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A Guide to Tropical Fruit in South America
My wife is Colombian, which means that by default, her native diet is approximately that of a rhesus monkey crossed with a professional fairgoer: lots of fruits, roots, and seeds, followed by everything you can possibly deep fry. Being allergic to pretty much every fruit and vegetable in its raw form (my throat closes up), my first trip to Colombia a few years ago was an orgy of deep fried empanadas, chorizo, buñuelos, chicharrones, carimañolas, and papas criollas,* with only a few exploratory nibbles at the mind-bogglingly diverse array of fruits on offer
Having suffered relatively few adverse consequences, during my second trip, I upgraded my fruit consumption to a few small bites before each meal (it's traditionally served at the start of the meal, before the soup course, followed by the fried-everything course). By the time I made my most recent journey, I realized that my fruit allergies only apply to temperate fruits—not a bad thing in Colombia, where even the best temperate peaches, apples, and strawberries pale compared to what's available stateside.
The tropical fruit, however, are fantastic, and I decided to embark on a fruit tasting of truly epic proportions.
I packed myself and wife into the car and hit a few different fruit markets in town. Like a botanical Noah, I systematically rounded up two of every single fruit on offer, making sure to separate the raucous papaya and guanabanas from the more timid guavas and ciruelas.
Have you ever tried to eat 30 different fruits in one sitting? Don't. Your stomach will thank you. Trust me, it's not nearly as fun as it sounds. All in the line of duty, I suppose.
For full tasting notes and information on each fruit including taxonomy, country of origin, and alternate names, click through the slideshow, or just scroll through the list below.
This is not a complete guide to tropical fruits by any means, as it largely ignores those fruits that come from Asia and Africa, but as far as South America goes, it's pretty comprehensive.
Many of these fruits are becoming more and more common in the U.S., available at gourmet supermarkets or in Chinatown. Keep an eye out—with rare exception, they are delicious.
- Tomate de Arbol
*Deep fried pies, deep fried spicy sausage, deep fried cheese balls, deep fried pork rind, deep fried stuffed yuca balls, and deliciously deep fried little yellow potatoes