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The tropicals are here.

Slicing a bigger share of space in Western produce markets, tropical and subtropical fruits are more available, more often and in greater quantities, than ever before. They're arriving from distant and not-so-distant lands. Many have unusual shapes and exotic tastes that delight, surprise, even shock.

When we se a new fruit in the market, it raises basic questions: What is it? How do I eat it? How can I tell if it's ripe? Is it good raw or cooked?

This guide answers those questions and others, as we survey some of the exotic fruits now coming into Western markets.

Pictured here and on the next four pages are 18 fruits you can expect to find seasonally in our markets. The Western showcase

The phenomenon of the West as a showcase for a variety of tropical and subtropical fruits dates from the early 1960s, when New Zealand shipped in samples of Chinese gooseberries. With the help of innovative produce a wholesalers like Frieda Caplan and marketing experts like Sybil Henderson, the renamed kiwi fruit (after New Zealand's national bird) took off in popularity.

Its acceptance set a precedent that has encouraged the introduction of carambola, cherimoya, feijoa, litchi, passion fruit, pepino, and other fruits that are as new to most of us today as kiwi fruit was two decades ago. And predictions are that more kinds will come.

Westerners have been quick to explore the potential of each new fruit, but other groups support this trend as well. Recent immigrants from Southeast Asia and Central and South America use many of these fruits in their cuisines.

Additionally, the growing of subtropical fruits in the West is having an economic impact. Experiments conducted by groups such as the California Rare Fruit Growers Association have demonstrated that not only is cultivation of subtropical fruits feasible in California, it can be profitable, as they command premium prices. In the market and on the table

Well-stocked supermarkets sell some of the 18 fruits we describe; the newest and rarest are apt to be only in deluxe markets, specialty produce stores, and stores offering Asian, Mexican and Central or South American groceries.

Included in our market survey (following) are the specific months you can expect to find each fruit, as well as tips on how to select the fruit and how to test it for ripeness.

All the fruits are good raw, for serving suggestions and recipes, see page 214.

For you to decide if you really like them, they should be in prime condition and at peak ripeness. If they don't match the ripeness test we give, further ripening is simple.

Like all fruits, these exotics should also be free of blemishes.

How to ripen fruits. Keep them at room temperature, turning frequently, until they have reached their optimum state, as described for each. Once fruit has ripened, eat or store in the refrigerator two to three days. The exception is bananas; don't refrigerate them, as they develop off flavors and dark color when chilled for more than several hours.

The numbers in the photograph opposite and on page 141 correspond to the information about each fruit that follows.

Sunset's survey

of 18 exotic fruits 1. Pepino (Solanum muricatum)

Originating in South America, it is grown commercially in New Zealand. This 2- to 4-inch-long, teardrop-shaped bush melon has striped purple and greenish yellow skin. Its pale greenish yellow to yellow-orange flesh combines flavor and texture of cantaloupe and honeydew melons.

Season. February to June for New Zealand varieties, August to December for California ones.

Ripeness test. Green-colored skin will turn golden yellow; light purple stripes remain. 2. Red banana (Musa species)

A newcomer from Ecuador, easy-to-spot Red (or Red Spanish or Red Cuban) bananas have a purplish red skin and very sweet, creamy flesh.

Season. Sporadic year-round.

Ripeness test. Skin will be darker purple with some black spots; fruit will feel soft. 3. Solo papaya (Carica papaya variety)

Dominant in our markets are Solo papayas from Hawaii. We see two strains of this native to tropical America. The commoner, Solo Waimanalo, has a rounded pear shape with a short neck, and bright yellow-orange flesh inside a tender green to yellow skin. Look-alike Solo Sunrise is more slender, firmer, and less juicy, with salmon pink flesh. both varieties contain small, peppery-flavored black seeds.

Season. Usually available all year; prices are lowest in the summer months, but vary with Hawaii's weather conditions.

