Monday, May 7, 2012

A Little Lesson In: Bahian Fruits

So I mentioned in my post about Salvador that one thing that unbelievable about the region is the amazing fruit that they have, not just in deliciousness but in variety. I could never imagine that there could exist so many different kinds of fruit in one place, and apparently even people that live there their entire lives have not tasted them all. I went on a mission to taste as many as I could, and while I could never get my hands on all of them I do think I made a good dent. I wanted to give you a post on what I learned, and I'll list them in order from worst to best.

Before I offend any Brazilians here's a little disclaimer first: Many of these fruits are generally North East Brazilian fruits and not only found in Bahia, and some of them are found in the rest of Brazil, so this is not to give all the awesome fruit credit to Bahia alone.

15. Jenipapo

This was one of the first fruits I tasted, although by far the one I liked the least. It is a soft brown fruit the size of a very large fist, but soft almost like a foam ball. It is often used in the production of liquor, but you can also either make juice from the internal flesh around the seeds or eat the outer mesoderm the way it is.

It tasted like ass. Raw spongy mushroom ass. I definitely would not recommend it, and from here we move on.

14. Cacau

When I first saw this in the supermarket I thought how interesting, and like an idiot I didn't realize I was holding a cocoa pod, despite the fact I knew what they look like. I just never thought they were sold like that in the supermarket. It turns out, however, that once you manage to cut through the incredibly tough pod, it is very common to make a juice out of the white fleshy bit that covers the cocoa seeds. After that you can sit and painstakingly peel each seed, which initially are purple and taste horrible. Give them a couple of days in the sun however and they turn black and voila! Your very own pure cocoa. 

My assessment: the juice is alright, but it doesn't really taste of much. As for the seeds, if you're the kind of organic chocolate person who likes it nice and dark you'll love throwing a couple of these seeds into your milkshake or ice cream. I, on the other hand like mine nice and milky, so it wasn't really for me.

13. Mamao

Mamao, a.k.a. papaya is one of the few tropical fruits that is (relatively) easy to find in Europe, and yet I had never tasted it before going to Brazil. It is not that I was never interested, but I knew that I don't know how to choose a good one, and that if the mangoes you get over here are any indication it is very easy to get one that sucks. For this reason, having heard such good things about it and not wanting to ruin the experience I waited, and finally in Brazil I had my chance. 

Honestly I was expecting much more. It's not that it tastes bad, it's acutally quite good, it's just that it's not much. My mother would call it a "delicate" flavor. I call it nothing to get excited over, more something that fills you than something that I would ever seek out.

  12. Graviola

This little guy looks like a pear from the outside, but it turns out it's that elusive "guava" that I've heard referenced so many times but never actually seen.

As I've hinted at before, many of these fruits are used to make juices, basically by blending them with some mineral water. As is the case with this one often the juice then has to be filtered as well, as the seeds are quite hard. The juice is OK, also not out of this world but not bad either, but it really goes well when combined with others. They also make a strange dark red jam out of it which is very sweet, and more commonly you'll see a stiff slice-able variety. If you're the sweet jelly flavor type this one is definitely for you.

11. Caju'

This has to be the most interesting looking fruit so far, like a bean squashed into a very small apple. The bean-shaped part actually holds a nut that is very popular in Brazil, almost like the peanut in the US, but the fruit is also commonly eaten and used in juices. It is a little spongy, and by itself I think it tastes a little funky, but it goes very well when you're making a mixed juice, somehow lending its flavor to complement others.

10. Carambola

  This fruit is often used in salads and fish dishes because of the fact that it has a tangy not-too-sweet flavor. However if you allow it to ripen enough it is can be very good to eat alone, the only flavor I could ever come close to comparing it too being a nashi pear (although more in texture than aything else). It's crunchy and it's refreshing, but at the same time not sour, which for me is a big plus.

