Evolving Exotics - In the 1950’s papayas were considered exotic fruit. By the ‘70s,it was the kiwi. The current decade has brought hybrids and new interest in ‘forgotten’ fruit.


As decades of produce sales trends attest, fruit considered exotic today will very likely be commonplace tomorrow.

Back in the 1950s, consumers discovered papayas and mangoes from Hawaii. In the ‘60s their attention turned to kumquats, persimmons and pomegranates. By the ‘70s, exotic fruit meant kiwis and guavas.

Today, few of the fruits just mentioned would qualify under Webster’s definition of exotic as something “strikingly or excitingly different or unusual.” Advances in transportation have enabled us to taste foods from around the world, not only as we travel but right here at home.


The ‘80s have brought a host of exotic fruits to local produce sections--some newcomers, others that have been around for a long time and are simply receiving renewed interest. Here are 10, available at this time of year and worthy of your attention.

ASIAN PEAR-- There are actually several varieties of this fruit, with skin colors ranging from russet to greenish-yellow. All are a result of cross-breeding apples and pears--thus Asian pears have the crisp texture of an apple and the mellow, sweet flavor of a pear.

Most Asian pears are shaped more like apples than pears. Variety names include Chajuro, Hosui, Kikusui, Nitaka, Shinko, Shinsaki, Tsa Li, Ya Li, Twentieth Century and Ishiiwase.

Asian pears are ready to eat when purchased; they do not soften like American pear varieties. The fruit will keep up to two weeks at room temperature; three months if refrigerated.

The pears are excellent for out-of-hand eating. Simply slice and remove the core. Dip the exposed fruit in lemon juice or an ascorbic acid mixture to prevent discoloration when using in salads.

Asian pears are delicious combined with apples in pies. They may also be sauteed or poached.


CARAMBOLA (care-ahm-BOWL-ah)-- Also called star fruit because of its shape when sliced. Unsliced the fruit is oval, two to five inches long with five prominent longitudinal ribs.

For the first time in many years, fresh carambola may be purchased in local markets. Until last month, carambola grown in Florida had not been permitted to enter California because the fruit is a potential host of the Caribbean fruit fly. Now a cold-storage treatment has been developed to ensure the carambola is pest-free.

Fresh carambola has the texture of an apple. Its taste ranges from sweet-tart to quite sour, depending on the variety, and has been compared to that of plums and grapes, with a citric edge.

Select full, firm carambola with glossy yellow skin. If the fruit is still tinged with green, ripen at room temperature. Fully ripe fruit may be stored one to two days at room temperature, at least two weeks in the refrigerator.

To use, wash and dry the fruit and shave off the dark stripe on each rib with a vegetable peeler. Slice, remove the skin, if desired, as well as the small, inedible seeds from the center of the fruit.

Carambola may be served raw as a garnish for meats, poultry, seafood or baked products, and it makes a good addition to fruit or vegetable salads. The fruit can also be sauteed or used in stir-fry recipes.


When dried, the fruit takes on a candy-like flavor and chewy texture. Dried carambola may be reconstituted by soaking for several minutes in warm water. Flavor and texture, however, are quite different from fresh.

CHERIMOYA (SHARE-a-MOY-a)-- This fruit is also called “custard apple” because of its silky smooth, custard-like flesh. The slightly pear- or heart-shaped cherimoya has a light-green or yellow-green skin covered with small lobes or facets. Some varieties are speckled with tan.

The cream-colored flesh is low-acid, sweet and juicy. It is generously studded with large, inedible black seeds.

There are a number of different varieties of cherimoya with slightly different flavors. Some experts compare the taste to a subtle blend of papaya, pineapple, banana. Others say it is suggestive of strawberries, raspberries, pears, mango or vanilla custard.

The fruit is harvested while still very firm and must be handled gently to avoid damage. When choosing cherimoya, small surface scars are acceptable, but avoid fruit with large dark areas.