Ripeness test. When pressed, fruit feels slightly soft, like a ripe avocado; Sunrise will be less soft. Yellow skin on both varieties may be mottled with green. 4. Kiwi fruit or Chinese gooseberry (Actinidia chinensis)

Egg-shaped with this brown (sometimes fuzzy) skin, this native to China has made itself at home in New zealand and California. Its brilliant green flesh with tiny edible black seeds has a juicy, sweet-tart flavor skin to strawberries with tropical overtones.

Season. Peak months are May to October for New Zealand kiwis, and November to March to California fruit. They store well and are available year-round.

Ripeness test. Gives easily like a ripe peach. 5. Feijoa or pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana)

A gray-green, egg-shaped fruit native to southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and northern Argentina, feijoa is enjoying great commercial popularity in New Zealand. VArieties are uniformly 2-1/2 to 3 inches long; garden varieties here are usually smaller. The feijoa's soft, pale yellow flesh is very sweet, aromatic, and juicy; some describe its taste as a cross between pineapple and banana. Its thick shell is quite tart and is best cooked. (For more feijoa recipes, see the June 1984 Sunset, page 214.)

Season. Late February to early June for New Zealand varieties, early September to December for California ones.

Ripeness test. Feels soft like a ripe tomato; fragrance is very pronounced. 6. Tamarillo or free tomato (Cyphomanadra betacea)

Originally from the Peruvian Andes but now grown in New Zealand, this 2-1/2- to 3-inch-long smooth, egg-shaped fruit has bright cranberry red or--less frequently--orange-yellow skin. A swirl of red or orange edible seeds dominates red plum-textured flesh. Even without the sour, thin skin, the flesh has a curious sweet-tart, astringent flavor. Yellow tamarillos are sweeter, but both kinds benefit from a sprinkling of sugar. They are best cooked.

Season. February to October. Tamarillos store well and may be available for another month after that.

Ripeness test. Fruit gives to pressure like a firm-ripe tomato; skin turns a darker purple-red on red tamarillos, orange-yellow on yellow tamarillos. 7. Carambola or star fruit (Averrhoa carambola)

This waxy yellow-green to golden yellow fruit reveals its striking star shape when sliced crosswise. There are many varieties of this native of the Malay ARchipelago; the commercially favored sweet variety is Arkin. In our markets, we usually see 2- to 4-inch fruits from Florida. The edible skin encloses a juicy, crisp yellow flesh resembling an apple; it tastes refreshingly tart to sweet-tart.

Season. August to February.

Ripeness test. Skin turns golden yellow; prominent ribs turn slightly brown. 8. Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis)

Native to Central and South America, passion fruit are now grown in New Zealand and Hawaii. The egg-shaped 2-inch-long fruit has a hard purple (in Mainland markets, from New Zealand) or yellow (in Hawaii) shell. Protected inside this thick shell is a gelatinous pulp laced with many seeds that you may or may not choose to eat. The sweet-tart pulp is extremely aromatic.

Season. Late February to early October.

Ripeness test. Shells will look shriveled. 9. Guava (Psidium guajava)

Called guayaba in Spanish, guava hails from the Caribbean and is grown commercially in Hawaii and Florida. The lemon yellow fruit is egg-shaped to round and 2 to 3 inches long. Its shocking pink to salmon-colored flesh is very sweet and aromatic.

Season. November to February.

Ripeness test. Although its shell is thick, guava gives to gentle pressure; fragrance is extremely pronounced and floral. 10. Litchi or lychee (Litchi chinensis)

These small (1- to 1-1/2-in.) red to red-brown warty-skinned fruits are sold in clusters of 3 to 20 on woody stems. Inside the thin, bark-like skin or shell is a translucent white fruit with texture and flavor akin to a peeled Muscat grape. The flesh surrounds a smooth brown seed.

Fresh litchis are available for a very short time; they are shipped from Mexico, Hawaii, and Florida. In the Orient, where they originate, many are frozen or canned. They are most frequently found in Oriental markets.

Season. June and July.

