September 23, 2009
By Kasi Sundaresan, Ph.D., Contributing Editor
Tropical fruits have been eaten by humans for centuries, and certain fruits are in high demand all over the world. Tropical fruits originated in tropical and subtropical climates. In the tropics, the weather is warm year-round, humid, and with heavy annual rainfall. Like most fruits and vegetables, tropical fruit provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and other substances that are important for good health. Research has been conclusive that healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, the USDA recommends 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Given the choice between Brussels sprouts or mango and pineapple, most people will hardly blink before choosing the tropical fruits.
Tropical fruits, such as coconut, mango, papaya, banana, pineapple, guava and passion fruit, add color and variety to the diet. In fact, the bananamost notably the Cavendish cultivaris one of the best-selling tropical fruits around the world, thanks to its ease of growing, harvest and transport. Some other tropical fruits, like açaí and pomegranate, are gaining immense popularity due to the healthy compounds present in them.
Other tropical fruit cultivars are more obscure. While they may be popular in specific regions of the world, they are not familiar to people outside of these areas, and some of them are definitely an acquired taste. Some more-obscure examples of tropical fruit include goji, soursop, lychee, acerola, sapote, jackfruit, custard apple and mangosteen.
Advances in refrigeration have established cold chains for postharvest and handling operations. Thus, today we are able to enjoy myriad exotic tropical fruits while dining miles away from their place of origin. Processing technologies like aseptic processing, high-pressure processing and pulsed electric field technology, as well as advances in packaging technologies, help a variety of tropical fruits keep for extended periods throughout the year. Many tropical fruits previously considered exotic and expensive are now commonly consumed as fresh produce, or used as ingredients in juice blends, snacks, baby foods and many other processed foods.
Novel and exotic tropical fruits draw consumers looking for something different. And when a food possesses a positive nutritional profile and a good-for-you image, the product-development possibilities grow. The beverage categorynotably fruit smoothies, bubble teas, juices and nectarspresents numerous opportunities for use of tropical fruits. They can also be used in products like sorbet and ice cream, jams and jellies, chutney, breads and muffins, soups and marinades, pancakes and waffles, and fruit leathers.
These and many other fruit applications are becoming increasingly popular, and blending two or more fruits helps utilize the functionality of each. Formulators must consider the fruits acidity and sweetness (the acid-to-sweetness ratio), as well as natural flavor, when working with fruits. Optimal blending depends upon a number of physicochemical parameters, like the natural Brix (a measure of sugar content, which relates the specific gravity of a solution to an equivalent concentration of pure sucrose), titratable acidity, and Brix-to-acid ratio. Brix is usually combined with acid content to develop a sugar-to-acid or Brix-to-acid ratio. This can predict the tartness of the fruit, with a higher ratio indicating a sweeter fruit. These are vital elements affecting the performance of fruit in formulations.
A sweet fruit, like mango, with a high Brix-to-acid ratio, can be combined with a fruit with a low Brix-to-acid ratio, like camu-camu, to get a refreshing fruit juice. In this beverage, the aromatic, peach-like notes of mango complement the fresh, refreshing, citrusy notes of camu-camua fruit that has one of the highest concentrations of bioavailable vitamin C of any food. Passion fruit mixed with lychee and guava provides a perfect blend as a beverage. Passion fruit provides the drink with invigorating, lemony, tart notes, and guava gives the drink its uniquely aromatic, sweet, tropical flavor notes, which is accentuated with lychees mild, delicate flavor.
Tropical fruits have had a special place in various ethnic cuisines all over the world. Salsa no longer simply comprises the original recipe of chopped tomatoes, onions and chiles, but is often made with fruits like pineapple or mango. Fruit-based salsas are tart, cool and refreshing. Guava cheese (a dessert made with guava and sugar) is one of the popular sweets of the Caribbean, and guava jelly and mango jelly are almost universally marketed. Guava is used in fruit punch and ice-cream sodas in Hawaii. Also on Hawaii, tropical fruits like papaya, green mango, pomelo, lychee and pineapple are used in desserts and beverages, or appear in cooked foods and condiments to provide sweetness and tartness. Tamarind, a popular ingredient in Mexico, has versatile applications, like iced tea made with water, tamarind and sugar in combination with lime or lemon juice. Dried, green mango (amchur) provides tangy, sweet notes to Indian curries. Shredded green papaya adds a crunch to Thai salads. Puréed papaya and guava are regularly used in Caribbean hot sauces. Cooked passion fruit is an important part of Indonesian dishes.
Tropical fruit blends have emerged in products currently on the market. Smoothies are a particularly popular medium for use of exotic fruits with combinations like mango and passion fruit; açaí and pomegranate; and banana, pineapple and strawberry. An açaí, mangosteen, coconut water smoothie is a thirst-quenching option during the summer. Nectars with common combinations, like papaya, pineapple and passion fruit, and guava and lychee, are exotic, flavorful options. Passion fruit juice is refreshing when blended with mango, papaya and guava, and helps bring out the flavor of these juices. A piña colada mix of pineapple and coconut, with or without alcohol, is another successful commercial product that showcases the popularity of tropical fruits.
Adding tropical fruit to muffins, breads, pancakes and waffles lends distinctive color, flavor and texture. Fruit purée adds fiber, as well as moisture, to breads and muffins. Banana and passion fruit would work well together in a bread mix. Soluble fiber in fruit purées can reduce the need for fat, and purées help tenderize baked goods to a limited extent. Naturally occurring sugars also hold moisture in baked goods and promote browning. Fresh fruit tidbits or individually quick-frozen (IQF) fruit pieces like mango, pineapple, papaya and banana add intense flavor and colorful appeal when added to pancakes and waffles.
