Cusco: a study in food – exotic fruits

Well, when I went through my “Cusco, Peru” picture folder to select the photos for this post, I discovered I have tried 11 strange fruits. That is a lot more than I had expected. This is going to be one lengthy post.

The maracuya is on the left.

Name: maracuya
Appearance: The outside is of the slightly less than baseball-sized, bright yellow sphere is either tough and smooth but pliable (a very, very overripe apple comes closest to the feel) or wrinkled, hard, and fracturable, depending on how long it has sat around. Inside are little black seeds, each encased in a juicy, delicate, light orangy-yellow membrane.
Taste: For those of you who have been fortunate enough to try a passion fruit at some point: the flavor of a maracuya is like a passion fruit minus most – but not all – of the sweetness and plus a bit more tartness. For my brothers and parents: it is the same as a matunda, I am nearly certain. For the rest of you people: just about all I can manage to tell you is that it is sour; sorry.
Texture: Although you could swallow the maracuya innards (that word sounds gross, but the stuff inside does not qualify as flesh) without chewing, that would be no fun. The little black seeds have a lovely crunch that contrasts nicely with the somewhat slimy, slippery texture of the orangey, membranous part.
Consumption: Unless you are in possession of exceptionally strong and sharp fingernails, you have to use a knife to cut into the skin of the maracuya. After that, you can just rip open a hole at the top, spoon in some sugar if desired, and eat it with a spoon.
Notes: I drank a cup of maracuya juice and ginger tea at a restaurant here one time. As strange as that may sound to those of you who can somewhat imagine how it tastes, I really enjoyed it.
I had eaten this fruit previously in Uganda.
Opinion: I love it!

The tumbo is on the right.

Name: tumbo
Appearance: Like the maracuya, the tumbo is also bright yellow, but its yellow is warmer and sunnier than that of the maracuya. It is three or so inches long, about an inch wide, and oblong. Its skin is much softer than a maracuya and can be opened easily with fingernails of any size and strength. Inside, tumbos have the same black seeds as maracuyas, but they are surrounded by larger packets of brilliant orange juice; there is no extra slime floating around inside a tumbo like there is inside a maracuya.
Taste: Yet again, I have to refer to the taste of a passion fruit. The taste is like a passion fruit minus every last bit of sweetness and plus a fair amount of bitterness. ‘Tis quite unpleasant.
Texture: The texture is the same as a maracuya, only juicier and less slimy.
Consumption: Just open it up and eat the insides.
Notes: I only purchased a tumbo twice: once when I first tried it and again from a street vendor when I was feeling peckish one day. That second time it was so bitter that I took only one bite before tossing it away; it was that unbearable.
Opinion: I do not like it. Not a bit.

Name: granadilla
Appearance: On the outside a hard, orange shell protects the granadilla. It can be easily cracked and removed piece by piece, like a boiled egg’s shell, from the soft, white, edible pith-like thing that contains the seeds and pulp. Inside the white part, the juice and membranous stuff is a clear to very light grey color tinged with yellow.
Taste: The seeds and slime part taste like a very mild passion fruit with a lot of sugar. The white, pithy stuff has no real flavor, just like orange pith.
Texture: The texture of the seeds and juice is the same as that of a maracuya, but more juicy and liquid. The white part is soft, both to touch and bite, and chewy.
Consumption: Crack the orange shell and remove it, leaving the very bottom and top parts. Removing either the top or bottom part of the shell will tear a hole in the white pith. You can either eat the juice and seeds with a spoon, consume them with bites of the pith, or suck them out of the pithy part, leaving it behind.
Notes: I am reasonably certain that I heard once that the name of this fruit stems from the fact that they somewhat resemble grenades.
I had eaten this fruit previously in Guatemala.
Opinion: I love it!

Name: chirimoya
Appearance: The earthy green and brown fruits can be anywhere from fist sized to two or three times that. They are shaped like misshapen apples. Inside they are made up of little segments of white flesh, each containing a seed within.
Taste: The taste is very sweet but with a little bit of a tart aftertaste. Perhaps you could say they combine the flavor of a banana and a mild Granny Smith apple. Thinking of it makes me salivate. They are quite tasty.
Texture: The texture can vary from soft, a bit mealy, and mushy to fibrous and chewy, but regardless, it is always somewhat slippery.
Consumption: After pulling apart the soft skin, you eat the white insides, spitting out the black seed contained in each little parcel of flesh.
Notes: This fruit was very tasty in the form of ice cream.
Opinion: I really like it.

