Rambutan growing in the wild (<I>photo courtesy of Ken Love</I>)

Out Of The Ordinary

When an apple just won’t cut it-indulge in one of these unusual fruits.

As drivers wind their way around maui’s twisty road to hana, they might take a break between dips in waterfalls and quiet moments overlooking the ocean to visit the lush 50 acres or so of ONO Organic Farms that are brimming with bananas, papayas, avocados, coffee beans and cacao. Amid these fruits also are more unusual treats, including cherimoya, passion fruit, Surinam cherries and starfruit.

Hawai’i is a playground for a diverse collection of fruits, including more than 200 different types of avocados and 70 types of oranges. Among local fruit growers, there also is a fervent dedication to finding and propagating the best exotic items.

Ken Love, who operated a farm on the Big Island for years and now spends his time researching fruits with University of Hawai’i and promoting sustainability, fell in love with what he calls “strange fruits” while traveling from his home in Chicago to Hawai’i and Japan as a photographer. He moved to the islands to farm full time in the 1990s and has since been propagating fruit trees. “You name it, I got it,” Love says of the fruit he has worked with.

Frankie Sekiya and Lynn Tsuruda have scoured the world for the best exotic fruits to bring back to the islands. Today, their 15-acre Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo is home to more than 400 species of fruit. According to Love, who is friends with Sekiya and Tsuruda, Frankie’s Nursery “will fix you up with the weirdest stuff you can find.”

Hawai’i seems to be the perfect place to cultivate the “weirdest stuff.” The islands have a long history of travelers and passersby planting fruits, from early voyagers to the whalers and sandalwood traders.

“We can grow everything here,” says Love, who also is the executive director of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers. “It is the tropical weather and the richness of our volcanic soil … Plus, we are isolated so we can grow pure strains and things that might not be as contaminated with other environmental factors and other plants.”

Here is a look at five exotic fruits- all are cultivated in Hawai’i.


This eerie-looking fruit is a citron that is divided into various thin, finger-like segments. While this fruit is known more for its looks and fragrance, it also can easily be transformed into a tasty dessert.

“Back in the 1920s and 1930s in Hawai’i, they used to cut the fingers and boil them, coat them in powder sugar and freeze it,” Love explains.

Love also likes to use Buddha’s Hand as an accent to sauces, lending a sour, bitter juice that he employs as a base for sweet and sour flavors. It also is commonly grated into various dishes to provide an extra little kick, much like a lemon or lime zest.

Chef Grant MacPherson has spent his four-decade culinary career at five-star restaurants in destinations around the world, including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney and on the Big Island. Through his travels, MacPherson, who is now based in Las Vegas running a restaurant development company, has learned to incorporate a number of exotic fruits into his cuisine. He says that Buddha’s Hand is the perfect companion to ceviche, as the citrus flavor complements lobster, salmon, scallops and other seafood.


A proponent for fruit diversification and preservation, Love often jet sets to food-related events. During a recent trip to the Philippines, he had days where he would eat nothing but durian paired with rice. The combination was at first out of necessity-Love is vegan and had limited food options at dinner one night. But it turned out to be a happy accident.

“I just couldn’t get enough of it!” he recalls. Love is not alone. Nicknamed “the king of fruits,” durian has something of a cult following. It’s so popular in fact, that one fruit can sell for up to $50. Charles Boerner, who runs ONO Organic Farms, which includes a dozen durian trees, goes so far as to describe durian as having an intoxicating effect.

Why the appeal?

“In some places, it is considered an aphrodisiac,” Boerner says. “And it has a lot of protein, so it gives you a lot of energy. Sometimes you eat one in the morning, and you don’t really get hungry until the evening.”

Encased in a thick skin with sharp thorns, durian tastes similar to a vanilla custard. But in order to enjoy it, you’ll have to get past the smell. It is as much known for its taste as it is for its odor, which, some say, more closely resembles rotting animal flesh or old socks than any kind of fruit. Chef Sven Ullrich of Hyatt Regency Waikiki, which includes Shor American Seafood Grill and Japengo, reports that the hotel had to remove the fruit from its weekly farmers market after a guest complained of the stench-from three floors up.

