Exotic Asian Fruits: 16 Popular Options
A diversity of fruits flourish across the Asian continent, from hairy, tropical rambutans to sweet and silky persimmons.
In Singapore, these “exotic” fruits are comfortingly familiar. Fruit sellers’ baskets are filled to the brim during the durian season, families exchange mandarin oranges during the Lunar New Year, and you can enjoy a refreshing coconut paired with delicious hawker fare.
Let’s round-up some of the most popular fruits in Asia and talk about their myriad unique qualities, and how they are enjoyed, including popular sweet and savory dishes.
Mango is a tropical fruit and it can be both sweet and sour in taste. It’s a versatile ingredient used in desserts and savory dishes across multiple cultures.
Some popular Asian desserts include Thai mango sticky rice and Hong Kong mango pudding. Another is aamras, made from ripe mango pulp flavored with saffron and cardamom. This is a sweet Indian dish, often eaten with a crispy bread known as poori.
Preserved, dried mango is a popular snack in the Philippines. Unripe mango is sour and crunchy, great for savory dishes and condiments such as curries, salads, and chutney. Unripe mango is a popular ingredient in Malaysian cuisine and other South East Asian countries.
Also known as Chinese grapefruit, pomelo is sweet and tangy with a slightly bitter quality.
Pomelo is symbolic in Chinese culture, and often eaten during the mid-autumn moon festival. During the Lunar New Year, it is added to yusheng, a dish that mixes many auspicious ingredients. Pomelo wedges are thrown in while cheering “大吉大利” (dà jí dà lì), wishing people good luck and prosperity.
Pomelo also pairs well with mango. Mango pomelo sago, a contemporary Hong Kong dessert, combines both fruits with sago and coconut milk. The smooth creaminess of the mango with juicy, burst-in-your-mouth pomelo pulp makes for a delicious cold treat.
Although the name yuzu is derived from the Chinese word for pomelo (yòuzi), they are, in fact, different fruits. Yuzu is a fragrant citrus fruit – a blend of sweet, sour, and bitter notes.
When life gives you yuzu, make yuzu-nade. Yuzu is widely popular as a sweet drink flavor. You can even find it in alcoholic drinks such as cocktails, beer, and Korean soju.
Yuzu is a popular tea ingredient in Korea (where it is known as yuja) and Japan. The yuzu pulp, juice, and rind are made into a marmalade, which is then mixed with hot water. This is a comforting and homely drink, especially during the cold winters. Yuzu tea with honey is also known to be an effective flu remedy!
This King of Fruits is a controversial ruler. Durian has a distinctive spiky husk and an equally distinctive, pungent odor. It is more than a little intense, and many find the taste and smell off-putting. Nonetheless, it is well-loved by many across Southeast Asia and it has become a hugely popular fruit in China as well.
Durian comes in a wide variety of textures and tastes. Devoted durian lovers pay a high price for premium types such as D24 and Musang King.
For those who find pure durian too potent, you can always try it as a dessert, such as ice cream, pudding, or mousse. Its natural flavor can be dulled when baked into cakes and cream puffs, making it much sweeter on the palate.
Native to India, the jackfruit somewhat resembles the durian, with a greenish husk and yellow fruit. Though milder and more subtle, jackfruit also has a strong flavor and smell.
Jackfruit is sweet when ripe, with a rather unique taste. People have compared it to bananas, mangoes, and even bubble gum. Try it and see what other interesting flavor notes you can find! The fruit is also popular in snack forms, such as dried jackfruit and jackfruit chips.
6. Star Fruit
Star fruit, also known as carambola, may not quite live up to its name from the outside. However, when cut open, this citrus fruit produces a fascinating star-like shape.
Star fruit is crunchy and juicy, with a sweet, tart quality. Depending on its ripeness, it may also taste sour and bitter. It is commonly eaten raw but can also be used in juices and fruit salads.
The mangosteen is an interesting bundle of contrasts in one tiny fruit. Peeling open its tough, purple shell reveals soft and juicy white flesh. It has also been crowned the Queen of Fruits, though whether it should be eaten with durian is debated.
