11 July 2012

Kumquats and pluots and pomegranates, oh my!

Fruit is Mother Nature’s gift to us. I love fruit and don’t like to go a day without it. When I do, I can I feel more sluggish and my food doesn’t sit in my stomach as well. Fruit is not only nutritious, but it’s delicious. This is due to the natural sugars found in each bite, which makes it the perfect dessert. I could devour an entire bowl of fruit salad and would not feel nearly as sick as if I devoured a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (not that I would eat ice cream anyway).

In addition to sugar, fruit contains many antioxidants, which help your body fight off the free radicals created during rigorous activity and exercise. A diet rich in antioxidants is also an important tool in keeping your body free from infections and diseases. The immune system thrives on all those fruits and veggies, so an apple a day really does keep the doctor away. But bananas, strawberries and peaches will do the trick too. Fruit, just like any other food, can get boring. But never fear. Lucky for us, fruit comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and flavors.

Below you will find a guide with a few of the lesser known fruits available and what they are all about. Once you’re done reading the list, you can go find them at your local grocery store. However, it’s best to eat produce that’s in season for your region, so go with what’s available first.

 Kumquat: This citrus fruit is originally from south Asia, but is now grown in the United States in places like Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and California. It tends to flourish in warmer regions where temperatures range from 77 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but it can survive in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Its fruit is not as sweet as an orange, but the peel is where most of the sugar is stored. Most people either eat the entire fruit, or just the rind. Kumquats are generally used in marmalades, jellies and preserves. As is common in the citrus family, kumquats provide ample amounts of Vitamin C, in addition to potassium, calcium and a little bit of copper. The rind provides a phytochemical called limonoid, which has antioxidant powers. So the next time you’re in Florida, celebrate the powers of this awesome super fruit at the Kumquat Festival in Dade City. It’s one festival your immune system will award you for attending.

Pluot My roommate recently introduced me to pluots, which are a later generation cross between a plum and an apricot. The first string of combinations between the two is called plumcots and apriplums, but this later version more closely resembles a plum. The difference between a pluot and a regular plum is the taste. Pluots are much sweeter than a normal plum. As my friend described it, there are times when you get plums that are sour and times where you get plums that are sweet. If you want a guaranteed sweet plum, go for a pluot. The pluot is grown in parts of Washington and California and thrives in a mild climate. Growing season is generally from May to September. The pluot has a low energy density, which means it contains a small amount of calories for its volume. While there are no nutrition facts available for the pluot, plums and apricots together provide Vitamin A, C, calcium and iron. With the pluot, you get the best of both fruit worlds.

Papaya While most of us already know what a papaya is, how much do you actually know about it? For instance, did you know they are a great source of Vitamin C (even more than oranges), Vitamin A and essential B-complex vitamins, including Folic acid, Vitamin B6, riboflavin and thiamin? They are also a great source of potassium and calcium. So the next time your non-vegan friends ask you where you get calcium, just hand them a papaya (it’s way more delicious than any dairy product). In traditional medicine, the seeds are used to treat stomach aches and ringworm infections. Papayas are mainly grown in Hawaii and Mexico from June to September. I rediscovered papaya on a plane home from California last summer. I bought a package of dried papaya as a snack and immediately fell in love with it. It tastes great in trail mix, salad and cereal.

Mango Again, this may not be an interesting fruit to everyone, but I know more people who are afraid to try mango than I should. I am here to put your fears aside and show you how friendly mango can be to your body. While the exterior is slightly intimidating, it is easy to peel once you get the hang of it. My favorite way to cut mango is by cutting long chunks from the side and then creating lines one way and then the other with my knife so the mango looks like a checkerboard. Then use your knife to scrape the cubes off the skin. Voila! You have little bite-size pieces perfect for salad, fruit salad or just plain snacking. With over 20 different vitamins packed into one mango, it’s no wonder the mango is considered a superfruit. One cup of mangoes weighs in at just 100 calories and one serving of mango still manages to provide you with 100 percent of your daily Vitamin C and 35 percent of your daily Vitamin A. It is also 12 percent of your daily fiber, which keeps things moving down below. Most mangoes are grown out of the country in tropical climates, but there is limited production in the U.S. in Florida, California, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Because most of America’s mangoes come from different countries, the seasons overlap and they are available all year round. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the mango-growing states, however, I would urge you to go local for your delicious superfruit.

Pomegranate This is another fruit many are afraid to approach, which is understandable. It is hard to understand why you would eat a fruit just for the seeds. But as soon as you do, you understand why people go through the trouble of pulling the seeds out (a process made easier by soaking the fruit in water or freezing it). I love crunching on pomegranate seeds. Think of it as a healthy substitution to crunching on chips. Among some of the uses in the ancient medicine of India, the pomegranate’s mother country, were fixing up nose bleeds, toning skin and firming up sagging breasts (who knew?) Pomegranate juice is high in three different types of polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants. I like to enjoy my POM juice with orange juice and water. Adding a little water to your juice cuts down on the sugar. In California, pomegranate season is from October through January, which makes it a great fruit to have in the cold winter months.

Samantha Wood | @bostonu14 | Blog
Boston, MA Samantha is a journalism student at Boston University who hopes to pursue a career in the health magazine field. She is interested in both nutrition and cooking, especially vegan cooking. She became a vegan while in college and has remained that way ever since. She created a blog to document her efforts and it has become a collection of vegan recipes, restaurants and nutrition information. Samantha hopes to develop her photography skills as well so she can take appetizing photos of all her recipes. She loves chocolate (the vegan kind of course) and dogs, as well as California, where she hopes to live someday.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/clayirving