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Take It In: Fruit beauty only skin deep

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

There are a number of lesser-known fruits that taste better than they look. Case in point are the spike-studded kiwano melon, Medusa-looking rambutan and claw-like Buddha’s hand citrus. While these might look like aliens from another planet rather than hometown favorites from the Garden of Eden, it’s literally what’s inside that counts. This holds true not only for taste, but for the tempting booty of health-promoting, disease-preventing nutrients inside.

Kiwano melon: Also called an African horned melon owing to its native origin and appearance, this fruit is brilliant orange on the outside when ripe with a kiwi-looking green flesh that tastes like a cross between a melon and cucumber. One average-sized fruit provides 100 calories and is a potent source of antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins A, C and E, that can help prevent macular degeneration, keep  Alzheimer’s at bay and keep skin from aging. To eat, cut the melon in half lengthwise. Spoon the flesh into a bowl. Discard the seeds or eat them. Add the flesh to cocktails, fruit salads, chilled soups, dressings, smoothies and salsas. Use the hollowed-out rind as a unique serving utensil for salads and desserts.

Rambutan: Hairy is a great way to describe this pingpong ball-sized fruit covered with a mass of unruly spines. In fact, its name comes from the word ‘rambut,’ which in the Malay-Indonesian languages of its Southeast Asian homeland means ‘hair.’ Inside, the white flesh that surrounds a central seed tastes akin to a cross between lychees and grapes. This is definitely a suck and spit fruit. That is, suck off the flesh and spit out the bitter seed. The flesh in a 100-gram serving, which equals three to four fruit, contains about 60 calories. Vitamin C and copper are two key nutrients in rambutan. This serving size provides about two-thirds of an adult’s daily requirement for Vitamin C, a nutrient that can keep the immune system strong. Cooper is a micronutrient needed in very small amounts. A three- to four-fruit serving offers one-tenth of the daily needs. Both copper and vitamin C help boost dietary iron absorption to prevent anemia. Rambutan flesh tastes good in everything from cocktails (think rambutan mojito) and desserts to curries.

Buddha’s hand: More ornamental than meaty, this variety of citrus hails originally from India or China, depending on which  food historian you believe. It’s now available in the U.S. from September to February. The fragrance, along with the eye-catching finger-like features, makes it a popular centerpiece during the winter holidays.

Because the Buddha’s hand has little juice and a tart-sweet taste, it’s not something to eat out of hand like other citrus. Rather, it’s most often used in small amounts for its intense flavor. A single tablespoon serving has only three calories. It’s the plant-based nutrients, or phytonutrients, in this fruit that offer health benefits. For example, research shows that the coumarin, diosmin and limonin in Buddha’s hand offers a strong anti-inflammatory ability that can help heal everything from surgical wounds to bruises. Use it as you would lemon zest in pasta, salad dressings, baked goods, desserts and cocktails. Or shave thin slices over fish. It also makes a great candied citrus peel.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

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