20 Exotic Vegetables and Fruits You Have Probably Never Heard Of

in GENERAL GARDENING/PLANTS

Nature never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think that humankind has explored everything it has to offer, it surprises us in some unthinkable ways.For example, I have recently discovered some new wonderful sorts of fruit and vegetables that are real masterpieces of Nature regarding their shapes and colors.

I believe that their taste and texture are as exotic as their names indicate. They can open up a whole new world of foods  and motivate us to indulge in new culinary adventures, compared to the seasonal choice of fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets that can be a bit boring sometimes. Here they are:

Jabuticaba

Jabuticaba, or Plinia Cauliflora, is a grape-like fruit is native to Brazil. It is available throughout the year in tropical climates.

The flesh of Jabuticaba is pulpy and gelatinous and it tastes like some muscadine sorts of grapes. It needs to be squeezed out and eaten outside of the dark purple skin, which is very tannic and almost inedible.

Langsat

Langsat, or Lansium parasiticum, is type of a tree belonging to the Mahogany family, native to  South Asia.

Langsat fruits resemble small potatoes on the surface and contain a white, sweet and sour flesh with bitter, inedible seeds. Its taste is similar to grapes and it is very exotic and refreshing when the fruit is ripe. Regarding its nutritional value, langsat is full of proteins, carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamin A, Thiamine and riboflavin.

Aguaje fruit

Aguaje fruit or Mauritia flexuosa is a palm tree that grows in tropical parts of South America. The fruit has a yellow flesh that is high in vitamins C, A, oleic acid, and antioxidants tocopherols and carotenoids. Its concentration of skin-protecting beta-carotene is the highest of all the plants in world. Aguaje fruit also contains phyto-hormones that mimic the effect of oestrogen in the human body, being beneficial for women undergoing menopause.

Cherimoya

Cherimoya, or Annona Cherimola, is native to Ecuador and the tropical woods of Central Andean Mountains. It grows on small, evergreen trees, with a conical shape and a greenish-yellow color. When it is ripe, its fragrant aroma can be felt from a distance. Inside the fruit, there is a creamy, sweet and delicious pulpy flesh that contains vital nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, vitamins C and B.

Physalis

Physalis Peruviana is native to Chile and Peru, like its Latin name suggests.

It looks like an orange small tomato, with a drier texture and a sweeter, more distinctive taste. The fruit is enclosed in a papery shell that looks like a Chinese lantern. It contains vitamin C in high amounts, beta-carotene, calcium and iron, and all 8 kinds of amino acids.

Oca

Oca, or Oxalis tuberose, is commonly known as the New Zealand yam, although it not related to yams whatsoever.  It is native to the regions of central and southern Andes, where it is widely cultivated for its roots that resemble colorful potatoes. Oca is very rich nutritionally – it contains iron, zink, B-vitamins, fiber and vitamin C.

Broccoli Romanesco

This vegetable is native to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It belongs to the large Brassicaceae family, which includes all cruciferous vegetables.  It has a very unique shape, with a green head that forms multiple decorative spiral patterns. Romanesco tastes like a delicate and nutty combination of broccoli and cauliflower. It is low in calorie and full of vitamins C, A, and K, dietary fiber, iron, carotene, zink, and omega-3 fatty acids. It is more easily digestible than its cruciferous relatives, making it a suitable replacement for people with sensitive stomachs.

African Horned cucumber

With a Latin name Cucumis metuliferus, this fruit is also known as jelly melon, kiwano melon, hedged gourd, and blowfish fruit. It is native to tropical and subtropical Saharan regions of Africa, but is now cultivated in South America, Australia, New Zealand and California.

Kiwano is a symbol of health and eternal life in Africa, being very rich in antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, zink and dietary fiber.

Its shape and texture is so strange that it was even featured in a Star Trek episode, having a hard orange skin with conspicuous spikes. Its flesh is green and slimy, with a taste that resembles zucchini, kiwifruit and cucumber.

Karela

The Latin name of this bitter type of melon is Momordica Charantia. It is also known as bitter melon, balsam-pear and bitter squash and it is widely grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

It grows on a vine and it is a popular pod vegetable in Asia. Its pods are light to dark green in  color and have vertical ridges along the pebbly surface. The flesh is white and bitter.

Karela abounds in precious phyto-nutrients that lower blood sugar levels, folates, vitamin C, flavonoids that protect the eyes, as well as vitamins B and C.

