Gallery: A Guide to Tropical Fruit in South America

Have you ever tried to eat 29 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. South America's tropical fruit, however, is fantastic. Get to know 29 different kinds—from anón to zapote.

  • Anón

    Taxonomic Name: Annona squamosa

    Common Names: Sugar Apple (English), anón, anón de azucar, anona blanca, fruta do conde, cachiman, saramuyo (South/Central America), Custard Apple (India and Australia), ata, aarticum, shareefa, sitaphal or seethaphal or seetha pazha (India), sakya (Taiwan), srikaya (Indonesia), atis (Philippines), noi-na (Thailand), mãng cầu ta (Vietnam), fruta do conde (Brazil), achta (Middle Eastern areas).

    Country of Origin: Unknown, but thought to be from Jamaica.

    Description: It's extremely sweet with a custardy, slightly grainy texture (like undissolved grains of sugar). Aroma of pineapple and pear. It's not ripe until you think it's too soft.

  • Arazá

    South American Fruit

    Taxonomic Name: Eugenia stipitata

    Common Names: Amazonian Pear (English), Arazza (Colombia), Arazá, Araçá-boi (Portugual, Brazil)

    Country of Origin: Brazil

    Description: It has the dripping, soft flesh of a peach with several large seeds, but the mouth-puckeringly sour flavor of a passionfruit, with aromas of stone fruit. Ripe when very soft.

  • Badea


    Taxonomic Name: Passiflora quadrangularis

    Common Names: Giant Granadilla, Giant Tumbo (English), Badea (South America), Barbadine (Trinidad)

    Country of Origin: Central America (Tropical America)

    Description: Extremely large with many pulpy seeds in the center. Only the seeds and pulp are eaten (the flesh is edible, but totally bland). Very much like a passionfruit, but a little drier, less tart, and more floral. Ripe when the exterior is slightly wrinkled.

  • Musa acuminata


    Taxonomic Name: Musa acuminata

    Common Names: Banana (English) bashō (Japan), banana china (Paraguay), banano enano (Costa Rica), cambur or camburi (Colombia, Venezuela), cachaco, colicero, cuatrofilos (Colombia); carapi (Paraguay), curro (Panama), guineo (Costa Rico, Puerto Rico, E1 Salvador), murrapo (Colombia), mampurro (Dominican Republic), suspiro (Dominican Republic), zambo (Honduras), banana maca (Brazil), bananier de Chine (Guadaloupe), figue banane, figue naine (Haiti)

    Country of Origin: Papua New Guinea

    Description: It looks, tastes, and acts just like a banana, which is what it is. Smaller varieties tend to have denser flesh and a more intense, sweeter flavor. Please don't open one of these if you are sitting next to me on the subway (you know who you are, and I hate you).

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  • Carambola


    Taxonomic Name: Averrhoa carambola

    Common Names: Starfruit (English), Carambola (South America), balimbing (Philippines), Kamrakh (India), mafueng (Thailand)

    Country of Origin: Philippines

    Description: Green and yellow varieties both exist, but the yellow variety is green when unripe, so be careful! They should give a little when squeezed. The flavor is mildly floral with a citrus note, but relatively bland and watery.

  • Cherimoya


    Taxonomic Name: Annona cherimola

    Common Names: Custard Apple (English), Cherimoya (Colombia), sape-sape (Angola), Laxmanphal or Sharifa (Inida), Mãng cầu tây (Vietnam), Quishta (Egypt), Srikaya (Indonesia)

    Country of Origin: Peru

    Description: Like a slightly less, slightly larger and firmer version of the Anón. Aroma of pineapple and pear. It's ripe when very soft or almost falling apart.

  • Ciruela


    Taxonomic Name: Spondius Purpurea

    Common Names: Hog Plum (English), Ciruela (South America)

    Country of Origin: Argentina

    Description: About a quarter of the size of a regular plum, bright red, and extremely fragrant. All the flavor of a plum in a pint-sized package.

  • Coconut


    Taxonomic Name: Cocos nucifera

    Common Names: Coconut

    Country of Origin: Argentina

    Description: Young coconuts have tender, jelly-like flesh with a mild flavor. Older coconuts have firm, dry flesh best eaten as is or used for grating. The liquid inside the coconut is salty and sweet, like natural Gatorade. To open it, break open the yes with a screwdriver and hammer, extract the juice, then heat over a burner until it cracks.

