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Boost your vitamin intake with exotic fruits

A better summer selection means more options for the whole family. TODAY food editor Phil Lempert shares the skinny on some of the latest produce on the market.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Twenty years ago, the supermarket produce section had about 50 items. Today the produce department stocks 300 to 400 items! Ethnic or exotic produce is one of the fastest-growing produce sections of the supermarket. As Americans are more exposed to different cultures, they have become more willing to experiment with new fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets also are doing a better job of sampling their produce to their customers.

While Americans are more open to trying different produce, we still aren't eating enough of them. Most doctors and dieticians recommend eating about nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but the average American is eating only 3.2 servings a day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, nutrients, and fiber and have a lot of antioxidants properties.

Marketers have found that colored foods get kids excited — and the produce section is one of the most colorful sections of the store. So parents should take their kids to the produce section and once a week have them find a new produce to serve.

Americans place a high priority on "fresh, high-quality fruits." According to the Produce Marketing Association 87 percent of us rate it a "very important grocery feature." And overall, imports accounted for almost half of the U.S. fruit supply.

So, it’s almost summer, and that means some of the year's best exotic fruits are about to be delivered to your supermarket. Summer means more colors and more interesting fruits and can also mean extra nutrients for your whole family with very little extra work.

Here's the list:

Hawaiian apple bananas  Hawaiian apple bananas are grown on the verdant slopes of Hawaii's most active volcano, Kilauea. Fed by the combination of lava enriched soil, tropical sun, and high humidity, the crop is tempered by the growing region's copious annual rainfall of as much as 200 inches. These unequalled climatic circumstances combine to produce the distinctive, robustly sweet, yet piquant flavor. Smaller than the common Cavendish variety, apple bananas are firm, but moist, and the flesh has a slightly pinkish tone, which deepens with cooking or baking. The Big Island is the largest domestic producer of bananas in the United States and the only supplier of Hawaiian apple bananas.

Peeled green plantains  
Plantains are known as the “cooking banana” and can be used in recipes at any stage of ripeness — only very ripe plantains can be eaten raw. As the fruit ripens its color changes from green (firm and starchy) to yellow (softer, starchy and sweet) to black, at which time it is very soft and very sweet. The plantain texture is similar to a potato, but richer, and the flavor is mild with just a hint of banana. They're perfect to slice and bake into chips.

Fresh, pre-peeled coconut (whole, halves and slices) 
The ultimate in convenience, removed from the husk, it’s packaged with water and vacuum sealed and ready to use right out of the package. Don’t discard the water. Coconut water is one of the hottest trends, and it's nature's own isotonic beverage with the same level of electrolytes as we have in our blood.

Specialty melons: Hami, French Kiss, Cotton Candy, Sweetie, and Camouflage
These specialty melons have a wide range of intense flavors that match their names and are typically more savory and juicy than traditional melons.

Fragrant pears
Uniquely shaped pears that are medium-sized, sweet, juicy, and offer a crunchy texture.  These pears have a floral scent, which is why they are called fragrant pears. Fragrant pears are a distinguished fruit in Northwest China where they are grown in a premium growing region for optimum flavor.

Zululand Queen Baby Pineapple  
Sweeter than Hawaiian Baby Pineapples, this variety is from South Africa and is grown in Hluhluwe in Northern Zulu Land. The pineapple is just five inches high with a bright yellow inside and edible core. Very juicy, very sweet and very tender.

Indian Mango  
The mango is the number one fruit in the world, and the Indian Mango is thought to be the best tasting in the world with a creamy texture and sweet flavor with hints of almond, coconut, vanilla, citrus and cinnamon. It is also smaller than traditional mangoes and has no stringy fibers.

And if you were wondering just which are the best selling tropical fruits in the U.S., here’s the top 10:

1. Banana  2. Pineapple 3. Mango4. Coconut 5. Papayas 6. Kiwano Melon 7. Cherimoya 8. Starfruit 9. Red Tamarillo 10. Lychee

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at