10 Florida Fruits You Might Not Know

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by Craig Hepworth    Illustrations by Spencer Pettit

In Florida, we appreciate our greatest natural resource, the weather. Situated at the Southeastern edge of North America, we enjoy warm sunny days and gentle subtropical breezes during months when most of the continent shivers.

Our benign climate also offers us local culinary treasures: all the wonderful fruits that grow in our state. The world’s tropics and subtropics are home to a huge wealth of edible delicacies, with many fruit trees brought from around the world to the Sunshine State.

A few of these warm-climate fruits, such as oranges, avocados and mangoes, have achieved widespread popularity. But others languish in obscurity in Florida, enjoyed mainly by a few exotic-fruit enthusiasts and by expatriates from the fruits’ native regions.

Some fruit trees are very tropical and thrive only in South Florida, while others can handle a bit of frost and will grow up into Central or even North Florida. But whether grown in Dade County or Orange County, all of these fruits show up at Orlando-area farmers’ markets and Asian and Caribbean groceries.

Here’s our 10-best list. If we specify to “eat when the fruit softens,” that means to keep the fruit at room temperature until ripened and softened. Once they’re fully ripe, store any uneaten fruits in the refrigerator and eat within a few days.

jaboticacbaJaboticaba

(myrciaria/plinia jaboticaba)

Pronounced “jah-bo-tih-CAH-bah,” the fruit looks like big, dark purple, round grapes, but it’s in the same family as guava. Wildly popular in Brazil, the jaboticaba is little known outside that country, with a heavenly flavor that tastes a bit like a really good grape with a hint of spice. The flavor has been compared to the exotic mangosteen with a bit of melon. The skin has a slight pine-like flavor with faint resinous quality, so you can eat them skin and all, but some people prefer to spit out the skins. There’s a small seed or two in the center, which you can either chew and swallow or spit out (you also can save the seeds for planting—jaboticaba grows well in the Orlando area).

A mature jaboticaba tree loaded with fruit is a bizarre sight. Instead of growing on the outside of the tree on small twigs like most fruits do, jaboticaba fruits sprout directly out of the tree’s trunk. Bigger trees sometimes have so much fruit you can’t even see the tree trunk; all you see is a column of black “grapes” packed shoulder to shoulder up and down the tree trunk. It’s a vision of exotic tropical splendor.

Any jaboticaba fruits you find for sale will be ripe and ready for immediate consumption. If you don’t eat them right away, store in the refrigerator and eat within a few days.

Other names: Jabuticaba
Season: Can be any time of year, but peak is March–April
Where it grows: Central and South Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, jelly, wine

loquatLoquat

(eriobotria japonica)

Loquats are a subtropical fruit in the same family as peaches, plums, apples and pears. These golden orange-yellow fruits range in shape from round to oval, with a thin, edible skin and several inedible seeds in the center. A good loquat tastes a bit like a combo of peach and pear with hints of citrus and mango.

While eating a good loquat is an experience on par with eating a good peach, loquats mostly remain obscure. In loquat’s native regions of China and Japan, and also in southern Europe, growers cultivate orchards of improved loquat varieties that have been selected for their fruit production, and the fruits are much sought-after in the markets.

Loquats are planted all over the Southeast as ornamental trees. These landscape loquats are beautiful evergreen trees, but they have not been selected for fruit production, so quality is variable, ranging from so-so to excellent. Many know the fruit not as loquat, but as “Japanese plum.”

Some growers have started to plant the improved, named varieties that make much larger, sweeter fruit than the average landscape loquat. Loquat fruits that show up in markets are apt to be from trees that make the better-quality fruits.

Other names: Japanese plum, nispero Japones
Season: Late winter/spring
Where it grows: North, Central, South Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, dried

chocolate-pudding-fruitChocolate pudding fruit

(diospyros digyna)

Chocolate pudding that grows on a tree? Chocolate pudding fruit, sometimes called black sapote, is actually a tropical species of persimmon that’s native to Mexico. It’s full of black, sweet, creamy pulp with a flavor and texture reminiscent of chocolate pudding.

