Unlike other foods, fruit is meant to be eaten: the plant’s survival relies on the fruit being eaten so the seeds can be consumed and dispersed. Thus, many plants have evolved to bear luscious, colorful fruits which capture our attention even from great distances. Fruits have also evolved to contain vast amounts of nutrients which we animals need for survival. This is all part of the wonderful symbiotic relationship that we have with plants: they provide nutrition for us and we help disperse their seeds.
All fruits are remarkable feats of nature in their own right, but there are some fruits which have developed into exceptional oddities. Here are some of the strangest edible fruits you will find in nature:
Table of Contents
1. Monster Fruit
Formally called Monstera delicious, this member of the philodendron family goes by many names including the “Swiss cheese fruit” and “Mexican breadfruit.” The fruit is native to Central America and takes about a year to ripen inside of a beautiful white flower. Until it ripens, the monster fruit contains high amounts of a toxin called oxalic acid which can cause swelling, blistering, and even death. You will know that the fruit is safe to eat when the hexagonal outer scales begin to fall off revealing a sweet, custard-like fruit which gets eaten inch-by-inch.
2. Miracle Fruit
This West African fruit is an amazing feat of evolution. It contains a molecule called miraculin which makes it – and everything else – taste sweet. The effects of the miracle fruit last for about 30-90 minutes. Try eating something savory afterwards and it will take your taste buds for a loop!
Mangosteen contains a recalcitrant seed, meaning its seeds won’t survive cold temperature or drying. Thus, the hard shell of the mangosteen protects the fruit until it is ready for germination. Up until 2007, importing mangosteens was banned in the US out of fear that invasive insects would ride in on the fruit. Now, the fruits are available in specialty stores – so long as you are willing to pay the high price tag.
4. Buddha’s Hand
In a world in which nature tends to show itself in patterns and symmetry, the crazy-looking Buddha’s Hand certainly stands out! The plant, thought to be a native of India or China, gets its name because it was regularly given as an offering to Buddha at temples. The fruit can be used for its rind (similar to lemon) but is mostly used for decoration.
5. Horned Melon
The horned melon, also called the African horned cucumber and kiwano, is an ancestor to the modern-day melons we eat. The fruit is green until it ripens. Then it turns a gorgeous bright yellow color as a calling for us animals to eat it.
Cupuacu is a relative to chocolate and grows in the Amazon. Monkeys and birds love the sweet fruit inside, so the plant has developed a hard outer shell to protect its seed pods until they are ready for germination. When the fruit is ripe, the pods drop to the ground where animals – including people – can gather them and enjoy the delicacy.
When unripe, the pitaya fruit – or dragon fruit – is the same green color as the cactus it grows on. As it ripens, it turns a magnificent pink color which is sure to get the attention of hungry animals in the area. Pitaya taste wonderfully sweet and are loaded with the cancer-fighting antioxidant phytoalbumin. However, the real reason that these fruits are so popular is because of their gorgeous appearance.
The fruit of the mamey tree is another example of a biological anachronism: the giant sloths which used to eat the fruit are now extinct and there are now no animals which can swallow its giant seeds. Mamey has an amazing taste and succulent fleh so we humans have helped keep the species from extinction through cultivation.
This wine-borne fruit which is native to northern Japan looks like a bit like a big plum. When you open it up though, it contains a strange translucent flesh similar in texture to lychee. Akebia fruit isn’t very sweet, so it probably had to evolve into its purple color in order to attract animals to eat it.
If you are a plant that needs to protect your immature seeds, then becoming poisonous is one very effective way of doing so. This is exactly what the Ackee plant did. The unripe fruit contains toxins which can cause hypoglycemia in humans. Once the seeds are mature though, the fruit opens up and can be safely eaten. However, the seeds are always toxic to humans, and thus the plant is treated more like a vegetable than a fruit. Ackee is originally from West Africa but made its way over to the Jamaica (likely on slave ships) and is now the country’s national fruit. It is also considered one of the deadliest foods in the world.
The reason that durian is so strange is because it is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. However, the jackfruit is better known for its foul stench of decay. This stench is actually what attracts animals – but many of these animals won’t be able to penetrate the hard outer skin of the jackfruit to get to the sweet flesh inside. Even the seeds of the jackfruit are too large to pass through the digestive tracts of most mammals: the giant mammals which originally ate the jackfruit are now extinct.
Giant Fruits and their Odd Existence
Because of genetic engineering and selective breeding, fruits in the supermarket are becoming a heck of a lot bigger than they used to be. Not all giant fruits are the result of human intervention though. Here are some of the largest fruits in the world — and also an explanation of why it is so weird that they are so big.
*Note: A fruit technically is the seed-bearing part of a plant. So, while most of us now know that a tomato is a fruit, so are other foods with seeds like cucumbers and squash. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from getting labeled as vegetables!
The Jackfruit is the largest tree-born fruit in the world. This plant, which likely originates from India, can weigh up to 80 lbs! The exterior of this giant fruit doesn’t look too appealing (and the ripe fruit also smells funky) but, if you cut into it, you will find succulent yellow flesh that is begging to be eaten.
When still unripe, jackfruit has a texture which is very similar to chicken. Since it isn’t sweet when unripe, jackfruit can make a great meat substitute for vegetarians. Check out this awesome recipes for jackfruit mock pork wraps! For info on how to handle jackfruit, check out this great visual guide here.
The pomelo is the largest fruit of the citrus family. It often gets inaccurately called a “giant grapefruit”, which is an affront to the fruit considering the fact that grapefruits are actually a hybrid of the pomelo and orange! Tangelos are also made as a hybrid of pomelos, but with tangerines. Like other fruits in the citrus family, pomelo will give you a blast of vitamin C and antioxidants.
Watermelon is one of the biggest fruits in the world. There are over 1200 varieties of this massive fruit, some of which can easily grow to over 150 pounds. The world record for the largest watermelon currently stands at 291 pounds and was grown in Sevier County (the birthplace of Dolly Parton).
But Why Do Giant Fruits Exist?
If you think back to your botany class, you know that fruit is tasty and attractive so animals will eat it, swallow its seeds, and then eventually “disperse” the seeds elsewhere.
But what the heck could swallow the seeds of an avocado, mango, or some of those other gigantic fruits?
Most of the animals which used to chow down on giant fruits are no longer around. For example, scientists know that giant sloths in South America used to eat mangos. The giant sloths became extinct, but the plants “have been slow to catch on” in evolutionary terms. The plants didn’t have any reason to adapt though since humans are doing such a good job of keeping the species abundant through agriculture (no seed dispersal necessary!).
You can read a cool article about this and “the riddle of rotting fruit” here at the AmericanForests.org. If you are really interested on the subject, then you can read this 300 page investigation called The Ghosts of Evolution which is a surprisingly great read.
Monstera deliciosa Attribution License
Monstera deliciosa by Cris Pearson Attribution License
mr. and the jackfruit Attribution-ShareAlike License
Cupaucu Fruit Opened up Attribution-ShareAlike License
Dragon Fruit by Adrian Salgado Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License
Mamey Sapote ‘Pantin’ 011 by I LikE Plants Attribution-NonCommercial License
buddha hand by caseylivescute Attribution License
Ackees Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License
Baby Jackfruit by Mike Fernwood Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License
The Pomelo Lady by Akuppa John WighamAttribution-NonCommercial License
This is what a 250 lb. Watermelon Looks Like by Memphis CVB