Mangosteen is fibrous with a sweet and punchy flavor. It can be found in Thai-style clafouti, a baked custard dessert. Though commonly eaten raw, it is also excellent in smoothies, fruit salads, and sorbets.
Persimmons have a juicy and delicate sweetness that’s lovely on its own but also excellent in jams and sauces. Its honey-like flavor goes well in desserts with spices like vanilla and cinnamon.
Indigenous to Indonesia and Malaysia, the name rambutan derives from the Bahasa word rambut, meaning hair. It’s an apt name for this tropical fruit, denoting its red shell covered in soft, hair-like bristles.
Peeling back a rambutan shell will reveal a smooth, translucent white fruit. Rambutans have a sweet, creamy taste and are typically eaten on their own. They are also delicious in drinks and desserts.
Though from the same family as the rambutan, the lychee’s origins can be traced back to South China. Lychees are crisper in texture, with a lighter, floral sweetness that makes them a favorable ingredient in desserts.
A popular dessert is lychees and almond-flavored jello in a sweet, iced syrup. Known as almond jelly, this is a refreshing treat in Southeast Asia’s humid climate. Lychees are also a fantastic ingredient in sweet drinks and tropical cocktails.
The name longan is derived from the Cantonese for dragon eye, referring to its appearance when cut in half: a pale, translucent sphere with a black seed in its center. Longans are well-loved soapberries, like rambutans and lychees, with a mild sweetness and musky flavor.
Longan is often peeled and added raw to healthy desserts and drinks. There’s cheng tng, a sweet soup popular in Singapore, and luo han guo, an herbal monk fruit tea. Longan is rich in antioxidants and is said to have many health benefits.
12. Java Apple
An apple a day…
Well, this isn’t really an apple. Still, aside from java apples, they are also known as wax apples, rose apples, water apples… you get the idea. Each name aptly describes the fruit, which has a waxy, pink skin and a high water content.
The java apple is juicy and crunchy, with a bland sweetness. It’s often either eaten raw or cooked into sauces.
Coconuts have become synonymous with tropical getaways. But aside from that vacation feeling, coconut water is a refreshing and cooling drink for hot, sunny days.
Young coconuts have a higher water content and are often selected for their sweet, refreshing juice. On the other hand, more mature coconuts have more flesh. After sipping on the juice, you can scrape the inside of the husk to get the sweet coconut meat.
Coconut-based desserts are widespread across many cultures. There’s Thai kanom tuay, Indian nariyal burfi, Peranakan nyonya kueh, and many more. Coconut milk is also essential in various Southeast and South Asian cuisines. Its thick, creamy consistency is perfect for desserts or savory dishes like curries.
14. Attap Chee
Admittedly, this isn’t a fruit – at least, not quite yet. Attap chee, or palm seeds, are the immature fruits of the Nipah palm. They have a mild sweetness but are mostly loved for their chewy, gelatinous texture.
Attap chee is found in several Malaysian and Singaporean desserts, such as ice kachang and chendol. It’s also a classic flavor sold by street ice cream vendors. You can still find these traditional ice cream carts on the modern-day city streets!
15. Dragon Fruit
Originating from Central America, dragon fruit is now widely cultivated in Southeast Asia. The most common variety has a distinctive, deep pink skin and a grayish-white interior speckled with seeds.
Dragon fruit has a soft texture similar to a kiwi. It has a subtle and understated sweetness – some even say it’s flavorless. But dragon fruit is a juicy and refreshing treat that goes great in smoothies and with other fruits.
Though not native to Asia, guavas are a favorite here, particularly those of the white variety. Unlike their pink cousins, white guavas are more sour and have a crisper texture like a pear.
Guava is a popular snack at Taiwanese night markets, sliced and coated with a sweet and sour plum powder. When unripe, its crunchy texture is great in salads. It’s a common ingredient in rojak, a spicy and savory salad dish popular in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are many other varieties in Asia. Sweet, sour, or savory, Asia offers a plethora of flavors that reflect its rich diversity. From the weird to the wonderful and everything in between, there is plenty to taste and experience on this expansive continent.