When thinking of tropicals, papayas and mangoes most likely come to mind first.
But there are a variety of other commodities in the category that some say are equally tasty and are becoming more popular every year.
Take star fruit, for example.
“Star fruit are typically a nice, smaller volume tropical item that is truly one of the most unique fruits,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.
“It’s a very unique, very versatile fruit that is sure to bring attention to the dish and create conversation at the table.”
When they’re sliced, the unusual star shapes makes a great garnish for hot and cold dishes, he said.
“You can grill star fruit, and the grilling process brings out the sugars, and the caramelized star fruit has a wonderful flavor,” he said.
Star fruit, also known as carambola, has two peak seasons, said Peter Leifermann, director of sales and procurement for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla.
The peak of the summer season will be the first two weeks of September, he said. There’s another peak during the winter.
Star fruit has proven to be a hit with foodservice customers as well as retailers, he said.
Unity Groves Corp., Homestead, Fla., also offers star fruit along with other tropicals, like guava, available year-round, and Thai bananas, year-round except for possible gaps in February or March, said Louie Carricarte, president and owner.
Unity Groves also will offer dragon fruit into October and longans, jujubes and rambutans through September.
Florida passion fruit, sugar cane and coconuts also are among the company’s offerings.
J&C Tropicals Inc., Miami, offers star fruit and mamey, a specialty fruit that grows in south Florida and has a “delicious, unique taste, dark pink flesh with a black seed in the middle,” said Adrian Capote, vice president of sales.
It’s a favorite among the Hispanic community and is especially popular in cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and New York, he said.
“It’s an extremely good seller,” he added, and is available from August through October.
“Retailers are definitely getting into more specialty items, and they’re getting good response to them,” Capote said.
Southern Specialties also has a significant year-round lime deal out of Guatemala, Eagle said. The fruit has heavy juice content and is sold in 2- and 3-pound mesh bags.
The program has been going on for a few years and continues to grow, he said.
In all, Brooks Tropicals offers about 30 kinds of tropicals, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.
Florida guava is one of those offerings. It has a rosy color inside as opposed to the yellow flesh of the Thai variety, she said.
The company ships Florida-grown water coconuts, which is an immature coconut that is desirable for its nutritious water content, along with the mature coconuts from Dominican Republic that consumers buy for their white flesh.
Boniato, a root vegetable that is a popular Hispanic comfort food, has the same texture as a russet potato but has “a definite nutty taste,” she said.
Passion fruit from Florida has become “the new darling on the tropical scene,” she said. It has a pleasant aroma and serves as “a nice accent to just about anything — from oatmeal to smoothies.”
Ginger also is gaining popularity and is used for baking and cooking vegetables and in stir-fry dishes.
“You just can’t beat fresh ginger,” she said. “It has a ton of flavor.”