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One of the things I love about travelling is eating foreign food. And there is nothing more fascinating than the amount of fruit and vegetables that exist in the world and that I have never heard of.
Peru is no exception when it comes to exotic fruits. On markets, I found huge piles of produce that I couldn’t name and that I didn’t even know how to eat. Peruvian fruit is as diverse as the country itself. If you are wondering about which fruit to eat and how to prepare it, don’t worry. I have put together this guide so you can identify the 15 most common fruits and know what to do with them.
If you are lucky, you have seen chirimoya at home. I know this fruit is sold in some supermarkets in Spain, so you can get it outside South America. Personally, I had never heard of it before. It comes from the tropical regions of Peru and is also known as the custard apple.
Mark Twain called chirimoya “the most delicious fruit known to man”. I am not sure if I agree with him (I really do love strawberries and granadillas), but it is delicious. The best way to enjoy it is to put it into the fridge for a while, then cut it in half and eat it with a spoon. Be careful with the seeds, they are poisonous if crushed open.
Out of all the fruits in Peru, this one might be my favourite. I first tried it in the Amazon, but you can get it all over the country. Granadillas are related to passionfruit and have not only a similar taste but also a similar flesh.
To eat them, you need to make a hole into the outer shell. You will then find a second skin on the inside. Puncture this one as well and suck out the seeds. It feels a bit weird at first but is easy once you get the hang of it and incredibly delicious.
#3 Cacao fruit
No, I am not talking about regular cacao or chocolate. I absolutely love chocolate, in all of its forms, and I highly recommend you try some in Peru. Go to the chocolate museum in Lima, let them explain the process of making cacao and then sample as much chocolate as they will give to you.
But what I really mean when talking about the cacao fruit is the white flesh that covers cacao beans when they are inside the large pod. You need to be on a cacao plantation to eat this, or at least in a garden or farm that has a handful of cacao trees, and your best chance of finding one is in the Amazon region. Take out one of the seeds, put it into your mouth and suck off the white flesh. It is deliciously sweet.
Just make sure not to bite the cacao bean. Open it with your teeth if you are curious (the inside of unroasted beans is purple) but be aware that it is going to taste very bitter.
You cannot leave Peru without trying Lucuma. Lucuma trees grow in the Andean valleys and their fruit is popular all over Peru. Just don’t expect to see it at markets. Its texture is so dry that it is rarely eaten raw. Instead, it is Peru’s most popular and iconic ice cream flavour.
The taste of lucuma is not very strong (or maybe the ice cream I tried did not have much of the fruit in it), but it adds a nice sweetness and a very unique flavour.
If you go on to Chile, try to find one of the lucuma desserts that they serve in this country, with lucuma sauce or dulce de leche mixed with the fruit.
#5 Tree tomato
If anyone in Peru offers you a tomato juice, a jugo de tomate, chances are very high that it is made with tree tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes. They share the name and the orange-red colour but that is where all similarities end. Tree tomatoes are a delicious fruit that can be turned into a sweet and fruity juice.
It is hard to describe the taste, so your best bet is to go and try it yourself. Also, tree tomatoes have a strange taste and a lot of bitterness when eaten raw. If you see some at the market, buy them, but turn them into a juice instead of eating them as a snack.
The first time I tried this fruit was in Iquitos, in the Amazon, but I know from other bloggers that you can also find it at markets in Lima. It is green on the outside and orange on the inside and its most remarkable feature is its texture. Have you ever had mango fibres stuck in between your teeth? This fruit is full of fibres and you will spend a long time afterwards removing them (I recommend flossing).
But even though it is hard to eat, it is delicious enough that it is worth the effort. Cut the fruit into quarters, as you would with an apple, and eat the flesh. Don’t bite on the large brown seed, just spit it out when you find it.
I have a confession to make. Even though I have been travelling in Latin America for more than half a year, I have never actually tried guanabana raw – despite it being such a common fruit all over South and Central America. But I have eaten guanabana yoghurt and absolutely loved it.
In fact, most of the times you see guanabana, it is prepared as a smoothie or drink. It has a sweet flavour that I saw described as a mixture of pineapple, strawberry and citrus fruits, but I will leave it up to you to decide what you can taste in this unique flavour.
#8 Camu Camu
Camu camu are yellow-red berries the size of a cherry. They grow on bushes and small trees in the Amazon region and are popular because of their health effects. Not only are they rich in antioxidants, but they are also full of vitamin C. A single one of those berries contains as much vitamin C as a whole orange, making it the fruit with the highest content of vitamin C in the world.
Be careful when eating camu camu as of all the fruit in Peru that I tried, this is the most sour one.
Aguaje is red on the outside and yellow on the inside. It grows on palm trees in the Amazon region (you may have noticed that a lot of fruit in Peru comes from there). You have to peel it before eating it. The yellow flesh is very firm and covers a large seed.
I liked aguaje, even though it was not very sweet and did not have a very strong taste. Besides eating it raw, you can also have it as a flavour in desserts or ice cream.
Pitahaya is a yellow dragon fruit that can be found all over Peru as well as in many other countries in South America. It grows on a cactus. When you cut it open, you will find a white flesh with tiny black seeds, making it look a bit like stracciatella ice cream.
The flesh is sweet with a mild taste of kiwi. While it does not have a strong taste, it is refreshingly delicious. Just be careful if you are allergic to kiwis, as you might find yourself reacting to this fruit as well.
Maracuya is the Spanish word for passion fruit and is one of the most common fruits all over Peru. We came past maracuya plantations in the most unlikely places, like the strip of desert along the Pacific coast. Don’t ask me how they irrigate these plants, but they somehow manage and the result is this delicious fruit.
Maracuyas in Peru are usually large and green and do not look at all like the small, purple ones I was used to at home. To eat them, you need to cut them in half with a knife and then scoop up the seeds with a spoon. Depending on the fruit, they can be more or less sour, and they are also a popular ingredient in juices and smoothies.
#12 Pepino dulce
Most fruit in Peru comes from the Amazon. Pepino dulce, however, is home to the Andean region. It is related to melons, but usually has the size of an apple. Its outsides look light yellow with purple stripes and its skin is so thin that you can eat it.
Pepino dulce is a very watery and juicy fruit, so it is perfect as a refreshment on hot days.
Out of all the fruit you can find in the Amazon, Noni is probably the weirdest. It has a strange look and smells like a very strong cheese that you forgot at the back of your fridge for several weeks.
Noni can taste very bitter and between the awful smell and the weird taste, I could not find a reason to eat it regularly. It is supposed to have lots of health benefits, but if you want to profit from them, look for it as a supplement in juices and smoothies rather than eating it raw.
Before I researched this blog post, I did not know that aguaymanto was considered an exotic South American fruit. I had seen it in supermarkets all over Germany and did not even realise it came from Peru, despite it being called “Andean berry” in German.
Aguaymantos are orange, about the size of a small cherry and come covered in a light brown leaf that is shaped like a lantern. They are deliciously sweet and sour at the same time and, just like pitahaya, loosely related to kiwis.
Would you like to know more about what to eat in Peru? Check out my ultimate guide to Peruvian food and my guide to desserts in Peru. Or take a look at more food around the world. Also, if you have tried any of these fruits, I am curious. Please leave me a comment and tell me which one is your favourite.
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