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  • Curuba


    Taxonomic Name: Passiflora tarminania

    Common Names: Banana Passionfruit (English), Curuba (Colombia), taxo, tacso, tagso, tauso (Ecuador); parcha (Venezuela), tumbo or curuba (Bolivia), trompos, or tintin (Peru)

    Country of Origin: Venezuela and Peru

    Description: The pulpy flesh and crunchy seeds are eaten, like in a passionfruit. Sour and floral with a hint of menthol. Ripe when it gives significantly when squeezed.

  • Feijoa

    South American Fruit

    Taxonomic Name: Acca sellowiana

    Common Names: Guavasteen (English), Feijoa (Colombia), Pineapple Guava (English)

    Country of Origin: Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina

    Description: Gritty in texture with a distinct menthol aroma. Both the pulpy inner flesh and the firmer outer flesh are edible. Sweet, sour, and floral.

  • Granadilla


    Taxonomic Name: Passiflora ligularis

    Common Names: Sweet Granadilla (English), Granadilla (Colombia), parcha, parchita, ceibey (Cuba), grenadine, couzou (France), lilikoi (Hawaii), mountain sweet cup (Jamaica), inmangkon (Thailand)

    Country of Origin: Bolivia

    Description: Like a passionfruit, but with a much drier pulp. This is one of my favorites, particularly because you can open it by banging on your (or your wife's) head. The flesh is sweet and mild, without the sourness of a regular passionfruit. The crunchy seeds are edible too.

  • Guanabana


    Taxonomic Name: Annona muricata

    Common Names: Guanabana, Paw Paw (Brazilian), graviola (Portuguese)

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: Really freaking big. You need to host a party before you open one of these. The flesh is very sweet and tart with an aroma somewhere between a pineapple and a banana. Mixed with milk, it thickens into a sweet custard. If you want to be really clever and funny, call it a guano-banana. Ha.

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  • Guava


    Taxonomic Name: Psidium guajava

    Common Names: Guava, goyave (French), gujawa (Polish), goiaba (Portuguese), jwafa (Arabic), amrood (Hindi)

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: Deceptively pink (in that it doesn't taste the way you'd think pink things would taste). Sweet with a slightly bitter/savory finish. Tart and high in pectin, making it great for preserves and candies. The seeds are hard and grainy but edible.

  • Gulupa


    Taxonomic Name: Passiflora edulis

    Common Names: Passion Fruit, Gulupa (Colombia), chant leo (Vietnam)

    Country of Origin: Ecuador

    Description: Very sweet, sour, and floral. Packs a flavorful punch in the wet pulp surrounding the hard black edible seeds. It looks ugly from the outside, but it's ripe when the exterior is deeply wrinkled.

  • Higo


    Taxonomic Name: Opuntia ficus-indica

    Common Names: Prickly Pear (English), higo, tuna, nestle (South/Central America)

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: Available in both red and green varieties, it's ripe when it gives to the touch. Store-bought ones come cleaned, but be careful if you pick these in the wild. The large thorns are just there to throw off your attention from the tiny thorns, which are the real menace. The flesh inside is grainy and almost crisp, with small hard seeds and a mild flavor reminiscent of a non-sour kiwi.

  • Lulo


    Taxonomic Name: Solanum quitoense

    Common Names: Little Orange (English), lulo, naranjilla (South/Central America)

    Country of Origin: Colombia

    Description: Super sour and sweet. Flavor is reminiscent of rhubarb and lime, with a hint of menthol. The most common use is in smoothies, either with water or milk. Be careful handling the raw fruit—the exterior is covered in skin-irritating hairs.

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  • Mamey


    Taxonomic Name: Pouteria sapota

    Common Names: Mamey

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: I recently saw these on sale at my local Fairway, and ripe to boot. The fleshy, slightly stringy bright orange pulp is avocado-like in texture (though not as rich), and mostly used for preserves and smoothies. It can also be eaten straight out of hand. The flavor is sweet with distinct sweet potato and pumpkin flavor. The flesh under the dark brown skin should be pink when ripe and give slightly.

  • Mandarina


    Taxonomic Name: Citrus reticulata

    Common Names: Mandarin Orange (English), Mandarina (South America)

    Country of Origin: China

    Description: Like a sweeter, drier, tarter cousin of the orange. The skin peels away extraordinarily easily, which is good news for people like me who get a tiny sense of self-satisfaction every time they pull off the peel in one piece.

  • Mango


    Taxonomic Name: Mangifera indica

    Common Names: Mango

    Country of Origin: India

    Description: Very sweet, syrupy, and fragrant when ripe. Unripe fruit are sour, slightly crisp, and also delicious. The fruit is excellent eaten as is, but works very well in milk or yogurt-based smoothies as well. Try it like they do in South East Asia: with lime juice, ground chile, and salt. Ripe when red/orange and soft.

