trying new foods

by erin thursby
Every time I shop at the grocery store I keep a weather eye out for something I’ve never seen before. This is not difficult if I’m at, say, one Jacksonville’s small Korean markets, but if you take a closer look, you’d be surprised what you can find on the shelves at Publix and even Wal-Mart.
I scout for the exotic mainly in the produce section, scouring the bins for any fruit that looks out of the ordinary. Here are a few of the fruits I’ve sampled in my quest to try something different…

Kumquats are not the most exotic fruit. In fact, they even grow in Jacksonville yards. Still, there’s a chance you may not have tried this adorable little fruit. If you haven’t, then it’s time to garnish your next fruity cocktail with kumquat rind. If you’re not familiar with kumquats, they are a fruit a little larger than a quail’s egg. Most are orange in color, with a sweet, edible rind and a surprisingly tart inside. The rind is often used as an edible garnish because it’s sweet and bright colored. Their flowers are white and their branches are sometimes thorny, with dark green, shiny leaves.
You can find kumquats in Publix, but you might have to ask the produce manager to point you in the right direction. They generally keep them in plastic boxes, not unlike cherry tomatoes. At an Oriental market, you can pick up dried or candied version of kumquats. You might also find kumquat marmalades or jellies as well. All of these forms are excellent to use in savory duck dishes or as part of stuffing for chicken or turkey. You can also grill fresh kumquats on kabob along with savory meats, veggies or other fruits. Although this little fruit is tasty right off the tree, there are quite a number of ways to use kumquats in drink and food recipes. Basically, wherever citrus fruit is used in a recipe, you can probably replace it with kumquat (for recipes, see the website and search for kumquats).

I once found a tamarillo in Wal-Mart. I had no idea what it was and I bought it. Since then I have put finely diced tamarillo in home made vinaigrette and as part of a fruit compote. It has tiny, edible seeds, surrounded by a mild flesh. The taste of the tart fruit could best be described as a cross between tangerine and grapefruit. The texture in the center was a bit like pomegranate and the flesh around the center was the texture of a soft pear, a little less tart than the center of the fruit. The tartness of the fruit lends itself well to chutneys, and it’s eaten as a breakfast fruit. It can be added to just about anything for just a bit of a mystery “zing.”

Quince is not a convenience fruit like apples or bananas. You can’t just bite into a raw quince. The skin is too tough and, uncooked, the flesh is too sour. Luckily it comes in a paste or jelly form. It’s got a floral flavor and mellows once it’s cooked. You can find processed quince in a Euro grocery, or one that carries South American foods. Or you can just head to 13 Gypsies for a quince on cheese appetizer.

The most exotic fruit on the list, durian is a fruit you have to try at least once. It’s a huge fruit, larger than a pineapple. It’s asymmetrical and covered in large spikes. I swear it played the part of a life-form from a distant planet in Star Trek. It is just about the stinkiest fruit you can buy. Do not cut it open inside your house. The fruit is actually banned on public transportation in the countries where it’s popular. It stinks like something putrid rotting but as you bring a piece of fruit up to your mouth, the smell disappears and the fruit tastes creamy with a touch of onion to it. As smelly as durian was, I did live to tell about it.
Hopefully you’ll be on your way to trying new fruits as well. You don’t always have to live on the culinary edge to try something different. Whether it’s a local favorite you’ve never tried or a gross out fruit like the durian, trying something unusual gives you a new understanding. Even if the experience isn’t entirely positive, at least you’ll have an interesting story to tell.