Food & Nutrition

The Skinny on Exotic Fruit

These less-familiar fruits are gorgeous, delicious and anything but ordinary.
Published July 14, 2016
When the cost of a plane ticket to Fiji doesn’t fit into the weekly budget, stock your fridge with lush, colorful and beguiling tropical fruits. Here’s what you need to know.

Buying and storing

Because there are such variations among tropical fruits — from dragon fruit’s tough red rind to star fruit’s waxy-yet-edible exterior — ask the vendor what looks good today. Avoid any specimens with noticeable soft spots or blemishes, and use your nose: An alluring aroma usually indicates ripeness, while a sour or fermented odor promises disappointment.

Most fruits from warmer climes do well at room temperature. If your fruit is fully ripe but you can’t eat it today, store it in the refrigerator for no more than a few days. 

Wash under cool running water just before using, even if you won’t be eating the exterior, otherwise your knife may drag bacteria into the flesh.

Visual Buying Guide


Buddha’s hand
It looks like the love child of a lemon and a bunch of carrots, but Buddha’s hand is actually a type of citron — a citrus fruit used primarily for its thick rind. The flavor is milder than that of a lemon, and lends itself well to marmalades and candying. With an enticing, long-lasting fragrance, whole Buddha’s hands are often used to perfume a room.



In shape, color and size it resembles an artichoke, but the cherimoya is so flavorful that Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to men.” Also called a custard apple, thanks to the interior’s soft, silky texture, it’s usually eaten raw and chilled — remove the large, dark seeds first.

dragon fruit

Dragon fruit
Leathery-skinned, scaly dragon fruit comes from a type of cactus. Its red or magenta exterior hides a mass of mildly sweet, pale pulp studded with tiny edible seeds. Refrigerate, then slice open and eat with a spoon.


Guavas bruise easily, so they’re often sold while firm and green; let them ripen on the counter until the skin turns yellow and yields to gentle pressure. Both peel and seeds are edible, but you may prefer to discard them. Though the slightly tart flesh is often eaten raw, guavas are naturally high in pectin, making them ideal for jams, jellies and chutneys.

horned melon

Horned melon
The inspiration for the amusing (and accurate) nickname “blowfish fruit,” the horned melon’s spiky orange-yellow rind hides succulent, green, gelatinous flesh with a flavor reminiscent of cucumber, lime and even banana. The fruit holds well at room temperature for at least 10 days, and often longer.


These oval orange bonbons are completely edible. In fact, the peel is the sweet part — the pulp is mouth-puckering. Roll a kumquat between your fingers to release the essential oils, then pop it whole into your mouth. Slice into thin rounds for a refreshing addition to salads.


Lychee (also spelled litchi)
Lychees resemble red, leathery golf balls. But beneath that easily peeled shell lies a pearly, translucent, and very sweet center with a texture akin to a grape and a flavor comparable to strawberries and watermelons. In the center is a large, inedible seed.


​Long unavailable in the U.S., the delicate mangosteen is notoriously challenging to grow. Thick, ruby-red skin conceals juicy, fragrant flesh that resembles a white tangerine. Its sweet-tart flavor draws raves, with comparisons to peaches, pineapples, strawberries and grapes. Slice the inedible rind around the equator and slip it apart, then divide the fruit into segments. Discard seeds. When buying, avoid any with a hard rind.

Passion fruit

Passion fruit
With most fruit, a wrinkled exterior indicates it’s past its prime. Not so with passion fruit, whose skin dimples as it ripens. Passion fruit’s flesh is quite tart and jellylike, with abundant, edible black seeds. Simply cut it open and grab a spoon, or strain it and use to complement other fruit-based desserts. The purple variety is roughly the size of an egg, while yellow ones can grow as large as a grapefruit.


Pomelo may be round or pear-shaped, pale green or yellow. Don’t be fooled by its size: Although it’s the largest citrus fruit, weighing a pound or more, beneath a thin layer of peel is thick, bitter white pith. While it dwarfs a grapefruit, it doesn’t share that fruit’s bitterness; pomelo is mildly sweet and pairs well with both desserts and savory dishes.

Prickly pear

Prickly pear
The fruit of the nopales cactus — whose flat paddles are considered a vegetable in Mexican cooking — ranges in color from green (which can be quite tart) to yellow all the way to magenta. In addition to having large spikes, the skin is covered in nearly-invisible needles — wear gloves or hold with tongs and scrub under running water to remove them. Cut off the skin to expose the juicy, tart-sweet flesh, studded with edible seeds.


“Rambutan” derives from the Malay word for “hairy,” and one look tells you why: This relative of the lychee is covered in spiky red-or-yellow strands. Cut it open and squeeze gently to pop out translucent, perfumed flesh surrounding an inedible seed. Enjoy these within a few days, before they begin to shrivel.

star fruit Star fruit
Star fruit is so called because when sliced, its ridges form a five-pointed star. Though waxy, the skin is edible, and its flesh is firm, even crisp, and often more tart than sweet. Deep golden tones indicate a sweeter fruit; green star fruit can be downright sour.