Exotic, flavorsome and strange are some words you might use to describe Chinese fruits. China is a vast country and the range of fruit the Chinese eat is just as big. On sale at the country's supermarkets and mom-and-pop grocery stores you'll find fruit that's native to China, along with the nation's favorite imports from surrounding Asian countries.
Who doesn't hanker for first-of-the-season lychee fruits? The papery, red-brown skins of these small, egg-shaped Chinese fruits hide sweet white translucent flesh and a large shiny brown seed. The name means gift for a joyful life, and lychee fruits certainly make a joyful dessert or healthy snack.
You can buy these fruits canned and dried as well as fresh. Add canned lychee fruits to a tropical fruit cocktail, or munch on the dried fruit the same way you would eat raisins. To remove the skin from a fresh lychee fruit, push your thumbnail in near the stalk and peel it away.
Fresh lychees last five to 10 days in the refrigerator in a sealed bag, and you can store the dried fruits in an airtight container for up to one year at room temperature.
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This native of Southern China is rich in vitamin C and also contains vitamin B-6, potassium and plenty of fiber.
Longan fruits are farmed in Southeast Asian countries, but they're also widely eaten in China. In fact, the word longan means dragon's eye in Cantonese. Though similar to a lychee fruit, the longan is smaller, and its skin is smooth and tan-brown. The flavor is a little more tart and the flesh is more jellylike.
Longans contain potassium and 80 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C in 1/2 cup of the fruit. Antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral phenolic acid is another healthful natural substance the longan fruit provides. Store fresh fruits in the refrigerator and eat them whenever you're looking for a diet-friendly way to keep hunger pangs at bay.
Alternatively, if you're feeling stressed, stew longans along with red dates and Chinese rock sugar. Remove the seeds and throw them in the trash. The resulting traditional Chinese medicine drink is said to promote calmness and a healthy heart and skin.
Unsurprisingly, the word rambutan means hairs in Malay and Indonesian languages. This hairy fruit is covered in flexible, green-tipped spikes sprouting from its leathery red skin. On the inside, expect to find creamy, aromatic, slightly acidic flesh – and a poisonous seed that should be discarded.
Pop unpeeled rambutan in the refrigerator to keep them fresh for a few days, or store peeled, deseeded fruit in the freezer in an airtight container. Frozen rambutan have a texture like sorbet, so you can eat them without thawing.
This fruit is a good source of vitamin C, iron and phosphorus.
Durian is best described as a fruit to love or hate. As big as a small watermelon and covered in a thick, spiky skin, durian emits a powerful and unpleasant odor. For those brave people who scoop out the soft flesh and eat it, durian tastes like custard flavored with almond.
Sweet and citrus flavors are at their strongest in an overripe fruit. If you can stomach the odor, you can benefit from durian's high levels of vitamin C, iron, potassium and fiber.
Avoid kissing anyone after eating durian, however, because the taste lingers in your mouth and on your breath.
Delectable Dragon Fruit
What could be more Chinese than a fruit named after a dragon? Dragon fruit is a red, egg-shaped fruit about the size of a large fist. This spiky fruit is mostly grown in Vietnam, Nicaragua and the United States, but it's popular to eat in China too.
Soft green spikes cover the red skin, and underneath lies red or white flesh speckled with black seeds. Red-fleshed dragon fruit is slightly sweeter than the white-fleshed variety. Peel the thick, rubbery skin before chopping up the fruit to eat immediately or add to a fresh fruit salad.
Dragon fruit stay fresh in your refrigerator for up to a week. The health benefits of this fruit include cancer-preventative lycopene, polyunsaturated fatty acids, B vitamins and vitamin C. To release the fatty acids, chew on the seeds.
Rather confusingly, mangosteens are not related to mangoes and don't even look or taste similar to them. The mangosteen is small round purple fruit topped by a thick wide green cap and a stalk. The fruit's skin is thick and inedible, but within it lie six or more wedges of white, succulent, delicious flesh.
If only mangosteens were as easy to find in the U.S. as they are in China. Unfortunately, the fruit are difficult to grow and they don't remain fresh very long after harvest. This means few shipments are exported to the States.
What's more, mangosteens harbor a pest that's considered invasive in America. The fruit must be irradiated before going on sale here, and some say this process makes them less tasty.
If you find some, you can benefit from the xanthones mangosteens contain, which are believed to alleviate inflammation and reduce pain.
Pomelo is also called pummelo, and it's the monster of the citrus fruit family. These Chinese fruits are roughly the same size and shape as a cantaloupe, though one end is pointed. The greenish-yellow skin of the pomelo means it looks similar to a grapefruit, but the flesh is pink or rose-colored and sweeter than a grapefruit.
According to Chinese tradition, the pomelo brings good luck. To avail yourself of this benefit, place one or two pomelo fruits around your home. On the other hand, you could just peel off the thick skin of the raw fruit and eat the slightly dry, fibrous segments.
