Apples – a sweet and sour story

A century ago, in just one country, Italy, there were 8,000 known fruit species. Now this has decreased to 2,000 species of which 1,500 are endangered.

At the beginning of the C19th in Italy, if we consider apples alone, there were 100 varieties cultivated. One hundred years later the number had declined to around 50 and today three varieties make up 80% of production.

This significant reduction in the number of apple varieties is prevalent globally. However, enthusiasts are pursuing initiatives to redress this trend.

apple varieties

In the USA, David Benscoter has rediscovered the Nero and Fall Jeneting varieties in Washington and John Bunker in Maine cultivates traditional varieties such as the Westfield Seek-No-Further (a small, yellow apple), the red-streaked Wolf River and the Black Oxford (purple and plum like).

In Wales, an apple found nowhere else in the world was discovered growing on a single tree on the remote Bardsey Island. This apple, now named as the Bardsey apple, is boldly striped in pink over cream with a lemon aroma and is being cultivated by Ian Sturrock along with other rare varieties such as the Pig Aderyn, Pigeon’s Beak Apple and Monmouth Beauty.

It may no longer be possible to find and taste the delights of varieties such as the Yellow Siberian Crab, Shoreland Eclipse, Tower of Glamis and Wren’s Favourite but, returning to Italy, Isabella Dalla Ragione of the Fondatori di Archaeologia Arborea* in Umbria is cultivating once popular but now rare species such as the Muso di Bue and wonderfully named Cul di Somaro.

* www.archeologiaarborea.org

Carambola

AROMATIC AND SHAPED LIKE A STAR

Commonly known as the starfruit, the carambola is a tropical to semitropical fruit that provides flair to any dish. Known more for its spectacular appearance, it still has an interesting flavour profile to offer. The carambola is a small tree native to south and southeast Asia (most likely Philippines) but is cultivated in the Pacific, Latin America, Caribbean and the Southern US. There are two types; a small sour type and a larger sweet one. It is a slow-growing evergreen that usually is 5-12 metres tall. The fruits are oblong in shape ranging from 6-15cm in length and up to 9cm wide. The carambola has a distinctive thin, waxy skin.

Although it is not now found in the wild, the star fruit is originally native to Sri Lanka and the Moluccas, and has been cultivated in Southeast Asia and Malaysia for almost 1,000 years.

The starfruit, or carambola, is a tropical fruit that got its name from the five pointed star shape when cut across the middle of the fruit.

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FLAVOUR PROFILE

The fruits are juicy inside with a crisp texture and the famous star shaped cross-section. Within the genus Averrhoa there are two species which have edible fruit; the Carambola and the Bilimbi. The big distinction between the two is that the Bilimbi cannot be eaten raw due to its extremely sour flavour profile. Carambolas are sweet to sour depending on the variety with a combination of apple, pear and citrus notes. Its strong aromatic quality is produced by the oxalic acid it contains. It is crunch and firm but without fibre producing an extremely juicy fruit often compared to grapes.

SCIENCE OF CARAMBOLA

The more sour the variety of Carambola the greater the concentration of  oxalic acid. The fruits rarely contain more than 4% sugar in the sweeter varieties. The fruit is rich in antioxidants, potassium and vitamin C.

Star Fruit - Carambola

HOW TO USE IT?

The Carambola can be used to make relishes, preserves and added as a juice to drinks. It is often added to puddings and curries. Due to its unusual and attractive appearance it is used as an edible decoration. In its native land it is frequently paired with seafood or in dishes with other fruits.

FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS

Carambola’s tart sweet flavour profile means it combines very well with other strongly fragrant fruits as well dominant flavour profiles. Its sharp flavour cuts through fish and seafood thus complimenting extremely well.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Star fruit bruise easily, so handle with care. Non-ripe fruit should be turned often, until they are yellow in color and ripe with light brown ribs. Store ripe fruit at room temperature for two to three days or unwashed, and refrigerated, in a plastic bag for up to one to two weeks.