Dragon Fruit

Dragon Fruit, or Hylocereus undatus, is native to Central America but it is also cultivated in Southeast Asian countries. It has a pink, red, or yellow skin with small spikes at the beginnings of artichoke-like leaves. Its flesh is white with a lot of small black seeds that are edible. The taste is a combination of pear and kiwi, with a crunchy texture.

Dragon fruit is full of antioxidants, calcium, vitamins B and C, and fatty acids.

Nopales

Native to Mexico and Central America, nopales are a very healthy sort of prickly pear cacti made from its soft pads. Their scientific name is Opuntia ficus-indica. Their consistency is a combination of green peppers and green beans and they are frequently added to stir fries and eggs.

Nopales are very rich regarding their nutritional value – they contain a lot of dietary fiber, antioxidants, potassium, iron, manganese, vitamins A and B-complex, magnesium and they regulate blood sugar levels.

Tiger Nut – Cyperus Esculentus

Tiger nuts represent the roots from the chufa sedge plant. They are native to Egypt but they are now grown in Southern Europe. Their flavor is nutty and sweet and the milky drink made from them, horchata, is good for people who are vegan or intolerant of lactose. They are allergen-free since they are dairy, grain, nut and seed free. Tiger nuts contain healthy fats and a specific type of healthy fiber – resistant starch.

Yardlong- Vigna unguiculata

Yardlong are green bean pods that originate from Southeast Asia, also known as Chinese long beans.

They grow very fast, even on a daily basis, so they are grateful for cultivation.

Their flavor enriches and complements stir-fry dishes. Yardlong beans are rich in vitamins A and C and fiber.

Mexican Gherkins- Metothria scabra

These vegetables resemble miniature watermelons, with a unique sweet taste and a crunchy texture. They can be eaten raw or they can be pickled for an even better taste.

Dudhi (calabash) – Lagenaria siceraria

This bottle – shaped gourd is also known as ‘hairy sqash’ in China and it is widely used in Indian curries and Chinese stir-fries. It has light green skin and white flesh. It is recommended for people with digestive problems, diabetes and elevated blood pressure. Emptied and dried calabashes are used as utensils in West Africa and even as musical instruments.

Snake fruit – salacca zalacca

This fruit is native to Indonesia and it is now cultivated in Southeast Asia. It grows on palm trees in small clusters. It is made of 3 garlic-like lobes that contain an inedible large seed, encased inside a reddish-brown reptile-like skin. The flesh has a pleasant sweet and sour flavor that resembles pineapple. It contains vitamin C, fiber, iron, calcium, phosphorus and protein.

Noni – Morinda citrifola

This fruit is also known as Indian mulberry is native to Southeast Asia. It grows on small, shrubby trees and it resembles a big yellow-greenish mulberry fruit with a pebbled surface. The ripe fruit has a specific strong odor.  It is mostly used for medicinal purposes. Noni is often sold in juice form and it is greatly beneficial for the health.

One of its nicknames is ‘The Painkiller Tree’ due to its powerful analgesic effect used to treat all kinds of pains and aches, especially headaches. It also boosts the immune system and fights against bacteria. It improves memory and reduces bad cholesterol levels. Noni stimulates the production of mood-affecting hormones, serotonin and melatonin, and it regulates good night’s sleep.

Kaffir lime – citrus hystrix

This is a citrus fruit that originates from tropical Asia. The leaves and the zest are very popular in Thai and Lao cuisine as a fragrant addition to various dishes. It is an indispensable product in Thai cuisine. The round fruit has a dark green color and an irregular bumpy surface and it is also known as ‘porcupine orange’. It has a wonderful specific aroma that is a combination of lemon, lime and tangerine.

Yangmei – Myrica rubra

Yangmei is a subtropical small tree native to China. It is also known as Chinese bayberry, Waxberry and Yumberry. It produces sweet fruits that are of brilliant red color and a knobby surface. The tree is very decorative and it is therefore used as an ornament in parks and streets. This fruit has been used for centuries for the treatment of different diseases and it offers numerous health benefits- it protects the heart, fights inflammation, boosts the immune system, cleanses the digestive system and much more.

Salsify – tragopogon porrifolius

This Eastern-Mediterranean native root vegetable is related to the family of dandelions. It is grown for its roots and the greens. It resembles a long, thin parsnip. The flesh inside a rough dark surface is snow-white, with a subtle and nutty taste that resembles artichoke.  Salsify is high in potassium and inulin, a probiotic fiber that is beneficial for the digestive tract.

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