Field of Science

Exotic plant food bucket list

The Telegraph has a list of 100 exotic plant foods to try before you die (which hopefully is listed in order of reverse toxicity!).  Of course they got help from an economic botanist at Kew Gardens.  TPP had a look down the list and could tick off 39 personally tried, although some, like rambutan or durian, hardly seem exotic, or else someone has become just a bit jaded, but these and others are as common as dirt in SE Asian.  And of course TPP has items on his list that Kew doesn't list, but mostly they are edible wild plants like Diploglottis (soapberry family), which has a tart golden aril, and the Atherton almond (Athertonia, Protea family), which has an nice edible seed a bit like macadamia to which it is related. The latter is really exotic because it only grows on the Atherton tablelands in far northern Queensland.  Have a look at the Telegraph list and see how you do. 
If TPP were to pick one off the list for you to try, it would be mangosteen. 
It doesn't look like much but inside the tennis ball sized fruit the almost foamy white tissue dissolves into an explosion of tasty tart juice. Part of the fun is when you are presented with a fruit and you don't know how to eat it, so you must explore a bit with your trusty Swiss army knife.  TPP should mention that hotels do not appreciate botanical work in their lobbies.  Scheesh!  Some of the tropical fruits like black sapote make pretty good ice cream if you have enough imagination to try making it. 
TPP mentions toxicity above because of an interaction with one of the fruits on this list: longan.  There are three species: lychee, rambutan, and longan, and the first two are quite good especially when fresh.  Longan is not as common and it was described as having a "hot" quality, which did not jive with the mildly grape-like flesh of the other two species.  In a market in Thailand, TPP tried longan, and it was not spicy at all, although a bit stronger in after taste than its relatives.  Nothing hot at all, puzzling, but not for long.  About 20 minutes later, TPP felt flushed, had a bit of sweat on my brow, and had an increased heart rate!  Oh, yes, hot as in the "this is toxic" sense.  Longan are large grape-sized and TPP advises not eating many until you determine it doesn't affect you negatively. 
  Naturally my list is pretty long because as a tropical botanist who has knocked around quite a bit, my opportunities have been greater than most, but you have to be actively curious, like poking around markets, and be a bit adventure-some food-wise.  And this leads to the next blog about durian.

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