When Bob met James Wong: WASABI Wasabia japonica
A close relative of the cabbage that thrives in damp shady corners where nothing else will grow and is completely resistant to cabbage white butterflies (the scourge of cabbage growers). The grated root is a seriously sought after Japanese delicacy used to create that wonderfully spicy green paste you get with sushi and on the ever-trendy wasabi peas.
Incredibly 95% of the 'wasabi' outside Japan actually contains no wasabi at all – it's just a cheap counterfeit blend of horseradish and mustard dyed green (!) – meaning that until very recently the only way you used to be able to get hold of the real McCoy in the UK was to grow it yourself.
When Bob met James Wong: Litchi Tomato, Solanum sisimbrifolium
Now this is a great example of something that has failed my trials. I was excited to try it as a easy-to-grow tomato-like fruit, which is said to have a far superior perfumed flavour. Add that to the fact that as a common weed species in the Southern US it has an iron-clad blight resistance, thrives in drought and is super productive in the fruit stakes and I thought it would be a real winner. It even has showy, ornamental flowers. How could you go wrong?
Well after tasting one of its scarlet red fruit I very quickly realised (like many other edibles I've trialled) that there is a good reason why this isn't a major crop. The fruit have a strange flavour, somewhere between a watery tomato and a insipid inca berry (aka. Physalis). Not only do they taste bland and boring, but the flavour that is there sits rather uncomfortably between sweet and savoury. Not sweet enough to make a good fruit salad ingredient and not quite savoury enough to simmer up into a pasta sauce. Then of course there are the vicious thorns that cover the whole plant including the casing of the fruit. That means you get a free acupuncture session with each fruit you pick. Sadly I think this guy is going to have to join the roughly 50% of trial species that fail my tests. Hey if you don't give them a grow you'll never know...
When Bob met James Wong: PINEAPPLE GUAVA (AKA. FEIJOA), Acca sellowiana
Now these are a totally different story. The perfumed fruit of pineapple guavas have to win the prize as easily the most delicious of all hardy 'exotic' fruit, somehow fusing the flavours of pineapple, strawberry, guava and candy floss all into one silvery grey fruit. They are already a common ornamental in the UK for their glaucous evergreen leaves and pretty flowers, yet despite being a major commercial crop in Colombia, New Zealand and Japan, us Brits have for some reason yet to cotton on to their charms. If you had to pick bets on the next 'kiwi fruit' (i.e. previously unknown exotic fruit to make it big) then this would be it.
Apart from good looks and fragrant fruit, this plant even offers up edible flowers (that have specifically evolved sweet, showy petals to encourage pollinating mammals to dust their fuzzy centres in return for a tasty treat). With a chewy marshmallow-like texture and a flavour like minty strawberries, they are one of the few edible flowers that are actually worth eating – and as you can pick the petals off without damaging the developing fruit you can indeed get two harvest from the same plant!
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