  • Mangosteen


    Taxonomic Name: Garcinia mangostana

    Common Names: Mangosteen, Purple Mangosteen, Button Mangosteen

    Country of Origin: Indonesia

    Description: Extraordinarily expensive (even in Vietnam they run a good order of magnitude more expensive than any other fruit) little purple guys, but possibly worth every penny. Sweet tangy flesh with the texture of peaches and the aroma of delicious. Grown only in extremely warm tropical climates, they are tough to find in the U.S. (available only since 2007). Look in your local Chinatown during the summer. The shell should be easy to pry open along a scored line when fully ripe.

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  • Maracuya


    Taxonomic Name: Passiflora edulis

    Common Names: Yellow Passion Fruit (English), Maracuya (Colombia)

    Country of Origin: Brazil

    Description: The most common of the several varieties of passiflora available in Colombia, it is slightly less tart but just as fragrant as a standard passionfruit (gulupa).

  • Melecotón


    Taxonomic Name: Prunus persica

    Common Names: Melocotón

    Country of Origin: Spain

    Description: Very large with a fleshy, melon-like interior. Strong cantaloupe-like aroma with overtones of pumpkin and butternut squash. It's ripe when it gives a bit and the stem-end smells like it's coming to get you.

  • Níspero


    Taxonomic Name: Eriobotrya japonica

    Common Names: Loquat (English), Nispero (Colombia), magnório (Portuguese), lokaat (Hindi), nespola (Italian)

    Country of Origin: China

    Description: Oval or pear-shaped, the nispero is ripest and sweetest when orange, though some prefer it crisper and tarter in the light brown stage. It's got an apple-like flavor with the almost powdery mouthfeel of a tart Granny Smith, due to its large pectin content. Made into a milkshake, this is one of my wife's favorites.

  • Papaya


    Taxonomic Name: Carica papaya

    Common Names: Papaya

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: Does anyone else think these smell vaguely like vomit? Once you get past the smell, they are extremely tender and sweet with a luscious mouthfeel. Ripe when very tender and deep orange, they are also eaten in the green stage, shredded, pounded, and seasoned with fish sauce, dehydrated shrimp, chiles, and lime juice in the famous Thai salad som tum.

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  • Papayuela


    Taxonomic Name: Vasconcellea pubescens

    Common Names: Mountain Papaya (English), Papayuela (Colombia)

    Country of Origin: Colombia

    Description: Dark yellow or orange when ripe, the flesh has an aroma similar to papaya, though not nearly as strong. Most often, it's cooked into candies or preserves, though it can be eaten fresh, just like papaya. Because it's rich in papain, a digestive enzyme, it's often consumed before a meal to aid in digestion.

  • Pitaya


    Taxonomic Name: Pitaya stenocereus

    Common Names: Strawberry Pear, Dragon Fruit, Pitaya (South America), thanh long (Vietnam)

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: They come in two varieties: yellow with white flesh, or dark pink with white or maroon flesh. Both varieties have a very mild, watery flavor reminiscent of kiwi. The texture is slightly grainy and crisp, with dark black edible seeds. The fruit of a vine-like cactus variety, they are farmed extensively in South East Asia and South America, and are increasingly available and popular in the United States. Probably the coolest looking fruit known to man.

  • Tomate de Árbol

    Tomate de Arbol

    Taxonomic Name: Solanum betaceum

    Common Names: Tree Tomato (English), Tomate de árbol, Tamarillo (South America)

    Country of Origin: Peru

    Description: Best when made into smoothies, the tree tomato has an odd savory aftertaste that is off-putting to some people (myself included). The initial aroma and flavor resembles a combination of kiwi and tomato, with the tartness of passionfruit.

  • Uchuva


    Taxonomic Name: Physalis peruviana

    Common Names: Cape gooseberry (English), uchuva (South America), rasbhari (India), gu niao (China)

    Country of Origin: Peru

    Description: In the same family as tomatillos (see the papery skin?), these pretty little berries have a similar tart/savory flavor. The Colombian uchuva is unrelated to the English gooseberry the small green fruit used to make the classic dessert "fool." Don't even think of trying to make a fool out of the Colombians (my wife will thank me for that silly line). They are ripe when the outer papery husk is dry and comes off easily from the fruit.

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  • Zapote


    Taxonomic Name: Quararibea cordata

    Common Names: Sapote (English), zapote, chapote (South/Central America)

    Country of Origin: Mexico

    Description: A relative of the Mamey sapote, this smaller yellow sapote is stringier and more floral in aroma, with a slightly drier texture. It's best eaten fresh by peeling back the brown skin and eating the flesh off of the large central pit.