They are great to eat out of hand as these tropical delights do not need to be peeled or seeded before eating. Simply wash the fruit, remove any blemished areas, cut crosswise to get the star shape, and eat.
The sweet variety can be eaten out of hand or sliced and used as a garnish or in salads. They are also used in chutney, curries and tarts. The juice can be used in tropical drinks and smoothies.

Pomelo

RELATED TO THE GRAPEFRUIT BUT THICKER SKINNED

The pomelo (citrus maxima) is the largest member of the citrus group. Its native to south and southeast Asia. In some english speaking countries its also known as the Shaddock. Confusingly in Latin America pomelo often means grapefruit so the distinction between the actual pomelo and a grapefruit is very blurred.

When ripe its pale green to yellow and can range from 10-30cm in size. It has white to pinkish flesh and a characteristic very thick albedo (rind pith). The inner skin is where most of the nutritional benefits are found.

pomelo

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Its flavour profile really depends on the type and level of ripeness. It can range from sourness to mild sweetness. The rind is smooth to rough in texture with soft flesh very similar to a grapefruit. It has citrus and tangy notes and is quite fragrant. The big difference between the pomelo and grapefruit is that its less bitter. 

SCIENCE OF POMELO

Pomelo is a good source of Vitamin C, high pectin levels and is said to lower cholesterol levels.

Pomelo

HOW DO WE USE IT?

Pomelo is often eaten raw combined with a little sugar to balance its flavour. Its popular as a dessert, added to salads and mixed with yoghurt. A really interesting pairing of pomelo is with tamarind in the spicy Thai salad Yam Som-o. In China the peel is used as a flavour enhancer.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Combining pomelo with other sharp intense flavours really can creatre interesting results. Try it with chili, orange, lime, pomegranate, fish sauce, soy sauce as well as with more mellow ingredients like scallop, prawn, cucumber, lychee and crab.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Pomelo’s that feel heavy for their size is usually a good sign of quality.
  • Avoid ones that have large bleamish areas or rotting
  • If the flavour profile is acidic and tart combine with other sweeter ingredients to balance.

Tamarillo

THE TOMATO THAT GROWS ON TREES

The Tamarillo (Solanum betacuem) is a fruit native to the Andes of Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Bolivia that is used frequently by locals. It has become popular as well outside its native range with important cultivation in New Zealand as a prime example. Interestingly the introduction of its more exotic current name came about in 1967 when a council in New Zealand decided to change its name from tree tomato to its current tamarillo. The fruit was known by this more common name because it belongs to the same family as the tomato but for exportation purposes a new name was considered necessary.

The fruits come from a tree that can reach around 5m tall with large leaves and a pungent smell. Generally it starts fruiting around 4 years. What makes the Tamarillo stand out are the distinctive egg shaped fruit that come in a range of colours.

Tree Tomatoes

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

The flavour profile of the Tamarillo pulp is actually quite unique. It blends the flavours of passionfruit, kiwi, tomato and cucumber. It can be described as tangy and complex. The skin is tough, bitter and very sour so really it is best to concentrate on the slightly sweeter more delicious inside. The red fruits are more acidic compared to the yellow and orange types which have a sweeter flavour profile.

Backyard tamarillo

 

It is important to note that when buying Tamarillo you have to be aware of the variety you are getting. In a similar fashion to bell peppers, the colour is not an indicator of ripeness. To tell if the fruit is ready to eat, the best way is to touch the skin and if there is a slight give the Tamarillo should be ready.

Another excellent quality of the fruit is it’s high pectin that can be used in preserves, marmalades and jams. Tamarillos are high in potassium, manganese, copper and vitamins A, C, E and B6.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

The best way to eat the fruit is by scooping the flesh from a halved fruit. In New Zealand where the Tamarillo became commercialised people enjoy spreading the pulp across toast for breakfast.

Fresh tamarillos are frequently blended together with water and sugar to make a juice. This is very popular in various Latin American countries and in Asia. An interesting use to add them to stews (e.g. Boeuf Bourguignon), hollandaise, chutneys and curries. Desserts using this fruit include bavarois and strudel. In India the fruit is used to make sharp, usually pungent dips and chutneys.

