Mexican fruit can be really tasty, and if you’re going to go fruit hunting, the Yucatan peninsula is a pretty good place to start. While staying in the area I hit up the local fruit shops and markets, and in this article and video I tell you about the six fruits that impressed me the most.
Star Apple (Caimito)
There’s no delicate way to put this: star apples taste like sex.
I don’t know if it’s the subtle-but-appealing flavor, the consistency, or the fact that they ooze milky juices, but there’s something unmistakably risque about the whole eating experience. I’m also inexplicably attracted to foods that are blue and purple, so they get points there too.
Star apples are also called caimitos, and spread to Mexico from the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. I’ve had four or five cultivars over the years, and I’d rate the Mexican fruit as mid-range. I found my favorite type when I was in Cambodia: the unbelievably milky “Lò Rèn.”
A good mamey has the consistency of mousse, and its smooth flesh should be a dark orange or red. It’s incredibly sweet and tasty, calorically dense, and the prefect food for fueling up after a hard workout.
Mamey originated in Central America and was a favorite of the Mayans on the Yucatan peninsula, where I’ve been eating it this winter. Although it can grow throughout the tropics, it’s not very common to find it for sale in tropical Asia, so Mexico is actually the ideal place to hunt for it.
From my experience in Central America, there must be a least a half dozen banana cultivars the locals refer to as manazano or manzanito bananas, but they’re rarely the ones I love. Back around 2008 I made friends with a produce wholesaler when I was living in Connecticut, and he’d order me boxes of manzanos. Those bad boys were labeled, “Product Of Costa Rica,” and I was pretty obsessed with them.
They were short but plump, with a creamy texture and a flavor that hinted of apples. They blew out of the water the Cavendish cultivar of bananas you find almost everywhere.
But I left Connecticut in 2010, and didn’t find them in my travels for a a few years. In 2014 I spent a few months in Costa Rica, and gleefully looked forward to a reunion. But the bananas the fruit sellers identified as manzano or manzanitos were never the fruit I’d had in the US (and were frankly really disappointing).
Luckily, this year I found them in the Yucatan, and have been really enjoying them. Most of Mexican fruit are not quite as tasty or as plump as the ones I’d get in Connecticut, but still pretty good. When they’re ideally ripe the skin should be very thin and mostly black.
Imagine eating something that calls to mind Juicy Fruit bubble gum – jackfruit. It’s huge (the biggest can reach over 100 lbs), and the edible portion is wrapped up in a thick green-and-bown rind you need to cut away with some serious effort.
Inside you’ll find varying degrees of gooey latex that will stick to your knife, fingers, and lips. If you’re smart you’ll let it get very ripe to minimize the latex issue. As it gets very ripe it will start to exude a musky, sweet odor some find cloying, but which I find appealing.
But if you’ve picked a good one and let it ripen enough, you’ll probably find jackfruit well worth the trouble.
Jackfruit aren’t a very common find in Mexico, but you do run across them in some shops, and I got some good ones in Playa del Carmen. All the ones I found were on the smaller side in comparison to the huge ones I’ve had in Asia.
Sapodilla tastes like butter and brown sugar mixed together, which really should be enough of an incentive for you to hunt it down. The texture is a bit grainy and super sweet, so if you close your eyes you could trick yourself into believing you were munching on brown sugar mixed into some kind of mush (but in a good way).
It’s related to mamey, but unlike mamey it can now be found for sale in most tropical parts of the world, including Asia. Many of the asian varieties are small, but the Mexican ones tend to be on the larger size (almost as big as a small mamey.)
However, I was surprised to find that the Mexican sapodilla I got was better than any I’d had before.
Ataulfo Mango (Champagne)
Mangoes are among the tastiest fruits on earth. A good ataulfo is sweet, creamy, and overflowing with juice. Many people make the mistake of eating them when they’re not yet a deep golden color, or before the skin has started to wrinkle, but if you’re patient and wait for them to hit their stride and soften up, they’ll blow you away.
The Ataulfo variety originated in Mexico, and the ones you find here in peak Mango season (March to May) are better than most of the imported ones I’ve had in the US. They’re primarily grown in the state of Chiapas to the west of the Yucatan, but plenty of good ones show up all over the country.