Passionfruit: A Delightfully Strange Eating Experience

As a resident of Los Angeles, I am well aware that I have an abundance of fresh produce at my disposal year-round. Yet it seems that each time I make it out to the farmers’ market, I discover something new.

Last weekend I had the chance to make it out to the Calabasas Farmers Market for the first time—a market that my friend insisted is one of the best in the city. As a loyal frequenter of the Hollywood Farmers Market, I wondered how a farmers market that was neither as big nor as popular as another (i.e. my trusted Hollywood market) could have something different to offer? I had my doubts.

I was proven wrong. Admittedly, the Calabasas Farmers Market is smaller and more modest than my standby, but it had a different array of vendors represented—refreshing, actually! My friend led me to a vendor who she knew by name, and she pointed to his table’s bounty, a colorful display of semi-tropical fruits. “Go ahead, pick something new. He’ll let you try it.”

Now, it’s common practice at most markets for vendors to have precut samples on display for customers, but this was different. You pick a fruit, you get the fruit. A real first-timer’s deal.

What drew me in right away, I knew I had to try, were the fruits I had never seen before—small, roundish balls with magenta flesh and slightly prickly looking exterior. Imagine my embarrassment when I asked what they were and was given the response: “passionfruit.” As a trained chef, I felt a bit red-faced to have been unable to identify the exotic fruits—and even more so when I realized that I had never actually eaten a fresh passionfruit!

The vendor took a fruit, sliced it in half, and handed me the odd-looking semi-circle. Without having a spoon on hand, I dug into the fruit the way any hungry chef would: I sucked it down straight from the flesh.  My first passionfruit tasting experience? One of the strangest, most delicious flavor bursts ever.

The inside pulp of a passionfruit has a jelly-like consistency that can best be described as gelatinous. Half liquid, half solid, it feels like a dollop of Jell-O that’s been mashed gently with a fork—save the bits of seeds inside the pulp, which  are perfectly edible and provide a contrasting crunch to the otherwise gooey mouthful. The scent of a passionfruit may be its most intoxicating quality. Smelling of a musty perfume, it is reminiscent of a fruity au de toilette one might find in the powder room of a 1940’s speakeasy. And the taste is not far off from that—floral and fruity, yet somehow tart and slightly salty, its flavor is a juxtaposition of fruit and flora all at once.

Passionfruit are a rare breed of fruit that you must try if you are lucky enough to find them locally—and few are. The semi-tropical fruits are grown in Mediterranean-like climates and are currently limited to Hawaii, Central America, Australia, Kenya, and South Africa. In the Unites States, they are only grown in California and Florida. So eat up!

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