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The 10 Strangest Exotic Fruits Commonly Eaten in China

strange Chinese fruites Fruits

Tasting the exotic fruits of China could be part of your travel adventure in China. Let's take a look at the top 10 weirdest/strangest fruits that you may have never heard of. This way when you come across them, you'll know what they are like and whether you want to give them a try!

Learn why a fruit would be interesting to (Western) foreigners, what it looks like, its description, its health benefits, information about side-effects or what you might need to be careful about, and how to eat them.

1. Durian (榴莲 liúlián)

Weird Durian is covered with sharp spikes and often pre-cut like this in markets.

For Chinese, the big durians covered with sharp spikes are probably the most popular of the exotic tropical fruits. It is called the "King of Fruits." It is so popular, it is among the most expensive of fruits when it is in season.

You can find it in every fruit market in season, and it is so relished, few people can afford to eat it often. It costs about 100 RMB (15 USD) or more a kilo in season and is sold in most fruit stores.

What make is strange is the spiky hard skin, it's huge size, like a small or medium watermelon, and the yellowish or whitish meat. Until you try it, you might think it stinks, but the taste is like an exquisite custard pudding made with almond oil. It is quite nutritious and filling, and if you like it, you'll think it smells good.

  • Pronunciation: /lyoh-lyen/
  • Tastes: banana/almond/onion mixture.
  • How to eat it: In markets, the seller may offer to cut it and/or remove spiky skin. You might scoop out the meat with a spoon. Don't eat the hard seed inside, which is slightly poisonous. It is a popular Chinese dessert.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health benefits: Nutritious, high in calories, minerals, vitamins and especially B vitamins. Potent antioxidants. High in sulphur. This makes it anti-cancer and gets rid of parasites. Reduces high blood pressure and improves sex hormone and serotonin levels. Increases muscle growth and stamina in athletes.

Warnings/side effects: This is a potent medicinal fruit, and your body needs time to adapt before consuming much of it. If you are trying it for the first time, eat just a little, maybe an ounce of it at most and see how your body reacts to it since some people have allergic reactions or other health issues after eating it. It is suggested that pregnant women should not eat it.

In Chinese medicine, it is known as a fruit with lots of Yang, or male energy. If you eat a lot, you'll at least perspire probably. Eating too much may keep you awake or cause your heart to race. People with high blood pressure or diabetes or who are taking medications for these conditions would best avoid it. It is not something you'll probably want to eat everyday.

2. Dragonfruit (火龙果 huǒlóngguǒ)

Dragonfruit The red dragon fruit

Dragon fruit is another strikingly unusual common fruit in China you may have never eaten. The striking purplish-red color of its skin with the projections coming off it may make it seem unpalatable. The skin isn't palatable, but the white or red meat with little black seeds inside is delicious. Unlike durian, dragon fruit doesn't have side effects.

Eating them seems to have the same effect as eating common foods like bananas or pears, but they are good for you and more nutritional.

  • Pronunciation: /hoh-long-gwor/
  • Tastes: bland, like a pear. Chewing on the seeds releases pleasant fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6.
  • How to eat it: When properly ripe, you can peel off the skin in the same way you eat a banana.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health benefits: It is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C. It has polyunsaturated fatty acids like eating fish, and it is high in several B vitamins. It strengthens the immune system, helps people heal faster, and helps heal respiratory problems. Lycopene in it helps prevent cancer.

Warnings/side effects: None. You can eat them as often as you want.

3. Rambutans (红毛丹 hóngmáodān)

Rambutans look strange Rambutans are piled with the other fruit in Chinese markets when it is in season. Dragon fruits are the big red fruits above the big yellow papayas.

Rambutans are the third strangest fruit. They look furry. 红毛丹 means "red haired pellet." They are about the size of ping pong balls or golf balls. People don't eat the skin. They are similar to lychees and longans. The red/green hairs make them look strange.

If you've eaten lychees or longans, these are about the same, except they are less juicy and sometimes more tart. People usually prefer eating lychees over rambutans.

  • Pronunciation: /hong-maoww-dan/
  • Tastes: Pear and lychee mix, or pear and slightly sour white grape mix.
  • How to eat them: Just peel it and eat the insides. A sharp knife helps to cut off the skin. Don't try biting into the skin to avoid getting dust and bugs in your mouth. Their season extends from April to September, so they are available longer than lychees.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: It is high in fiber and lower in calories than lychees. So it is a good substitute for those trying to loose weight, but with about the same health benefits as lychees.

Warnings/side effects: See lychee below.

