Exotic Fruits of Mexico Part 3

Tuna (Prickly Pear)

By sight, you would think the tuna is a vegetable, or if you only heard the name you would assume it was the fish. (Language note: the fruit is called tuna; tuna fish is called atun.)

Tunas come in green or purple, both the skin and flesh, and they have different flavors — purple is a little stronger and sweeter, though green is good as well.

These grow atop the nopal cactus. You can eat the leaves of the cactus too — they must be cooked, either fried or grilled. Both the leaves and the fruit are common year round in Mexico, and eating them is a truly Mexican experience. Did you know that cactus was edible?

Tunas are easy to peel. Just cut into the skin and pull it back. The fruit is soft with short fibers, and like the guayaba it has hard seeds that can’t be chewed. Don’t let them put you off — you’ll get used to swallowing them.

Xoconostle

Small and colorful, Xoconostle may look like a cross between the tuna and the guayaba, but it has a distinctly powerful, bitter flavor. That’s why it’s usually included in juice mixtures rather than eaten straight.

Buy some to munch on if you are curious, but you are better off ordering them in a juice mixture.

Noni

Noni is a funny-looking fruit: green, lumpy, and about the size of your fist. It originally comes from Southeast Asia.

Noni apologists say that it tastes like funky blue cheese. Others, like me, simply say that it tastes nasty.

But Noni purportedly has great health benefits. If you want to eat Noni but can’t get past the taste, blend it up with sugar and other fruits and drink it.

Granada China (Sweet Granadilla)

Egg-shaped outside, with crunchy black seeds and a mucus-like texture inside, granada china is weird no matter how you look at it. In fact, an alternate name for it in Mexico is granada de moco — mucus granada.

It is native to the mountains of South America but is also produced in Mexico, and along with the fruit, a psychedelic flower grows on the plant.

They are available year round, easy to eat, and quite good.

Capulines (Chokecherry)

It looks like a miniature cherry, minus the curvy stem. But it has a flatter flavor, less sweet but not sour. Eat them like a cherry — don’t bite into the pit.

Apparently capuline trees only grow in a few, high-altitude parts of Mexico and also Canada. They come into season in late summer and can be bought from indigenous Otomi ladies on the streets of Temoaya, about an hour from Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico.

They are also commonly made into jams, although your jam may still contain the rock-hard pits.

Watch your Spanish pronunciation: capulines are chokecherries, while chapulines are fried crickets.

Mangos

Finally, regarding mangos — never buy a hard one. A ripe mango is soft to the touch, and don’t be afraid of black spots. A unripe mango is bland or bitter, while a good, ripe one in season is one of the sweetest and tastiest fruits around.

So-so mangos are available year round, but the good ones are seasonal, and mango seasons seem to happen all the time.

The mango can be cut in many messy and wasteful ways, but I find the easiest is to make two long cuts along the pit and then spoon out the fruit.

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