If it’s true that Southeast Asia is known for its unparalleled cuisine, it is also true that part of its success has to do with the quality of its fresh ingredients. Besides the vegetables and herbs, markets are packed with fresh fruits that are ripened by an almost omnipresent sun. They couldn’t be juicier, sweeter or tastier, and everyone loves them as a snack throughout the day.
Many fruits (mangos and pineapples for instance) are sold already peeled and cut in pieces inside a plastic bag on the streets. They are considered a good snack. Usually, a mix of salt and cayenne powder is added for a spicy flavour. Although this is not an extensive list that covers all the fruits, it gives an idea of what you will find in the market.
Bananas are probably the cheapest fruit we found. They are much smaller than the ones we are used to eating at home, but they are very tasty. The banana belongs to the category of berries (really??). India and China are the world’s largest producers of bananas (38% of the world’s production). Bananas have been ‘domesticated’ to lose its seeds. Wild varieties still have several seeds inside the fruit.
- Taste: the flesh of bananas can vary in taste from starchy to sweet, and its texture from firm to mushy.
- Properties: Bananas contain a fair amount of fiber as well as several antioxidants.
- Other uses: Bananas are also used to make textile fibers and to produce banana wine and beer.
The mangosteen is native to Southeast Asia, probably Malaysia, but its tree has also been introduced to some countries with tropical weather in South America.
- Taste: The mangosteen tastes sweet and sour. The fruit is juicy if somewhat fibrous.
- Properties: it is low in calories rich in antioxidants, popular because of that.
- Other uses: In Indonesia, the mangosteen peel is used as a natural dye for textile colouring.
Pineapple is indigenous of South America but has been exported to many other countries around the world during the 17th century by the Portuguese and the Spaniards. Pineapples grow from small shrubs and need one year to mature.
- Taste: Pineapple balances sweet and tart and is known for having a lot of juice.
- Properties: Pineapple is thought to have anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits.
- Other uses: Besides used as a fruit, it is widely used as a chief ingredient in cuisines around the world. Their leaves can also be used as fibers for textiles.
Oh, the pleasure of drinking coconut juice from a coconut shell. Coconut is a drupe, not a nut. The word ‘coco’ derives from the Portuguese word ‘coco’ which in former centuries meant ‘head’, because of the three marks on the coconut shell that make it resemble a face. Genetic studies show that the coconut is original from Southeast Asia.
- Taste: Fresh coconut meat has a slightly nutty and sweet flavour.
- Properties: Coconut may help control cholesterol levels and may decrease belly fat, a risk factor for heart disease.
- Other uses: Coconut is widely used in the cosmetic industry. The hard shell is used in the decoration industry or to produce charcoal. Its husk is used to produce coir.
The guava is another tropical fruit native to Central America (Mexico) and the Caribbean. The guava is considered a berry, which grows in small trees that belong to the myrtle family. Nowadays, India is the world’s largest producer of guava.
- Taste: The pulp inside may be white or pink (depending on the species) and its flavour is sweet.
- Properties: Guava may help control diabetes and may help prevent the development of cancer cells because of its high levels of antioxidants.
- Other uses: Its leaves are used in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries
6. Dragon fruit
Dragon fruit is also known as strawberry pear or as pitahaya and pitaya, which is how the fruit is known at its original place in Central America (Mexico). There are different varieties (red or white flesh) and pink or yellow skin.
- Taste: Its flavour is sweet and can be described as a combination of kiwi and pear.
- Properties: It contains few sugars. Dragon fruit prevents the development of cancer cells because of its several antioxidants.
- Other uses: The flower of the dragonfruit can be used as a tea.
7. Snakefruit (or Salak)
Snake fruit or Salak, is native to Indonesia. The fruit is known as ‘snake fruit’ because of its scaly skin.
- Taste: When peeled, the fruit looks like garlic, the flesh has the texture of an apple and the taste is sweet and acidic.
- Properties: Snake fruit is another powerful antioxidant helping prevent cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
- Other uses: Salak can be fermented to produce Salak wine.
Tamarind is the fruit of a leguminous tree that is native to Africa. The fruit is in the shape of bean pods. Only the inside pulp is eaten. In the Indian cuisine (where it is most popular) Tamarind’s paste is used to prepare chutneys and curries.
- Taste: Tamarind has a fleshy, juicy and acidic pulp. It is ripe when the flesh is brown.
- Properties: Tamarind contains a high amount of magnesium.
- Other uses: Tamarind’s pulp and oil are also used in traditional medicine and as a metal polish. The wood of the tamarind tree is popularly used for wood carving. Its leaves are widely used in Indian cuisine.