Name: masasamba
Appearance: They are a dark green, a warped oval sort of shape, and covered in slightly pointy bumps. Like the chirimoya, they vary greatly in size. Their insides are exactly the same as the chirimoya, only most of the segments of flesh are seedless.
Taste: Yet again, this fruit is really almost exactly the same as the chirimoya, though perhaps with a stronger tart aftertaste.
Texture: The texture is exactly the same as the chirimoya.
Consumption: You eat it the same way as the chirimoya, though you do not have to constantly spit out the black seeds because there are so few of them.
Notes: I spied a masasamba growing on a tree during the hiking part of my Machu Picchu trip and wondered what it was. So, as soon as I found one in the market, I snatched it up. As I made my purchase, the vendor lady informed me that masasambas are good to prevent or help cure cancer, or something to that effect. Later, when I asked my teacher to repeat the name so that I would know it for this post, she gave me the same information about its medicinal use. She also mentioned that they are available rather infrequently and only in my Mercado de Wanchaq.
Opinion: I really like it.

Name: lúcuma
Appearance: It looks like a pointy, strangely light greenish yellowish, smooth avocado.
Taste: It was bad. Really, REALLY bad. I can not think of a way to describe it, but it was very pungent and made me feel a bit nauseous every time I caught the occasional whiff it wafting out of the trash can, where I had attempted to quarantine the odor by encasing the fruit in two plastic bags.
Texture: Though I cannot justly claim that I closely inspected or experienced the texture of the lúcuma, – I only took two nibbles, both of which I regretted immensely – the feel of the tiny bits of flesh I did manage to choke down was something between a very starchy sweet potato and an avocado.
Consumption: For the sake of avoiding the unpleasant sensation of nausea, one should not ingest or even nibble at lúcumas except under extreme duress, perhaps during a hostage situation. I am serious. Of course, in order to be prepared for every possible contingency of life, if one was indeed forced to consume a lúcuma, one open and eat it like an avocado.
Notes: Although lúcumas are apparently eaten by themselves (how that is humanly possible is beyond my comprehension), they are more frequently incorporated into sweet desserts like ice cream. I did in fact sample some lúcuma ice cream, which tasted nothing like the fruit but was strangely starchy tasting, as impossible as that may sound for ice cream.
Opinion: I loathe it with every fibre of my being, especially with my tongue, nose, and stomach.

Name: membrillo
Appearance: It looks like a bright yellow apple covered in light brown lint, plus a protrusion where the stem should be and the remnants of a flower where there never is one on the bottom of an apple.
Taste: Take the cottony, starchy, horrible taste of unripe bananas and persimmons and increase it exponentially. Add some sourness. That is it.
Texture: The texture of a membrillo is like a dense, mealy apple.
Consumption: If you really must, eat it like an apple, after washing off the lint-like fuzz, of course.
Notes: It turns out that this fruit is not meant to just be eaten plain and raw unless it has sat around long enough for its skin to turn black. It is normally used to make jelly, using mass quantities of sugar, of course.
Opinion: I do not like it. Not one bit.

Name: pepino
Appearance: It looks like a peachy-colored, dull tomato with random purple stripes.
Taste: It tastes like a mix of a peach, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew melon with a bit of cucumber thrown in.
Texture: It is like a under ripe and hard yet juicy melon with skin the same texture and thickness as that of a tomato.
Consumption: Eat it like a peach, leaving the porous and strangely soft pit behind.
Notes: Normally, the word “pepino” means “cucumber,” but that is not true here in Peru.
Opinion: It is okay.

Name: tuna
Appearance: The color of a tuna can be anywhere from yellow to green to light red. Other than that, it looks like the cactus fruit that it is.
Taste: It is sweet in a very natural way, not like sugar. It is a sweet that makes me think of the color green. I have no idea why.
Texture: The texture is somewhat like the firm part of an overripe tomato without the skin.
Consumption: Slice off the bottom and top of the fruit and make a vertical cut down the fruit. The surprisingly thick skin can then easily be pealed off. Eat the insides, though not in overly large bites, lest you end up with an unmanageable quantity of the tiny, inedible seeds in your mouth.
Notes: This fruit was a pain to eat. I ended up spitting out a lot of flesh with the dozens and dozens of tiny, inedible seeds. It was neither comfortable to try to swallow the juice and flesh without consuming a mouthful of seeds, nor was it economical to waste so much juice and pulp with the discarded seeds.
Opinion: I like it.