In Ecuador, the tamarillo, known as tomate de árbol, is blended with chili peppers to make a hot sauce commonly consumed with local dishes of the Andean region.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Choose fruit that has few blemishes and has a strong colouration.
  • It is recommended to not use the skin of the tamarillo unless it is to be made into a preserve.

Black Sapote

Black Sapote

AS CLOSE AS A FRUIT GETS TO CHOCOLATE

The Black Sapote (Diospyros nigra) is probably one of the most talked about fruits these days. Despite this it still is a relatively under appreciated tropical fruit, however If you are looking for an alternative to the beloved chocolate that is a bit healthier, the Black Sapote could be the answer (with some imagination).

From the same family as the persimmon, the Black Sapote or Chocolate Pudding fruit is native to eastern Mexico all the way down to Colombia. It has gained some attention in other countries and is now cultivated outside its native range including in the sub-tropical regions of the US, Australia and Hawaii.

It is said to have 4 times as much Vitamin C as an orange and is low in fat so is definitely worth a try if you get the chance. The fruit really needs to be eaten ripe. It is after all a persimmon. Anyone who has eaten anything from this family of fruits knows the gummy astringent flavour profile when unripe. It is simply disgusting. In the case of Black Sapote it is picked green then allowed to soften and ultimately turn the distinctive almost black chocolate pudding colour and texture it is famous for. Care has to be taken because a fruit taken from the tree too early will never ripen and ends up just rotten (and not in a good way.)

Black Sapote

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

To say that Black Sapote has a mild chocolate flavour is pretty accurate but obviously it lacks the richness that processed cacao beans mixed with sugar has. The texture of ripe Black Sapote is best compared to that of papaya and has a chocolate pudding softness when served.

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FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

As with most tropical fruits, eating it alone is often the most pleasurable way to go. If you want something more dessert like combining the fruit with milk or yoghurt produces really interesting results. Mashing the pulp with orange juice or brandy then served with cream is a very Mexican recipe.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • If you have the fortune to spot a Black Sapote in your market make sure it has the same give as a ripe avocado at least.
  • A Black Sapote that is rotting outside is also rotting inside. Discard
  • If you open up the fruit and it is white and unripe there is way to recover it. Find one that is soft to touch and it should be ripe and chocolate coloured inside.

Spanish Lime or Genip

Spanish Lime

SPANISH LIME – LYCHEE MEETS LIME

Spanish lime (Melicoccus bijugatus) belongs to the soapberry family sapindaceae and despite the name it is not connected at all to a lime (rutaceae citrus family). It actually got the name as they resemble small unripe limes.

Become of the large number of countries that eat the fruit it has various others names including genip, guinep, genipe, ginepa, quenepa, quenepe, chenet, canepa, mamon, limoncillo, skinip or mamoncillo.

Spanish Lime

FLAVOUR PROFILE

The fruit is about the size of an olive with harder skin that inside have a jelly like consistency. Not only is the pulp edible but also the large seed too. Its tangy creamy pulp ranges from yellow to orange and even pink.

Its flavour profile can go from sweet to sour depending how ripe the fruit is and is best compared to a cross between a lychee and lime. Its rigid tight skin is very reminiscent of the lychee and it can be opened with the teeth, while its appearance and colour are lime like. 

The spanish word for Spanish Lime mamoncillo literally means ‘to suck’ and illustrates exactly how to eat the fruit. The pulp needs to be sucked off the large seed. Quite literally!

SCIENCE OF THE SPANISH LIME

The fruit is full of fibre (lowering cholesterol and preventing constipation), vitamin A that boosts your immune system, vitamin C which is a good antioxidant, calcium that keep bones and teeth strong as well as phosphorus that is important for digestion and regulating hormones. Added to this it is low in fat, calories and cholesterol free. Overall a really healthy fruit!

GETTING IT READY TO USE

The Spanish lime should really be eaten ripe as they can contain toxins if not prepared properly unripe. By removing the outer skin and then sucking the pulp off the seed this maximises the amount of fruit you get to eat. Using anything other than your teeth just gets complicated.

