A Taste of the Tropics

From Passion Fruit to Papayas

by Kirsten Harrington

Florida’s tropical fruits are full of flavor and health benefits.

From Florida’s northern coast to the Keys, this state is prime real estate for tropical fruit, many of which even grow in Greater Orlando. High in fiber and dense in vitamins and minerals, these delicious beauties are a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth, cool off and spark up your diet for summer.

Check farmers markets and Asian and Latin stores for guavas, papayas, mangoes, carambola, passion fruit, lychees and longans. Many of these can also be found at your favorite grocery stores. Here’s just a taste of what you’ll find coming into season.

“Guavas come in all different sizes and colors,” said Josh Taylor of Do Good Farm in Winter Garden. “They are kind of unique and tropical, and they are super delicious.”

Along with papayas, mangoes, star fruit and a host of tropical plants, Taylor grows four different varieties of guavas, which all have different flavor profiles.

“The skin is edible and so are the seeds,” said Taylor, who enjoys guavas straight off the tree, or they can be added to smoothies or salads.

Mangoes are one of the world’s most popular fruits, hailing from India more than 4,000 years ago. With many varieties, shapes and sizes, mangoes can be added to savory salsas, cooked into chutneys or whirled into smoothies and ice cream.

“You really should be buying them local for best flavor,” said Jim Ford of Grower Jim’s Plants and Produce in Apopka.

“They should be a little soft and smell like a mango,” said Ford, who sells tropical fruit at area farmers markets. “And don’t worry about a few brown spots on the skin — that means they are fully ripe.”
Carambola, also known as star fruit, have a waxy-green exterior that turns a deep-golden color when ripe.

“Some people like to eat them like an apple,” Ford said. “The whole fruit is

Star fruit comes into season in this area at the end of summer and into the fall. Slices of the beautiful sweet-tart fruit can be added to green salads and beverages or used as a garnish for grilled meat. Star fruit consumed before bedtime also might help you sleep soundly because of the fruit’s high magnesium content.

Passion fruit is a hearty, fast-growing vine that produces egg-sized fruit (yellow or purple) with a jellylike orange interior. Cut it in half and scoop out the interior, which is filled with edible seeds. Named by Spanish missionaries who thought the fruit’s brilliant purple color reminded them of the passion of Christ, passion fruit can be added to fruit salads and sauces for desserts, or sweetened and used in juices or over shaved ice.

Papaya is a slimming, cholesterol-free way to satisfy your sweet tooth, with just 39 calories per 100 grams. Offering one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C of any fruit, it is recognized for its disease-fighting properties. When ripe, it has a delicious, deep-orange flesh, but can also be enjoyed green (unripe) in soups, stir-fries and curries. Scoop out a halved papaya and fill with chicken salad or baby shrimp, enjoy fresh papaya chunks seasoned with a squeeze of lemon, or use pureed papaya in marinades to tenderize meat and impart a tropical flavor.

Longans are eyeball-shaped fleshy fruits that taste a little bit like grapes but sweeter. Also known as dragon’s eye, the best way to eat these edible orbs is to squeeze them slightly until they pop out of their thin beige skin. Lychees, native to China where they were revered by royalty, are similar, except with a bumpy red exterior. They have long been favored for their purported health benefits, including relieving coughs, fighting cancer and beautifying the skin.

Mango Key Lime Freezer Jam

1 2/3 cups mashed mango pulp
(about 3 small mangoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons Key lime juice
(fresh or bottled)
2/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons Ball instant pectin

Stir mango pulp and lime juice together in large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix sugar and pectin. Add sugar mixture to mangoes and stir thoroughly for three minutes. Ladle into clean glass jars or plastic containers. Refrigerate for one to two weeks or freeze for up to one year. Makes two 8-ounce jars.

Guava Cake

2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup guava pulp
1/2 cup guava nectar
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 13-by-9-inch pan. Sift together flour, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves. In another bowl, mix together guava pulp and juice. In a third bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour mixture and guava mixture alternately to creamed mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

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