By some estimates, there are over 2,000 distinct species of fruit on the planet — and that’s not including varieties. For bananas alone, there are over 1,000 varieties, the most common being the Cavendish. But given the sheer number and diversity of fruits in the world, surely there are many that you have never heard of or tasted — like rambutan, a delicious, hairy-looking fruit from southeast Asia.
For simplicity sake, I’ve grouped fruits that I’ve tried into six basic categories.
1. Fleshy Fruits
Fleshy fruits have a soft, pulpy wall with seeds at the center. The edible portion can be found between the outer cover, or skin, and the seeds. This is a vast category of fruits with over half of all known fruits falling within this category. Apples and pears are common examples of fleshy fruits.
But have you ever tried a star apple? Star apples are native to the West Indies — when sliced in half they display a beautiful star pattern.
Or how about a pawpaw, native to North America — how many people have tried one of those?
Pawpaw, sometimes known as hillbilly bananas, are in the same plant family (Annonaceae) as the custard-apple or cherimoya, sweetsop, soursop, and ylang-ylang. This genus, thanks to the pawpaw, is the only member of the family not confined to the tropics.
Other types of fruits such as dry fruits, citrus fruits, and melons form a subgroup of the fleshy fruits, but let’s look at them one by one.
2. Dry Fruits
Did you know that cashews, walnuts and almonds are actually fruits? Crazy, right?
The true fruit of the cashew tree is a boxing-glove–shaped drupe that grows at the end of the cashew apple. The drupe develops first on the tree, and then the pedicel expands to become the cashew apple.
Walnuts, another nut….er….fruit can be found widespread throughout temperate North America east of the Rockies. Versatile in their application — they can be used to flavor ice cream, or the blackened hulls can be gathered to dye clothes, the black walnut has a wonderfully rich, almost mushroomy or winey flavor, slightly musky and smoky. We harvest these right in our own backyard.
3. Citrus Fruits
Native to South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and Australia, countless varieties of citrus have been bred over the centuries, so that now they have a worldwide distribution within the tropical and subtropical zones.
My personal favorite, found in Australia, but now being grown in California and elsewhere is the finger lime.
Melons are tricky, because there’s actually some debate about whether they are fruits or vegetables. From a scientific perspective, melons are fruit, and because they belong to the same family as cucumbers and squash — the gourds — it means that those latter two are fruits as well.
Common examples of melons, that I’m sure everyone has tried, are watermelon and cantaloupe.
But have you ever tried a kiwano, also known as a horned melon?
Kiwano come from the central and southern regions of Africa. When ripe, as you can see above, the thick outer skin of a kiwano melon is bright orange and covered in small spiny projections resembling horns. The inner flesh consists of a mucilaginous, lime-green fruit embedded with a plethora of edible seeds.
Two other of my favorite “melons” are the diminutive mouse melon, or cucamelon which can be grown in temperate climates, and the tzimbalo melon, below, native to South America. Both fruits look like watermelons fit for mice.
5. Multiple Fruits
Multiple fruits are so called because they develop from multiple flowers. Each flower on the plant produces a fruit, but since they are all clustered together, they resemble a whole. Probably the most well known example of a multiple fruit is the pineapple.
Some berries, like the strawberry, also belong to this category of fruits. Other examples are figs, mulberries, osage-oranges, and breadfruit. You can watch me cooking a breadfruit over an outdoor fire here.
Botanically speaking, berries are fruits that have a pulpy flesh with one or more seeds embedded in them. Going by that definition then, a tomato or a banana can also be considered a berry. Weird, I know.
On the other hand, a strawberry is, in fact, NOT a berry because it has seeds on the outer part of its cover. Doubly weird.
As we all know, nature doesn’t like to be put too tightly into boxes. So some of these fruits could logically be placed into more than one category. What I hope you’ve taken away so far is a hint of the incredible diversity of fruit in this world.
But Where Can I Find These Fruits?
You’d be surprised what you can find in various markets around town if you look. We find lots of interesting fruits from around the world at a local Chinese grocery store called Good Fortune. Or, if we are feeling a little more adventurous, we’ll take a longer drive to the Korean grocer H-mart about an hour or so away. Both supermarkets offer a wide range of both familiar and tropical fruits.
Sometimes, if there’s a particular fruit that I just have to try but cannot find, I will order from a company in Florida called Miami Fruit. You can watch me open one of their giant mystery fruit boxes here.
In the summer and early fall, we always take advantage of the “pick your own” at our local farm. Of course, the fare here is usually quite familiar: strawberries, raspberries, apples, and pears, but quite often local farms will also have unique or heirloom varieties available for purchase in their store.
Or, if you’re really adventurous, do what we do and try growing your own!
You can watch my complete Fruit Fruits playlist here.
Happy fruit hunting!