THE other weekend I tasted some tropical fruits that were completely new to me. And they’re all grown down here in Andalucía, on the Costa Tropical.
I was a guest on a four-day Press tour of the area and one visit was to San Ramón, the farm of a major grower, Cultisub SAT, owned and run by the delightful and informative Ramón Francisco González García. Here we learned all about the unusual looking fruits with strange names that we’ve seen in markets here, but have been afraid to buy because we didn’t know what to do with them!
The fruits I sampled for the first time were the chirimoya, fresh mango, the kaki, the níspero, the papaya and the guayaba. The aguacate (avocado) is also cultivated widely in the area, but I’m familiar with that, having it most days for breakfast.
And all of these strange-looking fruits are grown on the so-called Costa Tropical and widely available in markets throughout the region.
The Costa Tropical is the name that was given to the coast of Granada province in 1980 to help it boost the area for tourism and agriculture. The main towns are Almuñécar, Salobreña and Motril. When the demand for sugar cane, the traditional crop of the area, fell and cultivation finally ceased, the crop farmers were forced to look for other alternatives.
The climate on the Costa Tropical is sub-tropical – winter average 18 degrees Celcius – so they turned to tropical fruits, predominantly the aguacate, the mango and the chirimoya. Of all new plantings of fruit trees in this area, 40% are mango, 40% avocado and 20% chirimoyo, as the chirimoya tree is called. This experimental development has been so successful that nowadays over 90% of the Spanish production of these three crops is from here.
The production of nísperos (persimmon), kakis, papayas and guayabas (guava) is on a much smaller scale than the big three, but all add to the wonderful fruit offering from this area.
The chirimoya is also known in English as the custard apple and it’s not a bad translation. Once you slice it in half, you scoop out the white flesh with a spoon, easily avoiding the black seeds, and it is indeed reminiscent of custard, both in texture and taste. De-li-ci-ous! You can also make a delicious sorbet with chirimoya, cider, lemon and a dash of cinnamon, as well as a sumptuous ice cream.
Mango I had eaten before, but here we learned how to cut it and serve it to it’s best advantage. Fresh mango is succulent, subtle and fruity, quite unlike the version I was used to – the sharp and spicy mango chutney eaten with curry dishes!
You also eat papaya as a fresh fruit. Also known in English as the pawpaw, you peel the skin, then slice the content and remove the seeds. To enhance the taste squeeze some lemon juice over it. Papaya can be mixed in fruit salads.
The guayaba (guava) is also delicious eaten fresh. It looks a bit like a pale tomato when opened and cut, but has a unique nutty flavour.
The kaki, nicknamed the fruit of eternal youth, should not be eaten fresh, as it is very bitter. After it has been picked, “rested” and has softened, it acquires a delicious, soft, jelly-like consistency and is best eaten with a spoon.
The níspero (persimmon) is also very bitter or astringent when fresh and is more often used cooked after a period of “rest”.
The avocado, probably the most well-known of these tropical fruits, is extremely versatile and can be used as a fruit or a vegetable. It can be eaten fresh, made into guacamole, or halved and filled with chopped boiled egg; tuna and sweetcorn; diced chicken; banana and honey, or anything else you fancy. You can make a cold soup, a hot soup and a range of sauces to accompany fish, salads and desserts, as well as mousse served with prawns or dates.
My lasting memory of our Costa Tropical tour is a selection of all of these fruits, accompanied by sorbete de chirimoya, served outside in the sun by Ramón after our tour of his farm, San Ramón.
And my favourite of all of these fruits? It’s a tie between the mango and the chirimoya. They’ve both already become regulars at our house, along with our avocados for breakfast!