South American fruit is an esoteric world where the wise man treads carefully. Think of it like the game Minesweeper, random clicking only ends in tears, but cautious footsteps reveal the hidden horrors (and occasional gems) without losing a figurative leg (or a literal stomach lining). This list is a work in progress and – of course – totally subjective from the perspective of a confused European.
|South American fruit... it's a minefield|
* Babaco – Love at first sight. It has a green, waxy skin that yellows as the fruit ripens. There's a satisfying plumpness about a babaco, just holding one compels a powerful urge to smash this swollen monster into smithereens of pulpy juice... and if it didn't taste so good I'd have succumbed to temptation long ago.
The babaco has a star shape that makes it hard to peel, but it's well worth the effort. Inside is an overflowing juice factory (so make sure you've got a bowl handy to catch the liquid while you're skinning the fruit).
The flesh is slightly sour but a spoonful of sugar takes the edge off the tang. The fruit soaks up the sugar and you have the most delicious breakfast since man first topped a soft-boiled egg and served it with a platter of soldiers.
Tasting notes: a bouquet of peach, with low melon notes and a subtle citrus tang
|What a star|
|Dulce de Babaco - ready to eat|
Uvilla – You might know these by as Physalis Peruviana or Chinese Lanterns? Anyway, I snacked on these straight from a bush in El Tingo and – warmed under a midday sun – they were delicious. They come ready wrapped in lace-like parcels, so every fruit feels like Christmas morning.
Tasting notes: subtle floral notes with a crisp and satisfying bite
Maracuya – otherwise known as the Passion Fruit. It's a versatile fruit that can be added to juices – to sweeten and enrich the flavour – or it can be added to cheesecakes. Better still is the Maracuya Sour, a variation on the Peuvian Pisco Sour cocktail. All round, the Maracuya is a good egg.
Tasting notes: sweet, exotic nectar packing an explosive and lasting punch
Platano Rosado – it's a banana but it's red. This is the one and only trick of the platano rosado. Otherwise, it's just a firm and delicious banana. A solid performer.
Tasting notes: close your eyes and it's basically just a banana
Limon sutil – basically a tiny super sour lime. The concept of the lime doesn't exist in Ecuador, green or yellow they're all lemons. The limon sutil is one of the good guys for one simple reason – it's an essential ingredient for both ceviche and mojito (I.e – a great night)
Tasting notes: super strength sour lime
Taxo – like the French revolution, it's still too early to understand the impact of the taxo fruit. It looks like a squat banana and, once you've penetrated its shell and protective, woolly blanket, it contains hundreds of sour, orange seeds. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but it certainly challenged me. My “journey” was like an X Factor contestant – there were ups and downs but I gave it 110 per cent, and even drank a taxo milkshake. Still I couldn't arrive at a I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and place it with the 'Good' but let's consider it firmly in the relegation zone with next season in the lower leagues looking increasingly certain.
Tasting notes: sour and seedy
|Taxo the confuser|
* El tomate de arbol – the locals love this. I drank it unwittingly in a hotel in Otavalo thinking it was orange juice and nearly spat it out across the fresh, white linen. “Why does my orange juice taste cheesy?” I couldn't work it out. The second time I drank it was in a batido (a South American milkshake - a very cheesy milkshake). It was like a fruity Petit Filous. The only time I can tolerate tomate de arbol is when it's served in the tongue-tingling aji table sauce – a salsa so packed with red hot chillies its cheesy flavour is burnt back to the fires of hell, from where it belongs.
Tasting notes: alarmingly cheesy
* Granadilla – another popular local fruit. Although the taste isn't so unpleasant as the tree tomato the texture is another story. To eat Granadilla you top it like a hard-boiled egg and slurp and suck its sloppy, seedy innards. I was reminded of that scene in the Temple of Doom where they serve chilled monkey brains to an hysterical Kate Capshaw.
Tasting notes: chilled monkey brains
|Chilled monkey brain|
* Pitajaya – I had been promised big things about the pitajaya. It's a fruit of the Amazon region which The taste isn't revolting but it isn't particularly inspiring either – something like a sour apple with consistency of an overripe kiwi fruit.
Tasting notes: sour apple
* Tuna – this is the fruit of a cactus and I can honestly say I'd rather eat the prickly parent plant than snack on one of these orange-fleshed horrors again. It lies somewhere between an insipid melon and a rotten pumpkin. To make matters worse it's packed with crunchy, bitter seeds.
Tasting notes: a pumpkin melon