The rambutan is indigenous to Indonesia and Southeast Asia. This tropical fruit is related to the lychee and the longan. Thailand is the world’s largest producer of rambutan.
- Taste: The flesh of rambutan is sweet and translucent, a bit like grapes.
- Properties: It is believed that rambutan improves digestion and helps increase resistance to infections.
- Other uses:
Mango is a drupe fruit (which means it has a large kernel in the middle), which is indigenous to South Asia, where it is considered the King fruit, especially in India. In Southeast Asia, it is the main ingredient of a popular dessert which we loved: mango sticky rice, which combines mango with rice cooked in coconut milk.
- Taste: Ripe mangoes are juicy and very sweet, emitting a very sweet fragrance.
- Properties: Mangoes help boost immunity and improve digestion
- Other uses: In Southeast Asia green mangoes are used in mango salad seasoned with salt fish sauce and chili peppers.
11. Marian Plum (or mango plum)
Marian plum is native to Southeast Asia. It looks like a tiny mango or like an apricot. Although the fruit is often eaten raw, Southeast Asia likes preparing it as a kind of pickle, with salt, sugar and cayenne pepper.
- Taste: Its flavour can be sweet or sour, according to the fruit’s ripeness.
- Properties: Rich in vitamin C and calcium, so it helps maintain healthy bones and teeth
Its Greek name ‘diospyros’ means fruit from the Gods. They are native to Asia and the main producers are Japan and Sout Korea. There are two species of persimmon: the astringent and the non-astringent. The astringent can only be eaten when the fruit is ripe and the flesh gets very soft. The non-astringent can be eaten immediately when picked out of the tree and its flesh remains hard (like an apple) even when the fruit is ripe.
- Taste: Persimmons have s sweet, almost honey-like flavour.
- Properties: Persimmons are loaded with fiber, therefore a good to help lose weight.
- Other uses: The wood of the persimmon tree is very popular. You can also prepare jams with the fruit.
13. Milk fruit
Milk fruit is native to the Greater Antilles and the West Indies. You should avoid touching the inside skin with your lips because it leaves a gluey feeling. We didn’t like its flavour too much.
- Taste: Its pulp is white or violet, soft, and milky.
- Properties: Milk fruit is rich in antioxidants. Its bark is considered tonic and stimulant.
- Other uses: Its leaves are used in infusions to help prevent diabetes and rheumatism. The wood of its tree is of good quality.
The longan is a Southern Asian fruit that belongs to the family of the lychee and the rambutan. Its name in Cantonese literally means ‘the dragon eye’.
- Taste: The longan is sweet and succulent when ripe. Seed and shell are not edible.
- Properties: Lychee contains a lot of folates making it a good fruit for pregnant women.
- Other uses: Longan is also used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine.
The jackfruit is native to India and Malaysia and its tree belongs to the family of fig and breadfruit. This is the largest and heaviest fruit that grows in trees, considering that one piece of fruit can be as heavy as 55 kilos and as long as 90 centimeters.
- Taste: The flavour of the ripe jackfruit is often described as being a mixture of pineapple and banana
- Properties: The jackfruit is rich in fibers, proteins, and antioxidants which help control sugar in the blood.
- Other uses: The wood of the jackfruit tree is often sought for its high quality and used in the production of furniture and musical instruments because it is termite-proof.
The avocado is a large berry with one single large seed. It is native to Mexico, which is also its largest producer, producing 34% of the world’s avocados.
- Taste: Avocados are not sweet. They have a very smooth, oily texture and a rather savoury flavour.
- Properties: Avocado helps control cholesterol levels.
- Other uses: Avocado leaves can be used as a spice (with a flavour reminiscent of anise).
This is probably my favourite fruit, which reminds me of my youth and how my parents used to have it in the garden. In Southeast Asia, they are everywhere for very cheap prices, in markets and found as fresh juice in restaurants. It is native to Brazil, where it is called ‘maracujá’. The name passion fruit was given by the missionaries evoking the passion of Christ.
- Taste: Passion fruit has an acidic and sweet flavour
- Properties: It is a good fruit for people with diabetes because of the low glycemic.
18. Starfruit (or Carambola)
This fruit is native to Southeast Asia and it is so-called because when cut in cross-sections, their slices look like stars. It is because of its start shape and also because the fruit itself has very few flesh that it is often used as an ornamental. But all the fruit is edible, with a crunchy flesh ( comparable to grapes) and a lot of juice.
- Taste: The fruit is sweet and sour, though not overly sweet even when ripe, they rarely have more than 4% sugar content.
