A few years ago, while on holiday in our mother’s village, my brothers and I went swimming in the stream. On our way home, we came across a tree with ripe bouquets of velvet tamarind. It looked so enticing we decided to pluck a few for ourselves. We were so focused on trying to bring down some of the low-hanging fruits from the branch we did not notice the swarm of soldier ants we just disturbed. Long story short, in a few minutes, we were dancing, scratching and running from the serious stings we got from these shockingly deadly insects. Now that you are done laughing at my not-so-funny misfortune, here is a list of amazing Nigerian fruits most of us did not know were grown in our beautiful country.
1. Velvet Tamarind
You will be surprised to find out that you already know this fruit as licky-licky , awin or icheku . The name comes from the black velvety shell that covers its tasty orange pulp. Velvet tamarind usually shares a season as udara (African star apple), and is found abundantly in the southeastern part of Nigeria. For those of you who are yet to taste the goodness of this tamarind, the velvety shell is broken to reveal an orange pulp which has a sweet and tangy flavor. This pulp is sucked or chewed, and the seed in the center spat out. Tamarind could be eaten as a snack or the pulp could be soaked in water to prepare a tamarind drink which dilutes the tangy flavor of the fruit.
2. Ube Okpoko/ Atili
The fruit known as ube okpoko by the Igbos and atili by the Hausas is similar to ube (African pear) yet so different. This small-sized fruit is similar in size to an olive but is oiler than the African pear. It has a rich, creamy pulp like the avocado. Ube okpoko is sold in cellophane bags which contain about a dozen cooked fruits. It could be eaten straight or sprinkled with salt for extra flavor. Atili oil could be extracted from the fruit. Regarded as local olive oil; this green oil could be used in cooking, as it is more nutritious and flavorful than the regular cooking oil.
Although this deadly and delicious tropical fruit is Jamaica’s national fruit, it bears its origin from the western part of Africa. Known as ishin by Yorubas, ackee grows on evergreen trees that can reach 50 feet tall. The actual fruits are pods, grown in clusters, which go from green to red and split open when ripe. Ackee is such an unusual fruit, although extremely delicious when ripe; the unripe fruits are quite deadly. Only the soft creamy inner flesh of the ackee which has a slightly nutty flavor is edible as the seeds of an unripe fruit are poisonous.
4. June Plums
This oval-shaped fruit is a wonder with its thick skin and the tropical bouquet of flavor it produces when harvested. This fruit is best eaten when fully ripe; at this stage, its taste is a fusion of mango, apple and pineapple flavors. June plums are commonly used in making delicious jams and juices. They are also a great pickling ingredient and a traditional accompaniment to ice cream and yogurt. One thing to bear in mind when eating this tropical wonder; do not take a bite just yet, as beneath the delicious creamy flesh lies a spiky seed.
5. Rose Apples
These small tear-drop shaped fruits are roughly 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The yellowish-green flesh gets flushed with pink when it ripens and gives off a highly aromatic scent reminiscent of a blooming rose, and offers a sweet floral flavor, comparable to rose water. The flesh has a crisp, almost crunchy texture when ripe and freshly picked. In the center contains one to four small brown seeds that are loose within the core. When the whole fruit is shaken, the seeds rattle inside the small cavity. However, only the creamy flesh is consumed as the seeds and roots are considered poisonous.
6. Pitanga Cherries
These are small, red and ribbed berries that look very similar to a cherry. Their taste, however, differs from that of a cherry. The fruit is green when young, turning to orange then to a bright red or dark purple-black. The sweet juicy flesh is considered refreshing by some and an acquired taste by others due to its resinous flavor. The taste ranges from sweet to acidic, depending on the level of ripeness; the darker red to black range is quite sweet, while the green to orange range is strikingly tart and acidic with a taste much like a green bell pepper as it is not completely ripened yet. This fruit is high in vitamin C and could be eaten raw, used as base for jams and jellies or the juice could be fermented into wine or liquor.
7. Cashew Apples
Most of us are quite familiar with the cashew nut, but not many people realize that each nut grows on a juicy fleshy fruit called cashew apple. The delicate fruit comes in red-orange and yellow varieties, and has a characteristic smell and taste. The pulp of the cashew apple is very juicy, but has a very fragile skin, making it unsuitable for transport. It has a very refreshing tropical flavor that can be described as having hints of mango, raw green pepper, and citrus tastes. We could not help but make a refreshing juice out of its fleshy pulp, recipe here.
You read that right! Surprisingly, we grow strawberries in Nigeria. Years ago, I heard something about strawberries growing out of Jos. Obviously I disagreed instantly, this almighty fruit growing in our country was just too good to be true. It was hard to believe until a couple of years ago when some of my friends returned from Jos bearing gifts of a fruity nature. I opened the bag to find the red juicy goodness grown right in our country and I was amazed at how tasty it was. Although production has crippled in recent years due to lack of buyers, it is important to mention this fruit and poke for investors to look into strawberry farming, transportation, packaging and distribution.
Which of these fruits have you tried? Which of them would you love to try? Tell us all about your uncommon fruit adventures in our comment section below.