Genip

HOW TO USE IT?

If you don’t fancy eating the spanish lime fresh it can be peeled and then boiled to produce a sauce, jam or jelly. It also can be soaked in rum and sugar to produce the liqueur bili.

The large seed of the fruit is also edible and can be cooked. In South America roast Spanish lime (Quenepa) seeds are used as a substitute for cassava flour when baking.

FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS

In terms of its flavour, annatto goes well with other ingredients that can benefit from an enhancement. Proteins and carbohydrates like rice, chicken, pork, shrimp and plantain can really get a kick from annatto. Combining  this with its interesting colour annatto has found its way into numerous dishes. Smokey/nutty ingredients like cheese, dried chilis, garlic and peanuts pair especially well with it.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • With the sweeter variety the Spanish lime can be eaten when its ripe.
  • The sour varieties often need some salt, sugar or other ingredient like chili to balance out the flavour profile.

 

Cashew Fruit

The Cashew fruit (Anacardium occidentale) is probably one of the most bizarre edible products found in nature. In countries outside its cultivation zone live most of their lives not realising that those cashew nuts they have for christmas actually have a really delicious fruit attached to them. In tropical climates the cashew is grown not only for its nuts but also for the bright orange/red juicy fruit. Native to Brazil over 95% of cashew cultivation is found in the northeast of the country.While most who know a bit about ingredients will assume that Brazil is the leading producer of cashews in fact countries like Nigeria, India, Ivory Coast and Vietnam have consistently produced more.

It’s genus Anacardium refers to the shape of the fruit. If you turn a cashew fruit upside (which is how you see it when on the tree) it looks like an inverted heart (Ana-upwards/Cardium-heart). The name Caju derives from the indigenous tupi name acajú which means ‘nut that produces itself.’ The part we consider to be the ‘fruit’ is actually the stalk of the fruit (which is what we know as a cashew nut). Very confusing! For this profile we will just look at the cashew fruit but go here for the nut.

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

As with most fruits its flavour profile depends on just how ripe it is. It has a natural astringency due to a waxy layer that can be removed by steaming. Very akin to that horrible mouthfeel after eating an unripe Persimmon or Kaki which is down to the high tannin content of the fruit. Luckily once the cashew fruit ripens the flavour evolves from sour/astrigent to a juicy sweet/sour flavour profile that can be made into an excellent fruit juice. We would describe it as mango and orange mixed with a hint of persimmon. If you ever visit the north of Brazil you better search out this fruit as there is no comparison to it when fresh and just picked from the tree.

SCIENCE OF THE CASHEW FRUIT

The Cashew apple is rich in nutrients and has 5 times more Vitamin C than an orange. Chemically, the cashew apple contains volatile compounds, resorcinolic acid, anacardic acids, carotenoids (α-carotene, β-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin), vitamin C, phenols and tannin.


BUYING AND USAGE ADVICE

GETTING IT READY TO EAT

You can go to a food market and buy the cashew fruit much the same way as many other tropical fruits. It can be eaten without any preparation although locals prefer to have it juiced.

Cashew Fruit

MARKET GUIDE

Outside of its cultivation area, most cashew fruits will have been frozen and then transported. Ideally if you can get hold of a fresh cashew fruit that has a deep orange to red colouration and that is slightly soft to touch you are more likely to buy a decent fruit. However if you are not lucky and can’t get it fresh, look out for fruit that has not suffered bruising from the freezing process as well as knocks. The cashew fruit is famous for being fragile so it can easily be ruined by poor packaging and transportation. In fact cashew fruits cannot be transported large distances i.e. to markets in the temperate world. They would ruin too quickly. It is very unlikely to see cashew fruit on a menu in Europe anytime soon. 

KEEPING IT FRESH?

Cashew fruits should be used relatively quickly if bought ripe. They can start to deteriorate if let too long at this state. In fact if you leave it long enough it might well start to ferment into an alcoholic fumed mess. 