9. Caja'

Looking at them you'd think they're kumquats, but in taste they're actually the farthest thing from them. They have a very little meat to them and a very tough interior, but the little flesh they do have is bursting with flavor. They are a little on the sour side so I wouldn't eat them just the way they are (unless, unlike me you're one of those sour freaks), but I can attest to the fact that they are wonderful in a caipirinha. Caja', sugar and cachaca makes one awesome cocktail that I definitely recommend.

8. Acerola

 These little fruits are full to bursting with vitamin C, and every bit as sour as they look and then some. I don't think that even a sour fanatic can eat them by themselves as is, although they rank this high on the list because of the amazing flavor they pack in that tiny package. In fact my favorite juice mix that I invented while I was there was caju', graviola and acerola. Graviola for the sweet, caju' to mellow it out, and acerola to pack the flavor punch that strawberries can only dream of.

7. Umbu

This little green fruit, on the other hand, is not as sour as it looks. I only tried it in it's juice form, but it had a very interesting flavor. It just tasted green, if that makes any sense at all. OK, maybe it doesn't, but I can't think of any other way to describe it. I suppose it was closest to the carambola in it's tangy freshness, although I enjoyed more as much as I was intrigued by it.

6. Maracuja

Although passion fruit is another one of those tropical fruits that are found in Europe I had always seen what I later found out to be the African kind: tiny little green/purple balls that lay on the palm of your hand. Imagine my surprise then when I go to open up one of these very large yellow wrinkly things only to find the exact same passion fruit interior. 

Unfortunately not being a sour kind of person it was impossible to eat with a spoon no matter how much sugar I added, but it does make a mean juice when combined with mango as well as a fantastic cocktail.

5. Cupuacu

This is another incredibly strange looking fruit that tastes much, much better than it looks. I only had the opportunity of tasting it in ice cream form, but I definitely was not disappointed. It makes a slightly green ice cream, also quite tangy, with an almost chewy texture that I had never come across in a fruit ice cream before.

4. Mango

OK, so I already knew that mango was one of my favorite fruits, but this trip to Brazil only reconfirmed it for me. The mangoes in Brazil are unlike any mango I have ever tasted, they have many kinds and they really did blow my mind. Always sweet soft and full of amazing flavor, they were a regular feature for breakfast for me.

3. Jaca

This is probably the ugliest fruit when seen hanging from a tree (or worse split open on the side of the road) and it was almost impossible for me to imagine what it must look like inside. However once it is cleaned and packaged you see this huge bumpy woody thing contains these little yellow pods, stiff and juicy, and absolutely fabulous. It is the sweetest fruit I've ever tasted, with a flavor that was completely unexpected and not like anything I can describe. It is a little on the heavy side, and I couldn't really eat to much of it in one sitting, but that's not for lack of trying.

2. & 1. Pinha and Acai

 The next two just have to share a top spot because it would be impossible for me to have to choose between them. This one is a pinha, a strange pine cone-shaped fruit that when frozen and blended makes one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted in my entire life. Granted I was getting it from a place that made it particularly well, blending it with a little condensed milk making it a creamy, heavenly sensation.

The second is this little fruit that may look like a blueberry at first, but the flavor is the farthest thing from it. This is acai, probably one of the most iron-filled foods there is. It is shipped frozen then broken and blended, usually with a banana for creaminess (although not being a fan of banana myself I think it tastes much better with strawberry or cupuacu). It is more refreshing and less heavy than the pinha cream, and has such a particular taste that I still dream about and miss desperately. In two weeks that we were there we only went two days without eating these two, and now we are trying to find a place in Italy that might make it as well. 

I find it to be quite an experience to have so many new things to try in such a short time, and finding so many that are completely new flavors. Imagine someone never having tasted a strawberry before, or a peach, and asking you well what does it taste like? What is it similar too? Well nothing, it tastes like a strawberry! You have to try one and see for yourself. That was what it was like for almost all of these fruits, and it's exciting to me that when I go back there will be just as many more new ones to try. One thing is for sure though, when I go back the first thing I'm eating is another acai, cause I just can't stop thinking about it.

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