Ever heard of níspero or mamey? Meet the weird, exotic fruits of Miami

This does not look like something that would taste good.
This does not look like something that would taste good.

Walk into any Miami area backyard and you’re faced with a tropical forest of strange, fresh fruit.

My father, a Cuban farmer (who on occasion also likes to watch Ultra videos), always grew the kind of exotic, tropical fruits that made opening your lunchbox in the school cafeteria an adventure.  The variety of fruits you find growing randomly in South Florida yards embarrasses anything you’d find in the produce section at Publix — and I’m not talking about coconuts or mangoes.

Those are so common here that some of us actually hate mangoes. (Crazy, I know! Especially since “granddaddy of all mangoes” is actually in Coconut Grove.) And falling coconuts are a nuisance.

The fruits I’m talking about are inspiration-for-“Star Wars”-characters kind of weird. We even refer to them by their Latin names instead of what the rest of America actually calls them.

Sure, Miami Man comes up with his own food oddities. We have the bakery that makes empanadas from every Latin American country.  We have another that makes a vision-quest hallucination called the Croqueta Cake.

But Mother Nature has them all beat with these tropical fruits that thrive in the 305.


sugar apple1
Sugar apple A. Hunsberger UF/IFAS

You’d be forgiven for mistaking this fruit for an artichoke. You would not, however, be forgiven for never trying one. The fruit, sometimes called a sugar apple, grows to the size of a softball. When it’s ripe, the scales pop open to reveal a tender, white meat the consistency of custard, that tastes vaguely of pineapple. It has smooth, black seeds you have to work through, though I’ve seen one variety bred to be seedless. Science!


This does not look like something that would taste good.

Please stop butchering the name of the fruit that The Redland fruit stand Robert is Here calls the “best tasting fruit in the world.” It’s pronounced guah-NAH-bun-uh. Just sing the words to the Sesame Street ditty “Manah Manah.” Or just give up and call it soursop. It’s a little sour, plenty sweet, tastes like a banana-pineapple mix and makes a killer milkshake. Palacios de Los Jugos makes a solid one, as two folks from our staff who had never visited found out. It looks like a nightmare but tastes like a dream.


Cereza china sounds way cooler than 'loquat.' Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garde

Look, I didn’t even know what these things were called. My dad always just called them cerezas chinas, which means Chinese cherries.  Whatever the case, they’re fuzzy like a peach, sweet like a Ranier cherry and with a couple of black pits inside. The grow in bunches and light up the yard like nature’s Christmas trees once a year.


What does a sapodilla taste like? Like the inside of an apple pie.

Even life-long South Floridians may not have had these. Yet these fruits, also called sapodilla, are found all over South Florida, growing from generic-looking trees you might otherwise walk right by. A sweet one has an ice-cream-like texture, smells like cinnamon, and has the consistency of a soft pear. If you grew up with them, you love them.


Mamey, a creamy, vanilla-scented tropical fruit that tastes and looks something like a sweet potato, in Havana.

Call this the granddaddy of all tropical fruits. Even folks who wrinkle their noses at exotic fruits fall under the spell of the mamey. Coral red inside, with one large seed, these football-shaped fruits are ready to eat when they’re tender.

What do they taste like? Picture sweet potato casserole, complete with marshmallows, and the texture of flan. We should put it on the Florida state flag.


You can call it passion fruit or maracuyá. No matter what you call it, you better put a ton of sugar in it. Candace West/Herald Staff

We’re not quite sure, ever, what to do with these guys, which most folks know as passion fruit. They’re usually too tart to scoop out the chartreuse insides with a spoon and crunch through the tiny seeds. But watch out, milkshake lovers.

Mix a quarter cup of evaporated milk into 12 ounces of maracuyá juice, add a dollop of condensed milk (instead of sugar) and ice in a blender, and you have a tangy, creamy shake unlike anything else you’ve ever tasted.


Spanish lime in English. A million names in Latin America. A. Hunsberger UF/IFAS Extension

I spent the better part of an afternoon a few years ago trying to figure out what these things were called in the English speaking world. Turns out, Spanish Limes have easily half a dozen names in the Caribbean (mamón, quenepa, limoncillo…) from Haiti to Hispañola. They are ubiquitous there, as are they on street corners in Hialeah. If you’ve ever bought a bottle of water while stopped at an intersection, chances are you’ve been offered these bunches of fruits in clear plastic bags.

They’re fun to eat, too: Snap through the round husk with your teeth to reveal a perfectly round seed the size of a masher marble, covered in a soft, almost feathery, peachy-pink tart meat. Suck the meat off the marble and move on to the next one. They’re the original Sour Patch Kids.