Grapes of the Amazon: Like the Mangosteen, But Way Better

"Given the ultra popularity of açai berries and mangosteens, I think it's only a matter of time before we begin to see these stateside."

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A market in the Colombian Amazon [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I am a deep lover of mangosteens, those deep purple fruits with the edible white pulpy flesh inside. They seem to be appearing with more and more frequency in Chinatowns and farmer's markets around the country. I've seen'em in New York, Boston, and Seattle now. The only problem with them is that they are a.) extraordinarily expensive—try $12 in New York, from a fruit stand that sells regular mangoes for a buck apiece! And b.) a pain in the butt to consume.

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Mangosteens [Photograph courtesy of mttsndrs from Flickr]

In order to get at that sweet, juicy white flesh (which, by the way, for all you botanists out there, is the endocarp), you've got to score the thick purple shell and carefully crack it open. That purple shell has a fiercely astringent flavor that I seem particularly sensitive too—if I get even a touch of the pigment on the flesh, it quickly dries my mouth out.

That's why I was so excited a couple months back when I was wandering through the Colombian/Peruvian Amazon with my wife and we discovered what the locals called uvas. It translates literally as "grapes," but these were nothing like normal grapes, despite their superficial appearance.

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Uvas Amazonicas

Indeed, they were much more similar to single-serving, thin-skinned mangosteens, both in flavor and texture. All you've got to do to eat them is peel off the thin purple skin, then suck off the sweet, fleshy white fruit from around the large central seed. Neat, simple, and tasty.

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The inside of a jungle grape

They're better than mangosteens in pretty much every way—better packaging, single-serving size, easy to peel, very similar flavor, and at least deep in the Amazon, a fraction of the cost (yes, it's a stretch to imagine that the price will remain cheap if and when these get marketed out of their region).

Of course, now the big problem is that these are probably not available anywhere near where you live. But given the ultra popularity of açai berries and mangosteens, I think it's only a matter of time before we begin to see these stateside, perhaps marketed as the newest "super" fruit.

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For those wondering, yes, Pepe the danta (a.k.a. tapir) does like these things. It's also the first time he'd ever seen a Shake Shack t-shirt.

Do any of you Serious Eaters have a favorite exotic fruit or vegetable that you just wish would hurry and make their way stateside?

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