There may be no better place in the world to eat fruit than Colombia. Straddling the equator, the country’s growing season is year-round and its climate is ideal for the kind of colorful, honeyed, heavy-scented, alien-looking fruit that epitomizes the tropics. Bogotá sits at Colombia’s heart, and as such its markets double as Technicolor displays of the country’s biodiversity, showcasing the best of what’s grown in every region.
At the city’s main Mercado de Paloquemao, a maze of aisles gives way to a central atrium with teetering piles of oblong tomates de árbol (tree tomato), stacks of spiky guanábanas, and overflowing bins of wrinkly passionfruits and ochre-colored lulos. It’s beautiful, but fairly run-of-the-mill to those Colombians for whom fruit is a dietary mainstay. This bounty becomes an array of kaleidoscopic salads, fresh juices and smoothies, sweet and savory dishes — and, of course, it’s sometimes eaten plain and gloriously un-messed with.
For visitors, though, it’s awesome, and has turned Paloquemao — well off the beaten tourist path — into a major attraction. Any given day now you’ll find groups of foreigners wandering the market with cameras, snapping pictures of fruit like produce paparazzi. Behold, then, what all the fuss is about: a wild and wondrous collection of some of Colombia’s national treasures.
The native yellow version of the pink Southeast Asian dragon fruit has a sweet white filling with tiny black seeds well known for their powerful laxative effects. (Enjoy sparingly.) To eat, slice it in half and then scoop out the pulp. The seeds give an alluring crunch to the subtly flavored flesh, which tastes like a combination of kiwi, grape, and lychee.
This purple fruit is a close relative of the maracuyá (passionfruit), and like its cousin, the inside is filled with crunchy seeds covered in a gelatinous yellowish-orange coating. Its appeal is as much about texture as it is the sweet, tart flavor, and you’ll find it most often in Colombian juices, smoothies, desserts, and some savory dishes.
From the outside, the local variety of guava could be mistaken for a small green pear. Inside, the shock of hot-pink flesh is unmistakable and beloved in Colombian cooking. It’s perfectly delicious eaten straight, but you’ll find it in desserts like casquitos de guayaba (guava in syrup), jams, juices, and in the popular fruit paste bocadillo, a sweet Colombian staple.
Crack open the hard shell on this freckly orange orb and slurp the transparent, slippery pulp and seeds in one shot. The floral sweetness is especially good mixed into juices and cocktails. When choosing, look for a heavy fruit with clean skin that’s free of brown spots.
It’s the size and shape of a grape, with the texture of a cherry and a sweet-and-sour flavor all its own. Uchuva — also known as physalis, or ground cherry — packs a wallop of antioxidants, putting it squarely in the so-called superfood category. You can eat these fresh, but they are also a favorite of mixologists, and provide a bright backbone to savory sauces, plus loads of preserves and desserts throughout the country.
Its oblong shape is part of what gives curuba its nickname: banana passionfruit. From the outside it’s a bit like a cucumber, but inside is neon-orange pulp that’s pleasantly sour and studded with crisp, edible seeds. Curuba can be a bit more acidic than the standard passionfruit, so a sprinkle of sugar is a good bet if you plan to eat it plain. Colombians love it blended into a juice with milk and sugar or into a traditional Bogotan dessert of curuba mousse with vanilla custard.
This is, without a doubt, Colombia’s signature fruit. You’ll find its acidic, citrus-like flavor in sauces, desserts, and drinks at every level of eatery all over the country. When juiced, lulos produce a characteristic white foam, and when sliced, they reveal a unique tomato-like pattern. It’s ripe and ready to eat when the fuzzy exterior has turned orange.
Its spiky exterior and massive size (individual fruits weigh up to 11 pounds) can seem intimidating, but don’t fear the guanábana. Inside, the slippery white flesh melds the flavors of pineapple and banana, with a floral aroma and a texture like straight-up ice cream. It typically gets mixed into juices with milk or water, but it’s also delicious raw — just watch out for the big black seeds. It is ready to eat when it feels soft to the touch, and chefs like to use it in desserts like guanábana merengón, a meringue-based dessert similar to a pavlova.
A hybrid between a lime and a tangerine, this citrus sports a bumpy green rind that peels away to reveal orange-colored segments. The juice is more sour than sweet, but it’s great on fish, in meat empanadas, or in Colombian-style lemonade.
It looks similar, but the Andean blackberry is a different beast than the version you’ll find cascading over fences along creek beds in North America. The color is a mix of deep purple with flashes of raspberry red, and it’s far more acidic than it is sweet. That acerbic punch is what makes it a natural for brightening up rich meat dishes and fresh cheeses — but it’s also why mora juice gets diluted with water or milk spiked with sugar. You’ll find it frequently used in jams and dulce de moras, thin preserves that are wonderful spooned over creamy mousses and cheesecakes.
Yes, mangosteen actually originated in Southeast Asia, but it’s become a Colombian mainstay since it was introduced here at the end of the 19th century. The superhard rind makes it difficult to reach the white, cottony flesh, but the effort is worth it. Tangy and juicy, with the ambrosial qualities of lychee and stone fruit combined, mangosteen has the added mystique of being nearly impossible to find in the U.S.