Tourist Tip #208 / Seven Strange Fruits - and a Vegetable

Israel offers more experimental epicurians some decidedly uncommon produce.

If you’re a health nut or just a fruit and vegetable junkie, Israel has got you covered. It has well-known fruit like apples, bananas, pears and deliciously sweet watermelon (and not only in summer, thanks to high-tech farming techniques). It also has your standard veggies, like tomatoes and cucumbers – and often in varieties you rarely see elsewhere, like yellow or dark brown or red-and-green striped cherry tomatoes. Israel also has small, tasty cucumbers commonly known as “Persian cukes” abroad.

The land that produces purple peppers and yellow eggplants also offers more experimental epicurians some decidedly uncommon produce. Here’s a brief guide to seven fruits (and one vegetable) you should try while in town.

Annona – also known as sugar apple – resembles a cross between an artichoke and, well, a reptile. Or maybe a greenish pine cone. Slice it open and inside is creamy off-white flesh vaguely reminiscent of slightly cooked fish in texture. It also contains chunky dark seeds, and its consistency may be a bit grainy. They don’t call it sugar apple for nothing: It's intensely sweet and not exactly diet-friendly but, on the plus side, it's rich in iron.

Dragonfruit – called pitaya in Israel – is not only good for you; it's fun to look at. The beautiful fuchsia and green fruit looks like a tropical flower you might see at a botanical garden and has gained a reputation as a "super fruit" in recent years. It's low in calories, but high in nutrients, including Vitamin C, antioxidants and calcium. Its taste is often described as a cross between a kiwi and a pear and if you can get yourself to destroy the lovely specimen, it's easy to eat: Just cut in half and scoop out the white or reddish flesh. Be warned that some have, well, no taste at all.

Loquat – known as "shesek" in Israel – looks like a small pear-shaped apricot with a hard brown pit at its center. When ripe, the fuzzy skin can easily be peeled off and the fruit split in two. You can eat the peel if you like. It's high in Vitamin A, fiber, potassium and manganese, and has a tangy sweet taste.

Pomelo – That's the one that looks like a giant green grapefruit, but is often sold in Israeli grocery stores pre-packaged, peeled and segmented. It has a very thick pith: The actual flesh inside may be just half the fruit's weight. It tastes like a sweeter, milder version of grapefruit, minus the citrus-y tang, and the flesh is often very dry.

Pomelit – The Japanese have become so enamored of the greeny-yellow hybrid fruit that some years they buy up almost the entire Israeli crop. The pomelit, often known as the "Sweetie," was created by hybridizing pomelo with grapefruit, resulting in a fruit smaller than the pomelo (and a lot juicier), and sweeter than grapefruit. It contains high amounts of antioxidants but like grapefruit, can inhibit the action of statin-based cholesterol drugs.

Prickly pear – known as "sabra" in Hebrew – is usually green or purplish and thorny on the outside. Once you get past the thick peel, the fruit at its best is golden or purple with black seeds, sweet and meaty on the inside. It's no coincidence that native-born Israelis are also called "sabras" – they, too, can be prickly on the outside and softies on the inside. (Word of caution: Eating too many of these can cause constipation. Other warning: Watch out for tiny, almost invisible prickles on the fruit, which are challenging to remove from the hand.)

Passion fruit – known as "passiflora" in Hebrew – is a lovely shade of dark purple when ripe. Cut it open to discover the sweet-and-sour juicy interior packed with crunchy seeds that is fun to scoop out and eat straight from the peel. Tip: Also tastes great drizzled on vanilla ice cream. Other tip: If you put it in a fruit shake, the drink will be grainy.

Kohlrabi – Now we come to our exotic vegetable, which comes from the German words for cabbage and turnip. That's basically what it looks like: a green turnip. Its consistency is similar to that of jicama – it's got bite but is also a little juicy. It can be served cooked, but tastes great raw with a dash of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Also, don't be fooled by the purple ones: Like the green variety, they're whitish on the inside, too.
 

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