If still firm, cherimoya will ripen at room temperature either in a paper bag or when left uncovered and kept out of direct sunlight and turned frequently. The fruit is ripe when the skin turns a dull brownish green and yields to gentle palm pressure.


Cherimoya is best served chilled and consumed raw. Refrigerate ripe fruit in a paper or plastic bag and store no longer than a couple days.

To serve, halve or quarter the fruit, sprinkle with citrus juice and eat with a spoon. Or peel, thinly slice, remove the seeds and combine with other fruits for a salad.

Cherimoya may also be sieved and made into a sauce, adding a small amount of whipping cream and a dash of nutmeg, if desired. Serve over delicate cakes, poached fruit or crepes. This same mixture may be used as the base for ice cream or souffles.

FEIJOA (fee-JOH-ah)-- Although sometimes called pineapple guava, this fruit is actually not a guava . The elongated egg-shaped fruit has slightly bumpy, thin skin ranging in color from lime green to olive. The flesh is pale yellow, aromatic and juicy. It has a gritty texture, is medium-soft and surrounds a soft central cavity with minute, edible seeds.

Taste is tart and perfume-like, suggesting a cross between pineapple and banana, quince or Concord grapes, touched with acidity. Sweetness increases as the fruit ripens.

A feijoa is ripe when it feels like a firm plum. If the fruit is not ripe when purchased, let it stand at room temperature out of direct sunlight and turn it frequently. Once ripe, feijoas may be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days.


In her book “Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables--A Commonsense Guide” (Harper & Row, 1986), Elizabeth Schneider writes that the raw fruit may be pureed and frozen for longer storage.

Because of its tart flavor, the feijoa’s skin is usually peeled away. It may, however, be used in pickles or preserves.

The easiest way to eat a feijoa is to cut it in half and scoop the pulp out with a spoon. Slices of feijoa make an excellent garnish for pancakes or waffles. They may also be drizzled with orange liqueur and served as a dessert over vanilla ice cream or orange sherbet.

Feijoas make a nice addition to fruit salads; however, because of their pungent flavor, they should be used in moderation.

Pureed, the uncooked fruit may be used in ices, ice cream and mousses, particularly when blended with other fruits such as oranges, lime, papaya, banana or strawberries.

KIWANO (kee-WAHN-no)-- This unusual-looking fruit is shaped like a giant, bright orange egg, covered with horns, or spikes. Inside, the flesh is bright green, with numerous edible white seeds.


Also known as the African horned melon, the kiwano is a cross between a melon and cucumber. It’s pulp has a flavor reminiscent of mango and pineapple.

Select kiwanos without blemishes or soft spots. Store in a cool, dry place for up to six months. Do not refrigerate.

Some sources suggest using the kiwano as an addition to fruit or vegetable salads, but recipes tried in The Times’ Test Kitchen found that the seedy pulp is best when blended with lemon juice and oil for a dressing to accent broiled sea scallops.

PASSION FRUIT-- Named by Christian missionaries for the Passion of Christ after they saw symbols of the Crucifixion in the plant’s flower. The fruit is egg-shaped, two- to three-inch long and has a thick, hard purplish-brown shell.

Inside is a gelatinous, yellow-orange pulp laced with many soft edible seeds. It has a sweet-tart, exotic flavor and aroma suggestive of jasmine, honey and lemon.

Passion fruit is ripe when the dark-purple shells are shriveled, wrinkled or even a little moldy. It should yield to gentle pressure but still be firm. If still smooth-skinned when purchased, ripen the fruit at room temperature until shriveled.


Store ripened fruit in the refrigerator for a few days or scoop out the pulp and seeds, place in a freezer container, cover and freeze for up to six months.

The simpliest way to eat passion fruit is to cut it in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds with a spoon. Add a splash of lime juice or pour on a little half and half or whipping cream, if desired.

The pulp may also be sieved to remove the seeds and used for a sauce, pastry filling or beverage flavoring. It also can be used as the base ingredient for ices, ice cream, mousses, souffles or jelly.

