A stay in Sri Lanka wouldn't be complete without tasting all the exotic fruits available here. Some of them are very rare and dazzle the taste buds with unexpected flavours that are hard to put into words. Here’s a look at 5 Sri Lankan fruits begging to be tried.
1) Mangus (mangosteen)
Sure, fruits come in all shapes, colours and sizes – but have you ever seen a purple fruit? Well, how about the purple mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana). This tropical fruit comes from Indonesia and mostly grows in Southeast Asia. The tree is 6 to 25 m tall; the fruits reach the size of a tangerine or orange. Interestingly, the purple shell (sometimes with a reddish tinge, sometimes decidedly blue or almost black) is very thick. You usually don’t cut a mangosteen open, but apply pressure with your hands. If you squeeze it, the shell will break open to reveal its purplish inner skin and the actual edible fruit. Inside, there is a tight cluster of white fleshy fruit vesicles surrounding almond-shaped grey-brown seeds. You bite/suck the juicy, sweet and tangy, somewhat fibrous, fluid-filled vesicles and spit out the seed. The taste can’t really be compared with any other fruits. When you eat ripe mangosteens, beware of the shell’s juices as they leave stains on your fingers and clothes that are hard to wash out.
Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) originates from the Indonesian and Malaysian region and is native to Southeast Asia. The evergreen tree can reach heights of 12 to 20 m. There are different kinds of rambutan, some with a sweeter taste and some more sour. The fruits are roundish single-seeded berries, 3 to 6 cm long and 3 to 4 cm broad. They grow in loose pendant clusters of 10 to 20 together. The leathery skin of the rambutan fruit has a red colour with orange or yellow undertones. The redder the fruit’s skin, the riper it is. It is covered with fleshy, pliable spines that look like funny hairs and aren’t particularly prickly. You peel or carefully cut the thin skin open to reveal the small olive-like ball inside. The fruit flesh is translucent whitish, with a sweet, mildly acidic to sour taste that sometimes reminds tourists of grapes or lychees. It surrounds a small greyish, inedible seed. Rambutan isn’t always in season in Sri Lanka – but you’ll know when it is, for the street stalls are usually overflowing with them during those times of the year. If you travel from Colombo to Kandy or vice versa, the road is lined with stalls selling ripe rambutan.
The jambu fruit – also called jambul or jamun in other countries – is native to the Indian subcontinent. Jambus (Syzygium cumini) are also grown in some Caribbean countries now (because they were introduced to the USA). Interestingly, jambu trees can live up to 100 years and reach growth heights of up to 20 m. They aren’t only grown for their delicious fruits but also because of their dense foliage and ornamental value. Many a Sri Lankan garden has a jambu tree for shade with a swing fixed to a branch or a bench beneath it. Jambu wood is water resistant, and its leaves can be used to feed livestock. The trees develop small flowers and then fruits that resemble large, oddly shaped berries. The jambu fruit is oblong or ovoid with a broader middle and bottom, and green in its unripe stage. As it ripens, the colour changes from whitish to pink, then to shining crimson red. The fruit has a very thin, edible skin with whitish flesh inside that reminds tourists of apples or pears. The taste is a combination of sweet, mildly sour and astringent flavours, though some fruits are rather watery and bland. Jambus tend to colour the tongue purple.
4) Annoda (soursop)
Soursop (Annona muricata) is the fruit of a broad-leafed, flowering, evergreen tree. Sri Lankans call it annoda or katu annoda (due to its thorn-like protrusions). The fruits are light to dark green with a somewhat mango-shaped appearance and a prickly skin that can be peeled back with a knife to reveal the whitish flesh with its almond-shaped black seeds. The fruits are ovoid and can be up to 30 cm long. Their flesh – pulp with some fibre, tightly packed together in clusters – is juicy, acidic and aromatic, sometimes reminiscent of plain yogurt. The flavour of annoda can be described as a combination of pineapple and strawberry and with sour citrus undertone which contrasts with the fruit’s creamy texture (slightly like a coconut or banana). The pulp is used to make smoothies, fruit juice as well as candies, sorbets and ice cream. Soursop is sometimes called graviola and promoted as an alternative cancer treatment. There is, however, no medical evidence that it is effective.
5) Divul (wood apple)
This tree (Limonia acidissima) is native to the Indian subcontinent but also grows elsewhere. It is sometimes called elephant apple instead of wood apple – for a good reason: Elephants will swallow the fruits whole and digest them over the course of days before the empty, hard yet porous and still intact shell leaves their bodies during defecation. Wood apple can reach a height of up to 9 m and has a rough, spiny bark. The fruit is technically a large berry with a diameter of 5 to 9 cm. Its flavour toes the line between sweet and sour with a woodsy to earthy undertone. Truth be told, wood apple is an acquired taste – but it’s hardly ever consumed like a normal fruit anyway. Instead, the fruits are used to make a fruit juice with astringent properties as well as pickles and jams. Its leaves are thought to have medicinal properties. The wood apple – called divul in Sri Lanka – has a very hard, brownish, white-spotted rind that can be difficult to crack open. Some people throw the fruits on the floor, others crack the shell open to free the sticky brown pulp and small white seeds.