- Properties: Studies made on animals suggest that starfruit may reduce inflammation, cholesterol, and the risk of fatty liver.
- Other uses: In some countries, starfruit is used for cooking (especially with fish). When green the acidic juice can be used to clean rusty metals. It is also used often in dyeing processes.
Photo credits: finedininglovers.com
Even though pomegranate trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for a very long time, the tree is original from Western Asia (from Iran to Northern India). The interior of the fruit is made of sarcotesta seeds, which are very juicy, therefore the fruit is also a popular beverage.
- Taste: Pomegranate seeds can be sweet or sour.
- Properties: Pomegranate is one of the most popular ‘power fruits’ due to its antioxidant properties.
- Other uses: In India and Pakistan the seeds are dried for 10 days and then used as an acidic agent in the confection of chutneys and curry.
Lychees are indigenous to Southeast China, which is almost its main producer (followed by India). The black seed and the red rind are inedible. The fruit itself, surrounding the seed, is a white and sweet aril.
- Taste: Lychees have a sweet, flowery flavour and a texture comparable to grapes. Its taste is often compared to a sweet lemon with rose water. When canned, they lose the flowery taste.
- Properties: Lychees contain nutrients and antioxidants that are good for health.
21. Yellow Cantaloupe or sweet melon
Even though it is unsure, it is possible that the cantaloupe is original from South Asia. You probably don’t know that the skin of cantaloupe can contain harmful bacteria (like salmonella), therefore it is better to wash it before use. You should eat it within three days of opening it.
- Taste: It is a sweet fruit very often used in fruit salads or in ice-cream.
- Properties: Eating cantaloupe helps you remain hydrated because more than 90% of the fruit is water.
- Other uses: Cantaloupe’s seeds can be dried and eaten as a snack.
22. Custard apple or Annona
Photo credits: www.growyoursecretgarden.com
It is original to South America and it was brought to Asia by the Spanish.
- Taste: The fruit’s flesh is sweet and creamy reminding the taste of custard. Some say its taste reminds banana.
- Properties: Annona provides lutein, which may promote eye health.
There are several things about watermelon that we did not know and would never guess. Watermelon is a berry (really?) from the family of the scrambling vines (really??). Another interesting fact is that watermelon seeds have been found inside the Pharaoh tombs of Ancient Egypt.
- Taste: The fruit is mainly water. it is so juicy and fresh that it is often used to make beverages.
- Properties: Because it is more than 90% water it helps one hydrate. It is also considered to be food for the heart.
- Other uses: In some countries you can find pickled watermelon.
24. Water rose apple (or java apple)
Widely cultivated in the tropics, this fruit is called apple because of its colour, since it neither looks like an apple nor tastes like one. The fruit has the shape of a bell and has a lot of juice. There are different species, some being green and others rose, all of them are good to eat raw or cooked.
- Taste: Depending on the variety, its taste can go from bland to sweet.
- Properties: The flowers are astringent and used to treat fever and halt diarrhea.
- Other uses: They are much used in Indian cuisine, sauté with other vegetables.
The papaya is indigenous to the Americas (Mexico and Central America). The fruit is a very large berry, which can have 30 centimetres in diametre. When ripe, the skin of the fruit becomes yellow and soft. The flesh is dark orange.
- Taste: A papaya has got a mildly sweet flavour and when ripe it is extremely soft, so much that the flesh melts in your mouth without the need for any chewing.
- Properties: Researches suggest that the papaya reduces the risk of cancers due to its.
- Other uses: When unripe, the papaya can be cooked and is also used as a raw ingredient for salads. The seeds of the papaya are spicy and are a good substitute for pepper.
photo credits: blog.probioticamerica.com
The sapodilla looks like a brown egg with a rough skin, which is original from the Caribbean. The fruit contains several seeds, which are black and look like beans. The flesh of the sapodilla is pale yellow and its texture sandy, resembling pears.
- Taste: The sapodilla is a very sweet fruit.
- Properties: The fruit is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants
Durian has got a reputation for its strong odour, and it really smells bad! Just to give you an idea, some airline companies do not allow passengers to carry durian in the cabin because of its smell! This aside, the fruit is very nutrient and is easily mixed with jackfruit (except for the smell). The tree is native to Borneo and Sumatra.
- Taste: Its smell is stronger than its taste and slightly reminds of rotten onions.
- Properties: It is thought to have many health benefits, including in the treatment of cancer
- Other uses: The husk of the durian fruit is used to smoke fish and the petals of its flower are eaten in Sumatra.