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Rare Gems: Unusual Chinese fruits

Summer in China brings an incredible abundance of jewel-coloured fruits, both familiar and unfamiliar. The fruit shop shelves, recovering from the barren winter months are now bowing under the weight of golden mangoes, amethyst grapes and ruby-blush nectarines. The sweet scent of bunches of lychees hanging from the awning mingles with the sweeter bananas and the sweetest of all, the last of the strawberries.

Yesterday I found myself with an armful of new fruits to try, just to discover the flavours and learn a bit more about them. As you can see, I had a lovely time photographing then tasting them. Several are not native to China but come from neighbouring countries, and are readily available here. Let me know which ones you’ve tried and what you thought!

Lotus seeds – Liánzǐ 莲子

I never tire of the beauty of a lotus – the broad, circular emerald coloured leaves, the fuschia blooms, the nodding capsules holding the seeds. 

Lotus seeds, liánzǐ 莲子, can be eaten fresh or dried. It’s not a fruit, I know, but a seed, but they were sitting at the front of the fruitshop looking so interesting I had to buy them.
Fresh lotus is generally only available close to the area of production in mid-summer, and are sold as an entire pod as shown here. By breaking open the lotus, the seeds can be easily removed and eaten fresh after removing the green skin. 

Dried lotus seeds are sold all over China for use in cooking (soups, deserts, stirfries) or medicinal purposes. A sweet paste made from dried lotus seeds is popular in Chinese sweets. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, lotus seeds ‘dispel heat’ and are considered restorative.
Wax Apples – Lián Wù 莲雾 

Intrigued by the glowing pink lantern shapes of these lián wù 莲雾 (wax apples), I bought a small box. The lady in my fruitshop told me they would be fantastic for my skin, and I guess a fruit with as little flavour as this needs something else going for it. Inside the pink skin is a crisp white flesh, crunchy and a little sour. 

Native to the Philippines, Malaysia and Samoa, they are prized more for their appearance than their taste. Beautiful aren’t they?
Dragonfruit – Huǒ lóng guǒ 火龍果

How odd and frankly poisonous looking dragonfruit are! Deep pink knobbled skins tinged with green spikes open to a pale and almost translucent flesh pipped with tiny black seeds. There’s almost no smell, and very little taste – a touch of sweetness. But the texture! Cool, yielding, with seeds like tiny tapioca pearls on the tongue. 

In Chinese, dragonfruit are known as huǒ lóng guǒ 火龍果 – ‘fire dragon fruit’ or lóng zhū guǒ 火龙果– ‘dragon pearl fruit’. Native not to China (despite the name) but to South America, they are members of the cactus family.

Although the taste is subtle, I love the colour contrast of the black and white fruit against more colourful companions on a fruit plate.


Yang mei 杨梅

Yángméi, has the shortest season of any fruit I know – about three weeks is all the time you’ve got to sink your teeth into these dark red plum-sized berries, and have the garnet juice run down your chin. I like them a little under-ripe, with a tart mulberry taste and slightly acidic juice. 

Also known as waxberries, bayberries and yumberries, they are delicious straight off the tree, but I’ve discovered they assume a jammy stickiness when stewed that goes well with icecream. In southern China, the native yang mei are distilled into a light pink wine, with a deadly kick!


Mangosteen – Shān zhú guǒ 山竹果

The purple mangosteen- shān zhú guǒ 山竹果. I’ve left the best, my favourite, ’til very last. I anticipate the mangosteen’s arrival every summer, watching the fruitshops for the first appearance amongst the lychees and mangoes, then I greedily eat them until my fingers are stained dark red from the skin’s crimson juice. Later, as August ends, I lament their brief season and their passing until next year.

The hard, dark husk, not all that inviting and quite difficult to get a purchase on (feel for a soft spot in the hard skin and push through with your thumb) gives way to a soft, fleshy white fruit, the taste all pineapple and strawberries with a hint of custard apple. If you’ve never tried one, go! Try! Fall in love!