The scenery of Hawaii is exotic- wet rainforests, vibrant flowers, warm turquoise ocean and soft white sand. From nene geese and coqui frogs to hibiscus and heliconia, Hawaii has some incredibly diverse organisms that thrive in its environment. Nothing makes for a more flourishing climate than lots of sun and lots of water, and Hawaii has both in abundance.
Something else to note about these islands is wherever you find tropical climates you will find exotic fruits, and Hawaii is chock-full. There’s no better way to enjoy your island vacation than with fresh fruit. Slice it up with breakfast, add it to your cocktail, enjoy it as an afternoon snack or indulge in it as a decadent dessert, tropical fruits definitely help give off that luxurious vibe that is characteristic to the islands.
Here are a handful of Hawaii’s exotic fruits that top my ‘personal favorites’ list. While some may sound familiar, a few may sound so unique and new that you’ll think I made them up. Read on for quick facts, details and the best way to indulge in these sweet, juicy and utterly tropical delights.
- This colorful cactus blossom is gaining notoriety by becoming the new superfruit for smoothies and granola bowls. Otherwise known as dragon fruit, Pitaya is marked differently from other dragon fruit varieties by its florescent coloring. From the outside, pitaya is reddish pink, with its outer leaves coming into a green point at the top. Slice into it though and
Pitaya is best eaten as a blended fruit like in a smoothie, sorbet or pitaya bowl. Sweet, refreshing and lacking any lip puckering acidity, pitaya tastes like a cross between kiwi and pear. It’s rich in antioxidants, especially phytoalbumin (which is said to ward off the formation of cancer-causing free radicals), and is believed to help diabetes by regulating blood sugar. Pitaya is rich in vitamin C, fiber, calcium and various antioxidants and can also help in lowering cholesterol. So next time you see signs for ‘pitaya bowls’ be sure to pull over and give this intriguingly colorful and healthy fruit a try.
- Rambutan & Lychee
- Coming from the Malaysian word ‘rambut’ meaning ‘hairy,’ rambutan is the furry cousin of lychee. Haven’t heard of lychee? Ooh you’re in for a treat if you’re vacationing to Hawaii during the summertime. Rambutan and lychee are closely related to one another- they grow and ripen on trees, are roughly the same size and shape and are both peeled from their outer layer to reveal a grape-like fruit with a seed in the middle.
Sugary, sweet and juicy, rambutan and lychee are red fruits (on the outside, white on the inside) that symbolize summer to many Hawaii locals. My favorite way to eat them is to chill them in a refrigerator or ice cooler and then eat them straight out of the shell while sitting at the beach. Rambutan’s skin is thicker and harder to get into than Lychee though, so I recommend a knife for easier eating. Lychee’s skin is thin and easy to tear with your nails or teeth.
Rambutan is a fruit used for traditional medicinal purposes in Malaysia and Indonesia, and is high in vitamin C, as is lychee. Like pitaya, rambutan and lychee also protect the body from free radicals and also help in the absorption of minerals, iron and copper. Rambutan is also known to boost energy from its high carbohydrate and protein content, plus it prevents bloating and dehydration. These fruits are often sold at roadside fruit stands, farmers markets and local grocery stores in the summer months and are definitely worth a try!
- Mountain Apple
- Also known as ohi‘a ‘ai, mountain apples grow on big trees in Hawaii and are shaped like pears, but their color is very different. Varying from deep red to pink to white, mountain apples have a unique flavor- light and crisp like the scent of roses. The trees grow in tropical forests and low-lying valleys on the windward (northern and eastern) sides of Hawaii’s islands and the fruit can be easily picked (if you can reach them!). Just be careful of damaging the skin, as it is paper-thin and can nick easily, which then makes the fruit brown quicker.
Thriving in humid climates, mountain apples season is summertime and if you find a ripe tree you won’t be short of fruit- the branches are laden with apples! Brought to Hawaii from the original Polynesian voyagers, the mountain apple was nourishing for the people, but the tree’s wood was also useful as well. The bark of the tree was used for medicinal purposes while the hearty trunk was used for building things. Hawaiian people also made a dye from the ohi‘a ‘ai fruit to embellish their tapa bark cloth.
Most people eat mountain apples straight from the tree, after washing it off first. I’ve also heard of people canning them or pickling them and also turning the over-ripened fruit into a sweet wine or sauce. Rarer to find in grocery stores than lychee, rambutan or pitaya, mountain apple can be found in the wild during a hike or can be purchased at roadside fruit stops or honor stands.
- Star Fruit
- This juicy tropical fruit gets its name from its shape. But you won’t really notice it until you slice into it. Star fruit’s skin is yellow with tints of green and a little brown when it’s ripe and ready to eat. The best way to indulge in this fruit is to slice it like you would a cucumber, about a half-inch thick. Once you cut the fruit up, notice the shape and then you’ll have your ‘aha!’ moment regarding its name.
Packed with fiber, antioxidants, flavonoids and vitamin C, star fruit grows during winter months and can be found at grocery stores, markets and fruit stands. People have many different opinions for what star fruit tastes like, but I liken the flavor to a cross between an apple and a plum. Crunchy and juicy, you can eat the entire part of the fruit, including the skin. Many locals eat is right from the tree, but it can also be pickled, canned for jam, cooked like a vegetable or juiced for drinking.
- Strawberry Guava
- Native to southeastern Brazil, strawberry guava is found in the forests of Hawaii and can grow from sea level up to 4,000 feet in elevation. Red and walnut-sized, strawberry guava grows on low bushes in clumps and can easily be found, picked and eaten.
The fruit can be eaten whole since the thin skin is soft and the interior is juicy and edible. Strawberry guavas taste like a mix between strawberries and guava, hence its name. The plant can be found almost everywhere in Hawaii and is actually an invasive species that threatens native plants and ecosystems. “Because of its destructiveness to native Hawaiian forests, strawberry guava is recognized by scientists and land managers as one of Hawaii’s worst invasive species,” reads a description on the US Forest Service website.
It’s not very common to find strawberry guava for purchase in Hawaii, but can be easily found in the natural forests of the islands. Many locals will collect the fruit for jams, jellies and juicing. It’s common to find strawberry guava flavored juices, jams and candy in Hawaii’s grocery stores, so if you don’t find any in the wild, at least you can sample their flavor in the store!
- Many people know this fruit by its more common name, passion fruit, but Hawaii locals call it lilikoi. Yellow and round, lilikoi is a popular flavor in the islands and is used as an ingredient in everything from jams and jellies to baked goods to ice cream, cocktails and decadent sauces.
Tangy and sweet, lilikoi grows on vines and turns yellow when ripe. Eating it fresh off the vine can be a bit tricky though, since the insides are sloppy and sticky. The pulp of the lilikoi is around the individual seeds, which are edible, so you basically have to slurp the fruit out of its peel and crunch on the seeds to enjoy its flavors.
Many local residents have lilikoi growing in their yards, as it provides nice fence coverage, but also is an invasive species like strawberry guava. It grows year round and can be found almost anywhere, but is less likely found in grocery stores. I recommend giving this fruit a try as a Hawaii specialty item, like in a drink or a dessert. This is how lilikoi is best utilized in my opinion!
you’ll be surprised by its bright fuchsia flesh that livens even more when blended for a smoothie.