge scope to research on improving in post harvest and packaging technologies to extend the shelf life of both fresh and minimally processed fruits. 

Author: Prachi Bandge, PhD scholar, Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.

You can connect with Prachi on LinkedIn

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