Name: pacay
Appearance: It looks like a giant seedpod. Coincidentally, it is a giant seedpod.
Taste: After much pondering, I decided that the best way to describe the taste of these seeds is to say that they taste like sugar cane, only much, much less sweet. But, the point is that the sweetness is that purely natural, sort of green sweetness. Really, though, that is a very inadequate description, because they were not half as pleasant to eat as sugar cane. I could chew on sugar can for hours and hours, while I did not even finish half of the pod full of seeds.
Texture: When you first put one of the seeds in your mouth, it feels like a solid mass of compacted fuzz or tiny fibers. Within a few seconds it turns slimy and slippery, and then once you have removed the white part from the inner seed, it is chewy.
Consumption: After opening the thick, tough pod – a task that took me a few minutes of struggling with the aide of my rather dull Leatherman knife – you remove one of the seeds and pop it in your mouth. With several seconds of sucking on it and worrying it with your teeth, the edible white part slips off the inner, black, inedible seed, which you spit out.
Notes: One of my teachers had described the pacay to me a couple of weeks before I purchased one, but she had simultaneously informed me that they are not in season until June or July. Therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised to spot a wheelbarrowful of them, which I immediately recognized from my teacher’s excellent description, while being driven through Cusco on the tour last Tuesday. I felt quite pleased with myself when I acquired one the next day.
Opinion: It is okay.

Name: manzana de Israel
Appearance: This is a relatively small apple. It looks like someone took a gala apple and squeezed it in the middle, making it oblong.
Taste: I love the flavor of this apple! It was nearly as good as a fuji apple.
Texture: Yet again, the manzana de Israel resembled the fuji apple: it had a very nice, crisp texture and made the proper crunching sound an apple should make when bit into.
Consumption: I ate it like any normal person would eat a normal apple, though I did wash it in tap water, wipe it with a handsanitizer wipe, and rinse it in clean water beforehand.
Notes: I included this fruit – a humble apple, of all things – in the exoctic fruits category for two reasons: (1) I thought it was strange enough to qualify as exotic, and (2) I never got around to trying all the different types of apples here but wanted to include the one I did eat.
I wish we had these apples at home.
Opinion: I like it.

I did not include some fruits in this post because (1) I have eaten so many of them, and/or (2) I see them frequently enough in US grocery stores to guess that you know what they are and how they taste. Those fruits are as follows: mango, fig, star fruit, and kiwi. If you happen to have never tried one of those, I insist you immediately locate the nearest grocery store likely to carry semi-exotic fruits, purchase, and consume said fruit. Do it. Now.



  1. Wow, this is really interesting! The only one Ive ever had from these is the tuna one which I like. My favorite from the pictures though is the big seedpod because it looks so unique.

  2. Excellent description of some very strange fruits. I think you were really enjoying eating and then describing them. You do a good job and use some unique words to describe. You are great!
    Love, Grandma M.

  3. Great post! I liked being able to see the sizes, too since you made sure to put your hand or backpack in to compare. I see the word CUY in the fruit named maracuya. Any relation?!

  4. Hola Claire!
    Es tan simpático ver estas frutas!! Reconozco varias!! Creo el clima de México es parecido al de Perú, pues nosotros tenemos algunas, no todas, algunas jamás las había visto.
    Que bueno que las pruebes y que te gusten, quiere decir que no eres melindrosa.
    Ya aprendí a poner los acentos en esta computadora americana y también la ñ!!! pues era vergonsozo que mi sobrina que está aprendiendo Español lo hiciera mejor que yo.
    Tia Susana

  5. We have marakuyas…except they’re called marikujas….and they taste GREAT in juice with fresh pineapple juice, lemon, and fresh ginger with an orange juice packet….you have to try it sometime!

  6. membrillo is to consume as jam or marmelade, because as fruit is not eatable (it is too acid).
    Lucuma is a strange fruit: no one in South america eat this as fruit. They use Always in this ways: for exportation they disseccate it and send it out in other country. They consumate it in milk-shake, ice creams, cakes. I assure to you that in this way is Amazing.
    Bon appetit!

    1. Hello Stefano! Thanks for your comment! I found out similar facts to what you said after doing some research once I returned from Peru. I realized that membrillo is a quince – which is made into jam in the US sometimes – and is not really edible raw (which explains why it was so terrible). I got the chance to try lucuma ice cream while in Peru and found it delicious!

  7. i’ve a secret. My wife is peruvian from Chiclayo (North Perù). This is the best place to find out tropical fruits and fresch fish very cheap and of high quality……..

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