COOKING IDEAS

Cashew fruits are used around the world in certain dishes but the predominant outcome is juiced and drunk with a bit of sugar fresh at the market. A popular drink in Brazil is cashew fruit juice mixed with mango, green pepper and citrus. There are examples of it being used in desserts in Panama where it is cooked into a paste-like mixture with sugar and water. It is very popular to use cashew fruit as an ingredient in alcohol as it ferments really well. In the northeast of Brazil they make Cajuina while in India, Tanzania and Mozambique the cashew fruit is mashed and doubled distilled to produce a final product of 40-42% alcohol. 

In case you've never seen- this...

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

The fruit goes really well with other ingredients that bring out its sweetness. Whether that is just sugar or other fruits that have  a high sugar content like mangoes. Condensed milk, coconut milk as well as basically anything sweet and creamy would combine nicely with a ripe cashew fruit.


ESSENTIAL TIPS

  • Don’t decide to eat the cashew ‘nut’ attached to your cashew fruit. It needs to be roasted to remove any toxins. Before that it is going to taste pretty bad.
  • Try to get a ripe cashew fruit with clear skin that has not been bruised. If not expect a fruit that just is not going to taste as good as it could.
  • If the fruit does not give when pressed it is going to be astringent and will not leave you wanting another thats for sure.

Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya)

EXTRAVAGANTLY VISUAL – MEDIOCRE FLAVOUR

The Pitahaya (Hylocereus genus) is also known as the Dragon fruit due to its extravagant appearance and vibrant colour. Its a vine-like epiphytic cactus that produces edible fruit. Similar to a prickly pear but more exotic looking. Native to Central America it is found throughout the continent stretching all the way to Northern Argentina and is cultivated extensively in Asia.

Several varieties exist including the white fleshed, red fleshed and ‘Megalanthus’, a yellow skinned dragon fruit with white flesh. The Pitaya (Stenocereus) is distinct with a sour flavour profile.

 

dragon fruit

 

THE FLAVOUR PROFILE

Very much like the carambola (star fruit) its appearance is more impressive than its flavour profile. It has been described as sorbet like without the sweetness to quite bland. A blend of weak melon, pear and kiwi just about defines it.

SCIENCE OF DRAGON FRUIT

The Dragon fruit consists of mostly water and carbohydrates. Its rich in calcium, iron and phosphorus. The red skin varieties are a good source of vitamin C as well as containing significant quantities of phytoalbumin antioxidants. 

MARKET GUIDE

Dragon fruit is unmistakable even in Asian markets. Its vibrant odd form attracts everyone at first sight. Even though they are not grown outside hotter climates, the Dragon fruit often appears at markets outside its cultivation range because of its novelty. The reality is that its flavour profile does suffer when transported but its still equally attractive.

dragon fruit field

HOW DO WE USE IT?

The flesh of Dragon fruit is eaten raw including the seeds which have a nutty flavour. It is generally combined with other tropical fruits and used as a dessert. The fruit needs to be cut open to expose the inside using a sharp knife that should pass through relatively easily.

FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS

Various ingredients combine well with the dragon fruit. Kiwi, lime, strawberry, guava, nectarine, chili peppper, coconut, cardamom, watermelon, pear, rambutan, lychee and star fruit are some key examples.

ESSENTIAL TIPS

Fruit must be unblemished and ideally overripe. Best eaten when sour otherwise the flavour profile becomes blander with shipping.

The Fruit Hunters (2012)

The Fruit Hunters (released in 2012) is a feature documentary film about the incredible world of fruit lovers. It explores the growers, the preservationists and the hobbyists. It draws upon inspiration from Adam Leith Gollner’s 2008 book of the same name.

For us one of the big highlights is the focus on the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden that cultivates over 600 varieties of Mangoes. Not only does the film show the sheer passion and love for fruits it also reflects on the threats to their existence in particular the Cavendish Banana’s vulnerability due to genetic modification.

“THE FRUIT HUNTERS travels across culture, history and geography to show how intertwined we are with the fruits we eat.”

Trái Sầu riêng (Durian fruits) Durio zibethinus L Bombacaceae