The fruits are medium to large, 3 to 5 inches in diameter, round to slightly flattened like a tomato. Like other persimmons, they have a small leafy crown around the stem and smooth green skin.

You need to wait for this fruit to get extremely ripe to get the full chocolate pudding experience. When the fruit ready to eat, the skin color changes from light green to dark green and indents at the slightest touch. To the uninitiated, a fully ripe fruit might look like it is past peak, but this is when it’s perfection.

Cut it in half, grab a spoon and dig in. There are a few seeds about the size of lima beans; just pick them out or spit them out. Most ripen to an excellent sweetness and flavor, but you also can mix in a little cocoa powder and honey.

Chocolate pudding fruit grows mainly in South Florida, but occasional trees fruit in the Orlando area in very sheltered conditions, with lots of overhead protection by evergreen oak trees.

Other names: Black sapote, zapote negro
Season: Fall–winter
Where it grows: Central and South Florida (in warmer spots)
Best for: Fresh eating, smoothies


jack-fruitJackfruit

(Artocarpus heterophyllus)

Native to Southern Asia and popular in India, jackfruit has a crazy-tropical aroma and flavor that packs an exotic sensory overload in appearance, aroma, flavor and texture.

First, there’s the aroma: fruity, complex and pungent. If you’re not accustomed to the exotic sensory intensity of tropical fruit, jackfruit’s aroma takes some getting used to. And jackfruits are usually huge, the size of a watermelon or even larger, covered with thousands of tiny, soft pointy spikes.

To eat a jackfruit, cut into it with an oiled knife—there’s sometimes a bit of very sticky latex in the rind that can be hard to get off your cutting tool if it’s not oiled. Inside the jackfruit are numerous large seeds, each with a jacket of yellow flesh surrounding the seed—the jacket of flesh is what you eat. Soft and sweet, the flesh packs an intense, complex fruity flavor that some compare to the taste of Juicy Fruit gum. The fibrous material between the jackets of flesh is called the “rag.” In some varieties of this fruit it’s edible, in others it’s too stringy to eat.

Jackfruit is also great in smoothies. And if you have a powerful juicer, you can make jackfruit ice cream: Just freeze the fruit segments and run them through the juicer. They’ll come out as an amazing “ice cream” that is 100 percent jackfruit.

Any jackfruit you find for sale should be ripe and ready to eat. If you don’t consume it right away, store it in the refrigerator and eat within a few days. The seeds are edible cooked. Boiled and salted, they are reminiscent of chestnuts.

Other names: Jaca
Season: Late summer to fall; some fruit any time of year
Where it grows: South Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, smoothies, ice cream

mamey-sapoteMamey Sapote

(pouteria sapota)

Mamey sapote (pronounced “mah-MAY sah-POE-tay”) is extremely popular in Cuba and among Cubans in Florida, but hasn’t yet achieved widespread popularity. A mamey fruit is football-shaped with a brown skin. But cut it open, and within is a bright reddish-pink flesh with a flavor so rich and delicious that it will make you understand why the Cubans hold this fruit dear to their hearts.

A good mamey tastes like the best baked sweet potato you’ve ever eaten (except better), infused with mango and hints of almond extract. Mamey is a food to eat slowly and thoughtfully, savoring the richness of the experience. In addition to eating them fresh, you can cut into slices and freeze, then eat like you would a frozen banana, tasting like a rich, fruity ice cream. Also, mamey is one of the best smoothie fruits, with a rich, creamy fruitiness. At the center of the fruit there are one or two large, beautiful seeds that look like highly polished wood.

The best mamey fruits have a deep, dark reddish color to the flesh. Wait for mamey to get soft before cutting open.

Other names: Zapote colorado
Season: May–October; occasional fruits all year
Where it grows: South Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, smoothies, frozen

White sapote

(casimiroa edulis)

White sapote (pronounced “sah-POE-tay”) is native to Mexico and is in the same family as citrus, but it’s a very different kind of fruit than citrus. White sapote fruits are green to yellow and round. White sapote fruits are about 2 inches in diameter, but reportedly they can get much bigger, up to 5 inches across. Fruits are ready to eat when they are slightly soft to the touch. Don’t eat the skin, which is slightly bitter, but dig into the creamy-soft whitish sweet flesh that tastes like vanilla pudding. Some say they detect hints of banana, lemon and peach.