4. Bayberry (杨梅 yángméi)

BayberryBayberry

These fruits are so different, strangely textured, and brightly red-purple colored, they catch your eye when you see them. Like rambutans, they also look furry. Their color makes them look delicious. And they are a very good health promoting food.

These are often sold in the streets in season. They are not expensive. Give them a try. There are no known adverse health effects. They are about 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter. The fruit’s pulp is similar in color, but may be somewhat lighter. Americans might call it "yumberry."

  • Pronunciation: /yang-may/
  • Tastes: sweet and sour like pomegranate. Texture like a strawberry.

How to eat them: The fruit has a very short shelf life and often attracts insects. Insects hide in the knobbly skin. Soaking the fruit in saltwater can help remove insects before you eat it. Eat the skin. Due to the problem with insects however, you could drink it as a juice or wine. Wash anything sold on the street.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: The fruit is also rich in antioxidants. But the most important substance found so far in the fruit is oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) that is the most powerful class of free-radical-scavenging antioxidants. It protects against stress. OPCs are also believed to prevent cataracts, aging skin, diabetes and arthritis. Improves eyesight.

Warnings/side effects: None.

5. Mangosteens (山竹 shānzhú)

Mangosteens Outside fruit markets are the place to go for mangosteens. It is the purple fruit in the front row.

Mangosteens are not like mangoes at all. Unlike thin-skinned mangoes, they have a thick hard purple skin that must be peeled away revealing white meat and a pit. This fruit isn't generally known in America since foreign imports of this fruit is banned.

  • Pronunciation: /shan-joo/
  • Tastes: strawberry with vanilla.
  • How to eat them: Just peel off the hard rind. It is segmented inside like a tangerine.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: The fruit is also rich in antioxidants, and its been found to lower risk of ailments like cancer and heart disease. Surprisingly, the latest buzz online is that eating the rind is very good because it is full of Xanthones that alleviates pain and inflammation and is a potent antioxidant. People can powder dried rind and then apply water to make a paste and apply it to skin because such pastes have been found to make people look younger.

Warnings/side effects: None.

6. Persimmons (柿子 shìzi)

Perimmons Persimmons are a wonderful delicious fall fruit.

This is a wonderful fruit; perhaps the most delicious of all these when fully ripe and it is bursting with flavor and starts to crack open! It is a fall season fruit, and shouldn't be missed.

They look like orange tomatoes to some extent, but they grow on trees. Southern Chinese call tomatoes "red western persimmons" because of the similarity of the look.

  • Pronunciation: /shrr-dzrr/
  • Tastes: sweet and slightly sour. Hard to describe the taste. Maybe a little like acid-less tangerines.
  • How to eat them: The fruit is slightly bitter and not as sweet when it is not fully ripe. People might eat the skin, but to avoid any pesticides, just peel it and eat the insides.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: The fruit is rich in antioxidants. It neutralizes free radicals that can damage cells and trigger cancer. The presence of vitamin A, as well as shibuol and betulinic acid, enriches its cancer-combating properties. It is high in vitamin A that improves vision.

Warnings/side effects: None.

7. Lychee (荔枝 lìzhi)

LycheeLychee

If you've eaten at Chinese restaurants in the West, you've probably seen peeled and canned lychees that are a common desert. But the fresh ones are better! They are eye-catching in the market with a red skin. It is a common southern Chinese fruit. It is so common, a lot of lychee trees grow in the public parks.

It is an extreme Yang fruit. So Chinese show this by writing the word "li" by writing the character for power 3 times. It is a summer fruit that perishes quickly.

Longans are very similar to lychees and taste about the same, but they come in season right after lychees do. It seems like they are the same fruit with a different skin color and slightly smaller.

  • Pronunciation: /lee-jrr/
  • Tastes: sweet and tangy, like a slightly sour white grape. It is slightly alchoholic especially when very ripe.
  • How to eat them: Just peel it and eat the insides.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: Like most of the other exotic fruits on this list, the high antioxidant content neutralizes free radicals, prevents cancer, is anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure and helps your blood to flow by opening the veins and arteries. It might help to prevent or heal diabetes. High in vitamin C. Eating them gives a boost of energy and helps people feel comfortable in the high heat of summer.

Warnings/side effects: As with other high Yang fruits, don't eat too many at first to avoid perspiring, racing blood, and a droozy feeling. It has a high sugar content. It is suggested that they be given to children sparingly until they adapt to them.

8. Pomelos (柚子 yòuzi)

Pomelos are big, but they don't taste so good.