PEPINO-- The word means cucumber in Spanish, but it’s also the name of a teardrop-shaped melon that tastes like a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew.

The exterior skin has a golden background but is marked with purple and greenish yellow stripes. The pulp inside is pale yellow-green to yellow-orange with a melon-like texture.

Most pepinos are underripe when they arrive in the market. Ripen the melons at room temperature, uncovered and away from direct sunlight, turning them occasionally.


The melon is ready to eat when it feels like a partially ripe plum. Refrigerate ripe fruit up to three days.

Like most melons, pepinos are delicious served for breakfast with a sprinkling of lemon or lime juice. Chunks of the melon also make good additions to fruit, spinach or seafood salads.

Although best served raw, slices of pepino may be sauteed and served as an accompaniment to meats. The skin and seeds are edible, but most people prefer to eat only the pulp.

PRICKLY PEAR-- This fruit is actually a berry of the Opuntia cactus. It is also called cactus pear or Indian fig or tuna.

Skin color of the barrel-shaped prickly pear ranges from green to dark magenta. Encased in the thorny skin is sweet, red-violet or ruby-garnet pulp dotted with edible seeds.

Although most of the spines are mechanically removed before prickly pears are sold commercially, the fruit still needs to be handled with care in case a spine may slipped through.


Choose fruit that gives to gentle pressure. If still firm, allow the fruit to ripen a few days at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, turning it occasionally. Refrigerate ripe fruit five days to a week.

When peeling prickly pears, you may want to wear rubber gloves. Pierce the fruit with a fork to hold it steady. Slice off one half inch from each end, then cut a lengthwise slit about one-quarter-inch deep. Peel back the skin and lift or scoop out the pulp. It may be packaged and frozen up to six months. Thaw before using.

Serve prickly pears chilled, sliced or cubed and sprinkled with lemon or lime juice or in fruit salads. The pulp may also be sieved to remove seeds and made into jam, jelly or used as a filling for tarts and cakes.

QUINCE-- Once almost as familiar to Americans as apples and pears, the quince has in recent years become practically a forgotten fruit. Perhaps this is because it must be cooked before eating, an inconvenience to many consumers.

Shaped like a chubby pear with a flat bottom, the quince has a green-gold exterior, often covered with patches of gray, woolly down. It’s typical for the fruit to have a small amount of scarring.

The raw flesh is gravelly in texture and highly acid in flavor. After cooking, however, it’s soft and delicately sweet, with a slightly musky aroma and light apricot or pink to purple color, depending on the variety.


Ripen quinces, uncovered, in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight, turning the fruit occasionally. Be certain to allow a little space between each quince. As the fruit ripens it turns yellow but remains firm. Refrigerate ripe quinces in a plastic or paper bag for up to two weeks.

Peel and slice a quince as you would an apple, but use care when removing the very hard core. Dropping the exposed fruit in lemon water will prevent discoloration.

Poaching, stewing, baking and braising all bring out the unique flavor of this fruit. Add a small amount of peeled, sliced, cooked quince to pear and apple dishes to amplify flavor. Because quinces are rich in pectin, they are also ideal for making jelly, jam, marmalade, fruit leather and other candy.

TAMARILLO (TAM-ah-REE-oh)-- This fruit is the size and shape of a jumbo egg. The smooth, glossy, dark purple-red or, less frequently, golden-orange skin encases yellow-orange flesh studded with edible dark red seeds.

When ripe, a tamarillo feels firm but gives to gentle palm pressure. The stem also turns from green to brown as the fruit ripens.

If still firm when purchased, ripen at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, turning fruit occasionally. Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to a month.


Tamarillos must be peeled before eating because the skin is very tart. Submerge the fruit in boiling water for one to two minutes, then plunge it into ice water and the skins should slip off easily.

The tamarillo, or tree tomato, may be used as a fruit or vegetable. Peel, slice, season with salt and pepper and serve as a vegetable, or sprinkle generously with brown sugar and serve plain or over ice cream.

