Updated July 11th, 2018.
One of the delights of travelling in South America is the variety, quality and huge availability of tropical fruits. Some of them you know already, while others may be completely unfamiliar to most Westerners.
The closer you are to tropical climates the more you will find available at local markets. Colombia and Brazil are particularly great countries to buy fruit, but even along the rim of the Andes the warm climate is not too far away and you’ll be able to find interesting fruits there as well.
Some staple fruits will be familiar, but will simply taste great. Mangos, when in season, are phenomenal. Pineapples often taste much better and fresher. But there is more than this to try of course!
So when you go to a fruit market on your trip or order a fruit shake made, consider trying some of the following exotic fruits…
While originally from China, a lot of lychee is grown and produced in Brazil. You can get them in Europe but they’re not very common, and usually they’re canned and preserved in sugar syrup (gross!).
One time in a fancy bar in London me and my friends ordered 4 lychee martinis, only to be told that “regrettably, we only have one lychee left”. This would never be a problem in South America, where there should be ample supply.
Lychees have a sweet delicate taste, kind of between a pear and a grape.
2. Yellow Dragon Fruit
Southeast Asia backpackers may be very familiar with the pink variant of this fruit, which is very common in Thailand and other countries. You won’t find this type of dragon fruit very much in South America, but instead you’ll very often see the yellow version.
Yellow dragon fruit is actually much sweeter and, in my opinion, much tastier! In fact, I would say it’s my personal favorite South American fruit, and I highly recommend it as a sweet (and cheap) thirst quencher.
3. Guanabana (Soursop)
This ancient Incan fruit is a little weird. Locals actually don’t eat this from the hand but use it in fruit juices only. It’s easy to understand why, as eating a Guanabana quickly gets pretty messy; you’ll probably have to wash your hands afterwards.
Contrary to its English name it’s actually not sour, and tastes a bit like banana or pineapple. The texture is very fleshy and unusual making this a fun fruit to try just for the experience.
4. Sweet Granadilla (Passion Fruit)
There’s a whole family of passion fruit, and on one market in Colombia I had 6 different kinds. This particular variant is quite interesting as it has a white felt-like exterior.
The way to eat this is to just open it up somewhere and suck out the jelly inside with the seeds in it. The taste is a little sour.
The key to eating this is to cut it at the top, and inside you will find a sweet white flesh resembling garlic cloves. Scoop the cloves out with a spoon. To my mind it tastes a bit like pear, but with a stronger consistency.
Mangosteens are rarely sold fresh in Western countries so take your chance when you see them.
6. Cape Gooseberry
Look for these orange berries in Colombia where they are called uchuvas or in Peru where they call them aguaymantos, as well as in many other countries in South America. They taste a bit like gooseberry and are great especially in a fruit salad!
7. West Indian Locust fruit (A.K.A. Stinky Feet)
You’ll find this one particularly in northern South America and the Carribean. It’s sort of a ‘novelty’ fruit in that it really does stink of stinky feet – maybe not so much as the durians famed in South East Asia, but a distinct odour nonetheless.
The texture is quite weird, a bit dusty/fluffy like eating cotton candy. Maybe not one you’ll go back to time and again, but a fun experience.
8. Carambola (Starfruit)
This fruit is a bit of a show-off. It looks fantastic, especially when you cut it as then the star shape is especially visible. These are nice to decorate a salad with, but personally I think the taste is a bit of a let-down.
It sits sort of between a proper sweet fruit and a watery bell pepper. Good but not great.
Aye caramba! The Guavasteen is a bit of a surprise. I still haven’t quite tasted any fruit like it. It’s very sweet and sort of rum-like… it reminds me a bit of desert wine or a liqueur.
Another way to describe it is like apple pie, with a mint-y aftertaste. You have to try this! The texture is a bit gritty like sand. In fact, the pulp is used in some natural cosmetic products as an exfoliant.
Of course, this post only skims the surface of what’s available. Markets close to the Amazon, for instance in Manaus in Brazil, have hundreds of varieties of fruit many of which are unsuitable for export and can only be purchased there.
So next time you go to a fruit market, try a few things out. For just a few dollars, you can have a memorable fruit experience!
About the Writer: Marek Bron writes about low-cost travel in South America and backpacking in South-East Asia on his blog, IndieTraveller. His latest book, Travel the World Without Worries, helps you easily plan, pack and prepare for a big backpacking trip.