Fruit purées are natural additions to ice cream. Papaya and guava work well together. However, since fresh papaya contains the enzyme papain, it should be blended in after the ice cream is frozen. If added directly to the ice-cream mix before freezing, the papain will destabilize the ice creams structure and it will not set properly. An ice cream made with pineapple, coconut cream and banana is reminiscent of a fruit cup; again, add uncooked pineapple after the ice cream is frozen, as the enzyme bromelain will destabilize the milk protein. Other ice cream favorites are mango and passion fruit, and coconut cream and mango.
Sorbet and fruit go hand-in-hand, and are typically made with fruit juice or purée. Tropical options here include camu-camu and mango, banana and pineapple, mango and coconut cream, passion fruit and banana, and pineapple and coconut cream. In these formulations, the coconut cream is used at a very low percentage. It imparts flavor and does not affect the consistency.
Another food that, by definition, contains fruit is chutney. Mango chutney and tamarind chutney are very popular in Indian cuisine. Combine pineapple, papaya and mango with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, vinegar and honey to get a delicious tropical fruit chutney. Ginger complements tropical fruits like mango, accentuating their flavors, while cinnamon intensifies the sweet notes. Combining mango and tamarind in a chutney, with tangy notes from tamarind and the sweetness of the mango, is a perfect example of how two fruits can complement each other to create a perfect blend.
Marinades are an excellent way to combine different flavor nuances and create entirely novel taste bouquets. A wide variety of sauces and marinades can be created with tropical fruits, including savory tamarind-pineapple marinade and papaya-pineapple marinade. These can be used for all kinds of meat. The papaya-pineapple marinade can act as a natural tenderizer to the meat dishes.
Fruit soups are still considered rather exotic, often served chilled as part of a main course during warm weather, or warm or chilled as elegant desserts. Theyre made with fruit purée, blended with yogurt, cream, milk or wine. Two or three fruits can be combined to create uniquely flavored and colored soups. Fruits that work exceptionally well in such soups include coconut, guava, mango, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate and tamarind. Different spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves accentuate the soups flavor. A cold soup with guava and lychee is a wonderful comfort food, or consider a fruit soup with mango, pineapple, coconut cream and a touch of lemon and ginger.
In the United States, various types of fruit leather are a popular, healthy kids snack. Mango leather is a favorite in India. Blending coconut cream with pineapple and papaya creates an exciting fruit snack with great mouthfeel. Mango also combines with other fruits, like lychee or passion fruit, to create delicious leathers.
Tropical fruits are highly versatile and taste delicious in both sweet and savory dishes. Changing American tastes are following ethnic food trends. The hunger for new and interesting foods has helped more tropical fruits find their way into mainstream American diets.
Kasi Sundaresan has a Ph.D. in food science from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. She has participated in numerous internships at both U.S. and Indian food companies, and has experience in beverage processing and baked goods. She currently works at iTi tropicals Inc. in Lawrenceville, NJ, as scientific and quality specialist. She is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists, the Juice Products Association, the Technical Committee for Juice and Juice Products and the Research Chefs Association.
A Tropical and Exotic Fruit Primer
Açaí (Euterpe oleracea). Açaí fruit is small, round and blackish-purple, resembling a grape. It has a rich, berry-cocoa flavor. Açaí juice and purées can be used in juice smoothies, energy drinks, ice creams and sorbets.
Camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia). The camu-camu bush produces an orange-colored fruit about the size of a lemon. The fruits yellow pulp is soft and juicy when ripe and both sweet and acidic. It can be used in functional foods and beverages, sports drinks, natural juices, yogurts, desserts and cereal bars.
Goji (Lycium barbarum). Goji berries have a mild, sweet flavor between that of a cherry and a cranberry, and are used in fruit shakes, beverages, smoothies and muesli.
Guava (Psidium guajava). Guava pulp may be sweet or sour, off-white to deep pink, and has a distinctive aroma and flavor. Guava is used extensively in candies, preserves, jellies, jams, marmalades and juices. Pink guava can be used as the base for savory products, such as sauces, acting as a substitute for tomatoes.
Lychee (Litchi chinensis). Lychee is considered the rose of the fruit world with its pearly flesh, tropical-floral aroma and delicate flavor. It can be used in various food applications, such as jellies, jams, marmalades or sauces.
Mango (Mangifera spp.). The mango is a peach-like, juicy fruit with a pleasant flavor; its high in sugars and acid. In India, mango is regarded as the king of fruits, and goes into a wide range of food applications, like fruit juices, smoothies, ice cream, sorbet, jellies and preserves.
Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana). Mangosteen tastes a bit like a cross between an orange and a peach, and is fairly mildknown as one of the tastiest fruits in the world. It is gaining popularity as a delicacy and can be used in salads, sorbets and smoothies.
Papaya (Carica papaya). The papaya has black seeds and the fruit is yellow or red, depending on the variety. Ripe papaya is juicy, sweet and somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor, and goes into products like jellies and jams. Unripe papaya is used in curries, salads and stews.
Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis). Passion fruit is composed of juice and pulp-filled pockets, as well as hundreds of small, black seeds. The distinctive flavor is alluring, robust and very similar to tart guava. The fruit pulp has an intense, aromatic flavor and accents beverages and sauces. Its aromatic properties make it popular in gourmet cooking.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum). The pomegranate fruit is known for its unusual interior flesh that contains many small, edible seeds, with a semi-sweet pulp surrounding each seed. Pomegranate juice can be very sweet or sour and is used in various applications, most-notably beverages.
Soursop (Annona muricata). Soursop consists of an edible white pulp and a core of indigestible black seeds. The flesh is custard-like, sweet, juicy, tart and fragrant. Its used in making jam, ice cream, fruit drinks and nectars. The sweet pulp can also be used to make candies, sorbets and ice-cream flavorings.
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