What makes this citrus fruit surprising is it size. It is much bigger than a grapefruit. This surprising fruit is becoming more common in Western supermarkets, but you may have never eaten one. The size is what makes it intriguing. "Is that a super-big grapefruit?" Unfortunately, the taste doesn't match their size. Much of the size is due to its very thick skin. To Westerners, it doesn't taste very good. It is the least appreciated of all these exotic fruits.

Pomelos are used in cooking when in season in late fall and right before new year. But they are also eaten raw. They are acknowledged to bring good luck to the household, so these are one of the fruits traditionally given as New Year gifts. They also make for Christmas gifts

It is common practice to decorate the home with a 1 or 2 pomelos. This fruit is also symbolic of family unity.

  • Pronunciation: /yoh-dzrr/
  • Tastes: bland and dry. It is like a slightly bitter dry grapefruit that isn't sweet.
  • How to eat them: Just peel it and eat the insides. They are available especially around the beginning of each year and are a Traditional Chinese New Year Food.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: About the same as that of grapefruit and oranges, but with less calories.

Warnings/side effects: Surprisingly, pomelos along oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruit have chemicals called furanocoumarins that make them a risk for people taking cancer, heart, and other medications or for people taking antibiotics.

9. Goji Berries (枸杞子 gǒuqǐzǐ)

goji berriesDried goji berries

Goji berries, also known as Chinese Wolfberries, belong to the same plant family as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and chili peppers and are native to China’s northwestern region. When fresh, they look like cherry tomatoes.

But there are almost never sold fresh. They are dried like raisins. They are sold loose and in small bags in most supermarkets or they are sold in bags in Chinese medicine stores that abound all over China, almost on every block.

It is a comparatively pricey fruit. A handful (100 grams) costs about 1.60 to 2.20 USD.

  • Pronunciation: /go-chee/
  • Tastes: sweet cherry tomato with cherry juice.

How to eat them: If sold in bags, it is generally safe to eat them like raisins. If sold loose, it is safest to rinse and cook these first or use it in teas. You might simply want to try dropping them in your tea, dark or green, for a delicious sweet berry-like flavor. It is often put in congee (rice soup).

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: Chinese brew special medicinal teas from it or prepare medicinal foods. It is thought to alleviate high blood pressure, diabetes, eye problems, fatigue, aging and fever.

Maybe the reason these are potent is because they are so high in antioxidants, vitamins and amino acids: 500 times more vitamin C per ounce than oranges. Goji berries are also high in vitamin A, B1, B2, B6, and E, so they speed healing.

Goji berries and chrysanthemum tea improves eyesight. It is thought to be suited mainly for women as it helps females' reproduction and body functions. In the West, it is used by both sexes to help stay young and healthy and for its antioxidant effects.

Warnings/side effects: This is considered another "hot" fruit with a lot of Yang. At first, try to eat just half a handful and see how you like them. Like durian, too much at first might make you perspire or keep you awake.

Those taking diabetic or blood thinning medications should avoid it as should pregnant women and those who have allergic reactions to bee stings. Too much pesticide and coloring is applied nowadays.

10. Jujube (红枣 hóngzǎo)

Dried jujube

Jujube are a kind of date. But most Westerners maybe are unfamiliar with dates. Fresh ones look like old brown cherry apples, and if you see them, you might think that is what they are and not try them. They are delicious. They taste better than cherry apples.

They are also sold dried and are red and wrinkly as in the picture. They look like dates or prunes when dry.

  • Pronunciation: /hong-dzaoww/
  • Tastes: like a sweet apple with a hint of cinnamon.
  • How to eat them: Just wash and eat the fresh ones like apples. Dried ones should also be washed. Chinese like to use these in soups, teas and sweet drinks. It is a good snack.

Health Benefits and Possible Side Effects / Dangers

Health Benefits: It has 20 times more vitamin C than any citrus fruit. They are high in various minerals. It is also high in amino acids for protein formation and muscle growth. It has anti-cancer properties. Chinese think it moisturizes the body and helps when you have a cold.

Warnings/side effects: None.

A Note on Chinese Fruit Culture

Chinese love fruits. They even have a fruit gift giving and eating tradition, so that, for holidays and occasions such as weddings and the opening of businesses, they give certain kinds of fruits appropriate for each occasion. See more on the Lucky Fruit/Flowers for Chinese New Year

Intrigued? Hungry? Learn More about Our Food Tour Adventures!

Our customers enjoy authentic Chinese food‘Eat slowly’ (慢吃 mànchī /man-chrr/) means "bon appetite!" in China.

To try a fruit adventure, let us know when to book your tour, and we'll help you find the best fruits of China. Are there some specific fruits you want to try from this list? We can customize your itinerary accordingly, just contact us to start planning your trip.

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