I spent 2 years living in Malaysia — here are 14 of my favorite fruits Americans probably wouldn’t recognize

Southeast Asia is home to fruits that many people from other regions have never seen before.

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Southeast Asia is home to fruits that many people from other regions have never seen before.
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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

  • Southeast Asia is home to several fruits that most Americans probably haven’t heard of.
  • They include the durian – the pungent “king of the fruits” – and the unusual-looking rambutan.
  • I compiled 14 of the most bizarre fruits that I tried during my two-year stay in Malaysia.

Trying new foods is one of the best parts of visiting Southeast Asia.

In the two years I lived in Malaysia, I came across dozens of fruits I had never even heard of in the United States, let alone tasted. Some of the most notable were durian – the so-called “king of the fruits” whose smell is so strong it’s banned from hotels – and rambutan, nature’s answer to the Koosh ball.

Nothing can compare to tasting these exotic fruits for the first time, but after one bite it’s clear to see why they are so beloved throughout the region.

Here are 14 fruits from Southeast Asia that the average American didn’t know existed.


The quintessential Southeast Asian fruit is the durian. Malaysians call it the ‘king of the fruits’ and it’s a source of national pride.

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Flickr Creative Commons/Zhao

Source: Business Insider


Durian has an incredibly pungent taste and smell that many outsiders can’t tolerate. Anthony Bourdain once said of durian, “your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” The fruit is banned in many Malaysian hotels.

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fra-NCIS/Flickr

Source: Business Insider


Speaking of forbidden fruits, the mangosteen is another popular one.

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Flickr Creative Commons/Yun Huang Yong

It has a tough purple husk and soft, juicy flesh inside. It doesn’t stink like durian, but it’s banned in many buildings because the rind leaves a purple stain on anything it comes in contact with.

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Flickr Creative Commons/Simon Law

The rambutan, covered in soft bristles, looks like it comes from another planet.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Mother Nature Network


‘Rambutan’ comes from the Malay word for ‘hair.’ On the inside is a pleasantly sweet fruit that tastes somewhat like a red grape.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Mother Nature Network


Salak is sometimes called “snakefruit” in English because of its scaly exterior.

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Source: Smithsonian


The flesh isn’t juicy like the other fruits — it’s much dryer. It tastes sweet and slightly acidic, like a citrus fruit.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Smithsonian


Dragon fruit is notable for its psychedelic appearance. Its texture is reminiscent of kiwi, and its taste is mildly sweet. The pink version is often used to give color to smoothies and other drinks.

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Wikimedia Commons/Roei Tabak

Source: Natural Food Series


Langsat is another popular fruit in Malaysia.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Purdue


Peel back the thin skin and you’ll find a translucent, juicy orb inside with a sweet and sour taste.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Purdue


Jackfruit looks like a durian from afar, only much bigger — imagine two watermelons side by side. There’s no putrid smell with this fruit, either.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Epicurious


The inside of a jackfruit contains dozens of pods of thick, chewy flesh — it’s sometimes used as a meat substitute in cooking. The taste is something like a banana and pineapple.

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Flickr Creative Commons/Will Power

Source: Epicurious


Another gargantuan fruit from Malaysia is the cempedak — pronounced with a “ch” sound. The pods inside a cempedak are a lot harder to reach than those of a jackfruit.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Migrationology


The flesh is also much more mushy and custardy than a jackfruit, although the appearance is similar.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Migrationology


Pulasan has a tough exterior, but it’s easy to break open.

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Wikimedia Commons

Source: Purdue


On the inside is a juicy sphere that has a complex flavor that’s fragrant, sweet, and slightly tangy.

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Mark Abadi/Business Insider

Source: Purdue


Mata kucing is Malay for “cat’s eye” — no surprise why once you open one.

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Wikimedia Commons/Yosri

Source: Food Facts


Asian pears are crisp and fragrant, and have the texture of an apple.

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Wikimedia Commons

Source: Specialty Produce


Lychee is an Asian fruit many Americans may be familiar with. It’s common for Malaysians to put lychee in their iced tea.

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Flickr Creative Commons/ClickE

Source: Food Facts


The jambu air, or water apple, has a crisp, watery texture.

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Wikimedia Commons

Source: Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts


And the taste of a soursop might catch you off guard — it’s thick, somewhat creamy, and a mixture of sweet, sour, and musky.

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Wikimedia Commons

Source: Soursop Store