For those who do brave the smell, durian can be enjoyed raw, simply by cracking open the skin. Chef MacPherson often uses durian as a complement to his dessert items and says that it pairs well with ice cream.


It’s a rainy Saturday morning at Frankie’s Nursery when Tsuruda lifts a huge, thorny oval-shaped fruit onto the table and cuts it open, exposing a row of large seeds. She cuts out a seed and sets it aside before removing the meat left behind. This, she explains, is the best part of the jackfruit.

The sweet taste of jackfruit is so appealing that it is responsible for inspiring the gum Juicy Fruit. It hails originally from Southern and Southeast Asia and is typically massive. The jackfruit at Frankie’s Nursery are usually at least 10 pounds, and the ones on display today are around 40 pounds.

“The largest one we have had so far was 80 pounds,” Tsuruda says.

Sekiya and Tsuruda say that Frankie’s Nursery on normal Saturdays is typically packed with people. While a lot of their clientele tends to be fruit hobbyists looking for plants for their yard, the nursery also sells fresh produce. Jackfruit is one of their more popular items.

Jackfruit is extremely versatile. While it can be enjoyed plain, it also is commonly boiled in stews or soups, used to accent curry, or incorporated into a vegetable salad. It also serves as a meat substitute, which Love says he has seen at the vegan restaurants he frequents in California.

“You can order a tuna salad sandwich or pulled pork that is all made with jackfruit,” Love says. “It is all vegan, but you could never tell.”

Jackfruit also is commonly dried to create a healthy snack.

“If you dry them and then slice them thin, they actually make every good chips,” Chef MacPherson says.

Love speculates that we’ll being seeing a lot more of jackfruit in the near future, saying that it is on the brink of being the next exotic fruit to break into the mainstream market.

At the Hyatt, Chef Ullrich explains one particularly tantalizing preparation of jackfruit (which, like all of the hotel’s fruit, comes from Frankie’s nursery) that was used a few months ago at Japengo: Jackfruit was incorporated into a salsa with cilantro and Maui onions and spread over crispy pork cheeks.


Legend has it that Queen Victoria was so taken with the taste of mangosteen that she made a deal with her English subjects: Anybody who could bring the Indonesian fruit back to her would be made a knight. But 19th century transportation didn’t make it easy for aspiring knights to deliver the highly perishable fruit, and according to the legend, the Queen never got another taste of mangosteen.

Today, mangosteen, which is heralded as the Queen of Fruit, can be just as elusive.

The tree can take dozens of years to fruit, and even when that happens, it requires constant maintenance. Through the process of grafting, Frankie’s Nursery has been able to cultivate a few mangosteen plants. But even that doesn’t seem to be a guarantee-they have found that the plants do not fruit every year.

Mangosteen, which has white segments inside of a maroon-purple skin, is a balance between sweet and acidic. It has achieved mainstream popularity in recent years, perhaps in part because of its long-held forbidden fruit status. The Department of Agriculture did not grant approval for mango-steen from Thailand to be exported to the U.S. Mainland until 2007, followed by approval for Hawai’i-grown mangosteen the next year. Because the fruit can be a breeding ground for pests, all exports must be irradiated.

“Mangosteen is my No. 1 fruit in the whole wide world,” says Ullrich, who has been a chef at a number of Hyatt properties worldwide before coming to the Hyatt Waikiki. “It is really pretty amazing because of its subtle flavor.”


Amid a selection of fruits that are sprawled out on the table at Frankie’s Nursery, a small vibrant red oval-shaped fruit with green spikes stands out. Luckily, the spikes aren’t sharp (“rambut” means hairy), and the skin can easily be peeled back to reveal a translucent fruit that you can simply pop in your mouth, like candy right off the tree.

“It is very popular now, and very common I would say, for an exotic fruit. It has really taken on because it is just gorgeous to look at,” Chef Ullrich says.

Rambutan is native to a number of Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the Philippines. At Frankie’s there are 26 different varieties of rambutan originating from various locales. Similar to a lychee, rambutan is sweeter and less tangy.

MacPherson says that rambutan is a sweet complement to ice cream- especially when the fruit is warmed. But he is quick to point out that less is more when it comes to rambutan.

“I like to just pick them and peel them and eat them raw,” MacPherson says. “I really believe that rambutan should be eaten naturally.

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