Trends in tropical fruit: Brooks Tropicals on what's gaining momentum
Tropical fruits in the U.S. have the tough job of competing against importers but Brooks Tropicals' ongoing efforts to spread awareness of the high-quality fruit offered by growers in Florida looks like it may be paying off. As consumers are increasingly familiar with tropical fruits, the industry continues to extend suggestions for how to prepare up-and-coming Florida tropical fruits.
Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Brooks Tropical, told FreshFruitPortal.com about upcoming trends in the tropical fruit industry.
Standout fruits this year include dragon fruit, passion fruit and star fruit. In particular, "when we look at tropicals right now, dragon fruit has garnered a lot of interest," she said.
"People are leaning more towards white dragon fruit recently, but it's key to know what they look like on the outside," explained Ostlund.
The difference between white and red dragon fruit can confuse consumers when looking for the fruit in the grocery aisle. White dragon fruit will have "sporadic spears on the outside, and large spears, where on the other hand, "red dragon fruit is more evenly spaced and smaller, it's a little different".
Similarly, passion fruit is becoming more common in U.S. households. Interestingly, the increased popularity of the fruit may partly have to do with - Ostlund light-heartedly speculates - its use on a hit British baking show. She said "I think it's getting some traction" because people become intrigued by the popular show.
When people use the fruit Ostlund says there should be an emphasis on the fact that "passionfruit flavor deepens as it ripens,". So it's important that consumers know the best time to eat the fruit.
"In fact, the passion fruit that you want to use in a recipe is when it's all wrinkled. You don't want to use a brand new one, you want a wrinkled one - that's when the flavor is at it's peak or it's depth," she said.
She also detailed that passion fruit seeds are a good source of fiber and can be used like a sunflower seed when dried and applied to other dishes.
The carambola, or star fruit, is becoming more and more important for Florida produce. Star fruit is currently in its peak season in the U.S. and is known for being a garnish. Ostlund said that while this is the traditional perception of the fruit, it has transformed into a versatile category - being used as everything from a side dish to an ingredient in a fresh salad.
For winter, Florida star fruit is currently in its peak season. Their "eye-catching" nature makes it a fun product that the industry is trying to push through marketing.
Consumers can use it "to make your dish stand out at a potluck", she added, "so, instead of a pineapple upside down cake, make a star fruit upside down cake".
Star fruit is native to Southeast Asia but has been grown in Florida for over 100 years. New research shows that the fruit has potential to be the next big fruit for Florida's agriculture industry, adding diversity to crops grown across the state - especially as traditional navel oranges are increasingly impacted by poor climate conditions and disease.
Ostlund explained that U.S. carambola must compete with imported fruit from Asia.
"The nice thing about star fruit from Florida is that we pick them with a good yellow on them and that means that you're going to get star fruit that is fully ripened."
This, she said, is in contrast with imported star fruit that tends to be picked earlier when it is green because it "has to be green so that it'll last the ship over". So, Florida's crop tends to be sweeter.
Papaya is also something to look out for, according to Ostlund. The Red Caribbean and Solo papaya are becoming popular. Ostlund says that she even sees consumers enjoying the fruit on social media.
While it's not exactly a small fruit, it is perfectly suited for snacking and can last a few days, she said. And, "the solo papaya is a fruit that's more for one or two people".
Other categories, "tricks of the trade" that consumers are becoming aware of
Ostlund also noted a surprising trend up on fresh ginger. People "are just beginning to figure out" how to work with fresh ginger, she explained. This might have to do with the fact that consumers are realizing that fresh ginger has a different taste than the dried ginger found in the spice. Since the "taste completely changes when you dry it" having fresh ginger mixes things up in the kitchen.
Another shift in consumption patterns is the growing interest in limes and green-skinned avocados. While Ostlund clarifies that tropical avocados "aren't trying to replace the Hass", they can be used in different settings. There "it's key to showing different ways in which it is enjoyed and it doesn't take much to spark the imagination of the consumer", she added.
Fresh coconut is also on the up-trend. Whereas in the past consumers tended to buy processed or packaged coconut, it's becoming more popular to get fresh coconut because it is seen as a healthier alternative to oftentimes bleached and sugary coconut.