White sapote is winter-hardy as far north as the Orlando area, so you might see this as a backyard tree, or grown by local farmers.

Other names: casimiroa, zapote blanco, matasano
Season: Summer
Where it grows: South, Central Florida
Best for: Fresh eating

canistelCanistel

(pouteria campechiana)

Imagine a fruit with a rich, creamy, dense, bright-yellow flesh that tastes a bit like pumpkin pie crossed with cheesecake—except a healthful, fruity version of those ultra-rich foods.

Native to Central America, canistel fruits are yellow-orange, with shape ranging from rounded to flattened like a tomato to elongated with a pointy bottom tip. There are one to several large seeds in the center of the fruit. The fruit is ready to eat when it softens.

Canistel is sometimes called eggfruit because of the resemblance of the flesh to the appearance of the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, but there’s nothing egg-like about the flavor. The flavor and texture are so unlike familiar Northern fruits that it is an acquired taste for many Americans. Also, the texture of some varieties may be too dry to eat on its own, but it’s delicious in smoothies, milkshakes and all kinds of desserts, including canistel pie.

Nurseries are promoting newer varieties of canistel that have moister flesh, so fruits of these types should become increasingly available in markets.

Other names: Eggfruit, yellow sapote, fruta de huevo
Season: Winter–spring, occasional fruits all year
Where it grows: South Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, smoothies, pies, desserts

guavaGuava

(psidium guajava, psidium cattleianum)

Many varieties of guava have a remarkable aroma that is sweet, musky and complex, a fragrance so heavy and rich that merely sniffing a guava fruit is like taking sips from a smoothie that’s thick with many blended fruits. The flavor is reminiscent of strawberries paired with a rich, creamy texture.

Guavas are tremendously diverse, with the smallest types only an inch or so in diameter, and some varieties up to 5 inches across. The skin is green, yellow or maroon when ripe with white to red flesh and every shade in between. Some types have a powerful musky aroma, and others have little or no scent at all.

To eat a guava, just bite into it, skin and all. Or if it’s big, cut into slices. There are a number of seeds that are small enough to swallow (but just large and hard enough to lodge in your teeth).

Guavas are great in smoothies. A guava is ready to eat when it softens.

Other names: Guayaba
Season: Mostly summer to fall; occasional fruit any time of year
Where it grows: South, Central Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, smoothies


lychee
Lychee

(litchi chinensis)

Lychee is a fruit that’s likeable from the first taste. Bright red (or amber in some varieties), oval-shaped, about an inch wide by an inch and a half long, the fruit is covered by tiny, soft, spiky bumps.

The skin is an inedible protective rind that you can crack open with your teeth. Inside, the flesh is whitish-translucent, with a luscious flavor and soft, melting texture like a good grape, but with its own spritely distinctive lychee flavors. There’s a seed in the center; just spit it out.

Years ago the only way to ship lychees was as a dried fruit, and they become fairly hard when dehydrated, hence they became known as “lychee nuts,” which are quite different from the fresh fruit that you can find ripe and ready to eat. Store any uneaten fruits in the refrigerator and eat within days.

Other names: Mamoncillo chino
Season: Late spring/early summer
Where it grows: South Florida
Best for: Fresh eating


atemoya2
Atemoya

(annona x atemoya)

Atemoya (pronounced “at-uh-MOY-uh”) has a flavor you have to experience to believe. Imagine an overlay of sweet pineapple mixed with ripe mango, banana and coconut, with a bit of pear texture. 

The fruit is a member of one of the “royal families” of tropical fruits, the custard-apple family, which includes such tropical delicacies as cherimoya rollinia and guanabana. The fruit looks a bit like an artichoke, with soft spikes pointing out from a rounded fruit.

Atemoya is ready to eat when it softens. Cut it open to reveal the creamy white flesh with outrageously delicious flavor. The seeds are inedible, reported to contain toxins, but they are quite visible and easy to avoid.

Other names: Anon
Season: Late summer to fall
Where it grows: South, Central Florida
Best for: Fresh eating, dried, smoothies

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