Gratifying Goji Berry
If you're looking for a real nutritional bang for your buck, pick goji berries. These red or dark blue berries are little packages of vitamins, minerals and protein, including vitamins A, B-2 and C, thiamine, copper, selenium, potassium, iron and zinc. Each 100 gram serving contains 11 grams of protein.
Not enough nutrition for you? Goji berries also contain oodles of the antioxidants lutein and lycopene as well as polysaccharides and carotenoids. The results of scientific studies suggest that goji berries may slow aging, control blood sugar and cholesterol levels, boost the immune system and help with weight loss.
Goji berries are rarely sold fresh. If you do find some, they'll look like cherry tomatoes. The berries are usually sold dried. Eat them as you would dried fruit, or put a few in a cup of tea for a sweet flavor and invigorating punch.
There's more to persimmons than meets the eye. The Chinese variety of this fruit is round and resembles an orange tomato, though the stalk and dried flower parts are thicker.
The persimmon has special powers: Inside each fruit is a seed that is said to predict the weather.
The persimmon is a fall fruit. Wait until the fruits are fully ripe before eating them. When persimmons are at their most delicious, they turn soft and begin to crack open. Peel off the skin and enjoy the sweet and slightly sour flesh.
When you've finished eating, split the seed in half to discover what kind of winter weather to expect. If the shape inside the seed is forked, a mild winter is on its way. If the shape is like a spoon, expect plenty of snow. But if you see a knife-like shape, prepare for an icy season.
The nutrients persimmon provides include vitamin A, antioxidants, shibuol and betulinic acid – and the fruit is believed to help prevent cancer. Two varieties are grown in the United States. Hachiya is pale, heart- or acorn-shaped and astringent, and Fuyu is sweeter, orange and tomato-shaped.
Jujubes taste yummy fresh or dried. The immature fruit is green, and as it ripens it turns dark red and finally black. But the story doesn't end there. Jujube is also sold as a dried fruit that looks like a red date.
You might see fresh jujubes that are egg-shaped, pear-shaped, round or oval, and ranging from the size of a cherry to that of a plum. Eat fresh fruits when they have begun to turn red. The whitish flesh is crisp and juicy. Overripe jujubes that have begun to soften and wrinkle are also luscious.
You'll find the taste is like apple tinted with cinnamon. The Chinese believe eating jujubes is helpful if you have a cold, perhaps thanks to a level of vitamin C that's 20 times higher than in citrus fruits.
Succulent Star Fruit
The clue is in the name with star fruit, though you might also have heard the fruit called carambola. Slice one down the center and you'll see two five-pointed stars. Yet this decorative feature isn't all star fruit has to offer.
Unripe star fruit are green, and harvesting takes place when the color begins to change to yellow. All the parts of this thin-skinned fruit are edible. The taste is either sweet or tart, according to the variety.
Refreshing Rose Apple
Oddly enough, rose apples don't look like apples. In fact, they're roughly pear-shaped or bell-shaped. The flavor of these fruits is reminiscent of roses with a touch of apple, which may be the source of their name. Their skin is edible, waxy and often deep red. Other colors of this fruit include pink, green and white.
Rose apples are also called wax apples and water apples, perhaps due to the extreme juiciness of their white, crisp flesh. The fruit quickly dehydrates, however, so don't expect rose apples to stay fresh longer than a day or two in the refrigerator. Eat the fruit raw, or chop them up, retaining their attractive skin, and add the pieces to a fresh fruit salad.
The loquat is a small golden orange fruit that doesn't travel well. Consequently, you may struggle to find loquats for sale in grocery stores, though the fruit grows in backyards in warm, southern areas of the United States. The season for harvest is spring.
The Chinese variety of loquat is pear-shaped, and its rich, dark golden flesh contains many seeds. The usual way to eat a loquat is to remove the stem, tear the fruit in half and scoop out the mildly poisonous seeds. Also remove the membrane inside and the dried remains of the flower.
The skin of the loquat can be tough and leathery, especially when cooked, though it is edible. Loquats stay fresh in the refrigerator for as long as a week. For the best flavor, allow the fruit to return to room temperature before eating it.
- Michigan State University Extension: Lychee – Sweet and Crisp
- One Green Planet: Lychee, Longan and Rambutan: Why You Need to Be Eating These Cool, Juicy, Exotic Asian Fruits This Summer
- China Highlights: The 10 Strangest Exotic Fruits Commonly Eaten in China
- Freida's: Freida's Dragon Fruit
- National Geographic: Meet the Mangosteen
- Produce Market Guide: Variety: Pummelo
- Ecowatch: 9 Health Benefits of Goji Berries
- Farmer's Almanac: What The Heck Is A Persimmon?
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Jujube, an Uncommon Fruit
- USDA: Star Fruit
- International Tropical Fruits Network: Rose Apple: Crunchy and Refreshing Tropical Fruit
- Food Forward: The Lowdown on Loquats
Jenny Green has a Masters in English literature and has been a freelance writer since 2008.