Ripeness test. Skin should look fresh, not withered. If fruit is brown under withered skin, it may taste femented. (Dried in the shell, litchis become litchi--or lychee--nuts and taste like raisins.) 11. Longan or dragon's eye (Euphoria longan)

These are native to India and come to our markets from Hawaii and the dominican republic. Very similar to litchis, they have a smooth brown shell and more transparent flesh with less flavor.

Season. July and August.

Ripeness test. The shell should be free of cracks;: flesh should be clear, not brown. 12. Cherimoya or custard apple (Annona cherimola)

Native to the cool, dry slopes of the Andes, cherimoyas now grow in California. Shaped like a giant strawberry, they range in size from 3 to 7 inches and have a lizard-like pale green skin. Inside is a luscious cream-colored and custard-textured flesh and numerous black seeds. Its flavor, which resembles pineapple crossed with banana, has earned cherimoyas the title of "queen of the tropical fruits."

Season. November to April.

Ripeness test. Feels soft like a ripe avocado; skin turns a dull brownish green. 13. Sapote or white sapote (Casimiroa edulis)

Native to Mexico, sapotes are grown there and in Central America, Florida, and Southern California. The fruit is about the shape and size of a medium-size apple with a slightly pointed bottom.

Two varieties are in markets. One has bright green skin that remains green when ripe. Another, sweeter variety has yellow-green skin that turns yellow when ripe. Cream-colored flesh is like cherimoya in moistness and avocado in texture; it has a very sweet, distinctive flavor that marries banana and peach, according to some. The edible thin skin of both allows fruits to bruise easily.

Season. August through November.

Ripeness test. A sapote should feel soft like a ripe peach. 14. Babaco (Carica pentagona)

Native to Ecuador and the newest fruit to arrive from New zealand, babaco is also labeled kiwistar. Though botanically related to the papaya, it looks more like an overgrown (6 to 9 in.) carambola. It has edible, waxy, yellow-green skin, with juicy mild-flavored flesh that resembles crenshaw melon in flavor, color, and texture.

Season. Since babacos are grown in climate-controlled greenhouses, they are available sporadically year-round, but at this point production is small.

Ripeness test. FRuit soften slightly and gives to gentle pressure. The skin turns completely yellow. 15. Mango (Mangifera indica)

This Southeast Asia native is as common in the tropics as the apple is in temperate zones. There are many varieties, but in our markets we see two basic types. Both are elliptical: one with red-green skin makes a big handful; the other is smaller and has yellow-green skin. Both types have juicy, bright yellow to yellow-orange flesh filled with stringy but tender fibers and a flat, hairy pit. Mangos' intense flavor is peach-like with resinous overtones.

Season. Available sporadically all year from Florida, Haiti, Brazil, or Mexico. Peak season is May through August.

Ripeness test. Gives easily when pressed; green-yellow varieties turn more yellow; red-green varieties turn more red. 16. Saba banana (Musa species)

Midsize, clear yellow, straight Saba and look-alike Brazilian have squared-off sides with prominent blossom ends. Like Manzano, these bananas are tart even when ripe, astringent if green.

Season. Sporadic year-round, they come from Brazil and Mexico.

Ripeness test. Fruit feels soft and skin is covered with many black spots. 17. Manzano banana (Musa species)

Short, stubby, pale gold Manzanos and look-alike Apple and Finger bananas come in bristly bunches. They are refreshingly tart and crunchy when ripe, puckery if green.

Season. Sporadic year-round, from South America and Mexico.

Ripeness test. Skin covered with many black spots; fruit feels soft. 18. Mexican papaya (Carica papaya variety)

Elongated Mexican papayas are much larger than Solo varieties--up to 20 inches long and weighing as much as 10 pounds each. They have a thicker, tougher bright green skin mottled with yellow.

Flesh ranges from yellow to orange to watermelon pink; it tastes cool and refreshing, but with less intense flavor than Solo; some consider it watery by comparison. In supermarkets, it is usually sold by the piece; look for it in Mexican markets in California and elsewhere.

Season. Sporadic year-round, these papayas come from Mexico.

Ripeness test. Fruit feels slightly soft; skin still green with a few yellow spots.
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Title Annotation:tropical fruits
Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1985
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