“I ate a whole lemon, raw, and it was delicious,” says Katie O’Neill, a Philadelphia-based medical student. No, she wasn’t on drugs, but her perception was chemically altered: after eating miracle fruit, nearly everything tastes (temporarily) sweet. The experience is so psychedelic that many have dubbed it “flavor tripping.”
Miracle berries, native to West Africa, are a trendy example of the weird world of exotic fruits. A sure sign that you’ve landed somewhere new, such fruits intrigue and challenge us, whether by their unfamiliar size, shape, texture, or smell. The stinky durian fruit, for instance, has become infamous among travelers to China and Southeast Asia.
“I was thrown off a bus once because I had one in my bag,” says travel writer Mikaya Heart. But she’s quick to add that durian is one of her favorite tastes: “It is very succulent and oily, the consistency and color of really thick custard. I would eat it every day if I could.” With a little effort, you can find durian and other exotic fruits without flying halfway across the world; start your search at specialty grocery stores or ethnic restaurants.
Such crazy, beautiful, and above all, natural fruits are a vivid reminder of the planet’s incredible, if precarious, biodiversity. As many farmers mass cultivate the same breeds of common fruit over and over again, other versions may die out to make room for bestsellers like Golden Delicious. At the same time, fruits once considered exotic (like mango or, recently, acai) can find their way into the American mainstream, which makes encountering an unfamiliar fruit that much more of a tantalizing novelty.
Case in point: David Slenk lived with a Peruvian family in Lima during a yearlong trip through South America. At dessert time, they served him a weird fruit: “bright white and kind of mushy, chopped up and covered in orange juice,” he recalls. “I’d never seen anything like it before. I took a cautious bite, couldn’t believe my taste buds, then finished the entire bowl in seconds.”
That’s how Slenk discovered that he loves cherimoya, a green fruit with a fleshy white inside and black seeds. “It’s almost enough to make me move to Peru forever.”
Keep reading for more exotic fruits bound to stimulate your senses.