Cooking with sugar mellows the fruit’s sweet-tart flavor. Sieve to remove seeds and make a dessert sauce or puree and use as a base for ices or Bavarian cream.

Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane


1/4 cup kiwano pulp, including seeds

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Dash salt

Dash white pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

12 large sea scallops

Red leaf lettuce

Chopped chives

2 strawberries, optional

Place kiwano pulp in blender container and process until pureed. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and process to blend. With blender running, drizzle in olive oil. Set dressing aside.

Broil or grill scallops few minutes until opaque, turning once. Line 2 plates with lettuce leaves. Pile 6 warm scallops onto each plate.

Drizzle each serving with 2 tablespoons reserved dressing. Garnish with chopped chives and strawberries. Makes 2 servings.



3/4 pound top sirloin

1 large onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Peanut oil

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

1 cup Chinese pea pods

1 cup coarsely chopped bok choy

1 cup small whole oyster mushrooms

1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

1/2 cup cashews

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 cup sliced fresh or reconstituted carambola

Partially freeze beef. Cut into thin slices across grain, then into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces. Set aside.

Stir-fry onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons oil in wok or skillet over high heat 1 to 2 minutes. Add beef and ginger and stir-fry until beef is browned. Remove with slotted spoon to large bowl.

Add small amount of oil to pan if necessary, then pea pods, bok choy, oyster and shiitake mushrooms and cashews. Stir-fry until vegetables are tender-crisp. Add to mixture in bowl.

Combine cornstarch, water, soy sauce and sesame oil. Add to pan and cook, stirring, until thickened. Add ingredients in bowl back to pan and toss with sauce. Stir in carambola and heat through. Makes 4 servings.


2 large quinces

3 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, at room temperature

1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spices

Orange zest

1 cup whipping cream

1 (9-inch) unbaked pastry shell, chilled

Whipped cream

Toasted chopped walnuts

Rub off outer fuzz from quinces, wash and cut into quarters. Carefully core, peel and chop pulp into small pieces. Place in small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until quinces are tender.

Drain quinces and puree in food processor or blender. Set aside.

Combine egg yolks, honey, sugar, flour, salt and butter. Beat until creamy. Add 1 cup quince puree, Chinese 5 spices and 1 tablespoon orange zest. Beat well. Slowly stir in whipping cream and beat until combined.


Place egg whites in separate bowl. Dip pastry brush into whites and brush over bottom of pastry crust to form moisture-proof coating. Whip remaining egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Fold quince mixture little by little into egg whites. Spoon mixture into prepared pastry shell.

Bake at 350 degrees 40 to 50 minutes, until filling is puffed and browned on top and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool pie on wire rack (filling will sink as pie cools). Serve at room temperature or chilled, garnished with whipped cream and toasted walnuts. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


1 quart half and half or milk

1/2 cup basmati rice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup plumped golden raisins

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Chopped pistachios

Tamarillo Sauce

Combine half and half, rice, salt, cardamom and sugar in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, until rice is tender.

Stir in vanilla, raisins, coconut and 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios. Chill.

Serve pudding topped with Tamarillo Sauce and additional chopped pistachios. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Tamarillo Sauce

3 tamarillos

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

Cover tamarillos with boiling water and let stand 1 to 2 minutes. Plunge into cold water, then remove peel and chop.

Place tamarillo pulp in small saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until fruit is very soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Press fruit through strainer to remove seeds. Chill sauce. Makes about 1/2 cup.


1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup vinegar

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped preserved ginger or 1 tablespoons grated ginger root

4 cups sliced feijoas

1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup sliced, blanced almonds

1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat sugar and vinegar in large saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Add chili powder, garlic and ginger and cook 5 minutes.

Add feijoa slices, raisins, almonds and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick. Ladle into hot sterilized jars.

Adjust caps according to manufacturer’s directions. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 (8-ounce) jars.