A Taste Of The Fresh And Exotic Flavors In The Mayan Riviera

Juanita Rodriguez Juanita Rodriguez 06-15-2016

Fortunately,  I have been blessed with a talent or two, unfortunately a green thumb is not one of my gifts!  In lieu of this, a tall graviola tree in my front yard continues to grow and produce succulent soursop fruit (guanabana in Spanish) year after year. I am relieved that the tree seems to be aware of my gardening limitations. Despite all of them, we have managed to come to a mutual respect and understanding.

Thankfully, the only task required of me (no watering or pruning necessary) is to reap the harvest and enjoy the sweet flavor and health benefits of this cancer-preventing, vitamin-rich super fruit. Blending it with cold water and a natural sweetener (I use stevia), is one of my favorite ways to consume the creamy pulp.

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Living in Playa del Carmen, I have had the opportunity to taste the bountiful offerings of exotic fruits and vegetables, many of which I had never heard of before.  Since the climate is typically a hot and humid one, it breeds a tendency to reach for the fruit bowl often, in an effort to quench one’s thirst.

Not too many foods disappear from a plate faster than watermelon on a hot summer day.  But if you have the good fortune to spend some time in this heavenly, tropical region, here is a list of rare fruits grown in the area, worth allowing your taste buds the chance to explore.

  • Mamey

    mamey

    This medium-sized brown fruit has a rough exterior and is in the shape of a small football.  The deep salmon-colored pulp has a very distinctive, intoxicating flavor, one that is difficult to describe.  To choose a ripe mamey, it should be firm without blemishes and will give slightly when squeezed lightly in the palm of your hand.

    Including mamey in your daily diet has been shown to alleviate symptoms of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, as well as prevent skin cancer, cataracts and osteoporosis.  Rich in vitamin C, B, A, magnesium, riboflavin, and fiber, mamey makes a colorful addition to a fruit salad.  To serve as a beverage, blend cubed mamey with low-fat milk, a pinch of cinnamon, vanilla and ice.

  • Carambola or Star Fruit

    Carambola or Star Fruit

    These oblong shaped fruit have five angled edges and a waxy peel.  A good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C, star fruits are packed with antioxidants and aid in preventing respiratory infections and constipation.  They are also natural cough suppressors and are excellent detoxifiers which can help to relieve headaches, hangovers insomnia.

    When selecting a ripe starfruit, look for one that is yellow and light green in color.  To consume, slice off the tips of the five ridges, cut the two ends and remove the seeds. Star fruits are sweet with a slight tartness and are similar to an apple, with its juicy, crunchy flesh.

  • Pitaya or Dragon Fruit

    Pitaya or Dragon Fruit

    Perhaps one of the most interesting and beautiful of all fruits, pitayas are vibrant fuchsia-red color.  Its thin rind envelopes a soft white pulp with tiny, black seeds.  This bright fruit is considered a cactus plant, hence the prickly «leaves,» but has a similar taste and texture to a kiwi.  Since dragon fruit are packed in antioxidants, consuming them regularly can help to detoxify the body, boost the immune system and delay the aging of skin cells.  Other vitamins and minerals found in this nutrient-dense fruit include phosphorus, calcium, fiber, Vitamins C, B¹,B², and B³.

    At the market, look for a bright, even-colored surface and similar to a kiwi, the skin of the dragon fruit should give slightly when gently squeezed.  To prepare one to eat, cut it in half, and either scoop the white flesh with a spoon or peel the rind and cut the flesh in cubes.  Dragon fruits have a mild flavor and look stunning as part of a fruit salad.

  • Papaya

    Papayas

    This once exotic fruit has become a common site in supermarkets in North of the border.  If you have never tried it, the multitude of health benefits might tempt you to place one in your shopping cart next time you are shopping for groceries. Papayas are rich in antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes, vitamin C, potassium, flavonoids, and magnesium.  Due to their high fiber content, papayas aid in digestion and help prevent colon cancer.   Consuming the butter-like, salmon-colored flesh on a regular basis can promote cardiovascular health, decrease inflammation, support the immune system and lower the risk risk of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

    The first time I tried this pungent fruit was years ago on my honeymoon and I recall telling my husband that I thought the melon had gone bad!  After a few more samplings, I became a huge fan and today, it is a staple on my grocery list. To prepare papaya for consumption, cut it in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Peel the skin with a knife, slice and enjoy.

    In our family we often blend papayas in smoothies with mango, milk and cinnamon or we eat it cubed with coconut yogurt or cottage cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  It is so sweet we consider it a dessert! To add a tropical flair to your next meal, try a grilled filet of white fish such as halibut topped with a papaya, mango, cilantro, lime, and jalapeño salsa.

  • Guayaba or Guava

    Guayaba or Guava

    These firm, yellow golf ball sized fruits have a strong, floral aroma and are vitamin C powerhouses. Compared to oranges they have more than three times the vitamin C and a lower sugar content.  The consumption of guavas can promote thyroid and brain health, prevent constipation and some forms of cancer, and boost the immune system.  Since these small but mighty fruit are high in Vitamin A, they also help to maintain vision health.

    Guavas are a very delicate fruit and when ripe, bruise easily.  When selecting a guava, choose one that is firm and bright yellow or slightly green and turning yellow.  Wash thoroughly and cut the tips off before eating.  The skin and seeds are edible, but if you are blending it to make a juice, add a little natural sweetener and strain the seeds for a smoother beverage. Guavas are also served as glazes for chicken or used in jellies.

Fruit Assortment

Although grocery stores do not yet provide nearly the interesting variety of [manufactured] products that we are accustomed to back home in Canada and the United States, Playa del Carmen does have an abundance of markets bursting with scrumptious fruit selections. Not only will this myriad of colorful produce make a striking centerpiece on your table, but by opting to include these super fruits in your daily diet, you choose enhanced health and vitality!