Star Fruit

Believe it or not, summer is almost officially here and hopefully that means you’re already enjoying the many wonderful tastes of the season. Delicious and gorgeous, ripe fruits take center plate in the summer months, accenting entrees, desserts, drinks and often best just on their own. And you may even feel called to get a little exotic, adding tropical flair to your fruit offerings. But where are those tropical fruits imported from? Are they organic? How sustainable are they? Here are our top picks for summer’s most sustainable tropical fruits and a few to be extra cautious about.

Tropical fruits are just that—from the tropics—which means they’ve got quite a big carbon footprint to get from that paradisiacal place to your local market. But, when all is considered, an ethically harvested or organically grown tropical fruit may have less of an impact than a conventional option grown in the U.S. And, there just happen to be a few incredible tropical fruits that grow in Florida and California (and Hawaii, of course!) that can fix your taste for the exotic. Let’s start there first.

Sustainable Options

South Florida is a pretty tropical place. You can even find fruiting coconut palms! You will also find mangoes (possibly in your own yard), the tart and sweet star fruits (carambolas), creamy, rich cherimoyas and white sapotes, as well as dragon fruits, which are kind of like a really big kiwi with the most gorgeous (inedible) skin. And you’ll find these also coming out of Southern California (minus the coconuts). Check in with your local produce manager to point you in the direction of U.S. grown tropical fruits.

When it comes to imports, look for Fair Trade certified mangoes coming out of Haiti. They’re part of a recovery program for the hard-hit region after 2010’s disastrous earthquake. Fair Trade certified foods and goods help to empower communities through livable wages, which can improve education and healthcare opportunities for thousands of farmers and families.

Acai, while only available frozen outside of Brazil, has inspired a boon to sustainability in the Amazon, helping not only to empower regional communities, but by also preserving the critically important rainforest. It’s a delicious and healthy fruit that can be used in drinks, smoothies and desserts.

Scrutinize These Fruits!

The banana is a common staple in our diet, but they’re almost always imported from tropical regions (a few varieties grow in Florida and Hawaii). Fair Trade certified bananas can also be purchased from most natural food stores and it is so important to support small farmers paid fairly for such a monster crop. A few tips: Try to not make this a staple fruit in your house. Trade it in for local, seasonal fruits on a daily basis and save it for special occasions (banana bread, hot fudge sundaes, etc). The banana is hybridized to be excessively sweet, which isn’t all that great for you. Make sure that when you do purchase bananas, you find the Fair Trade certified and organic options. There are also some great dried bananas coming out of sustainable farms in Costa Rica.

While most pineapple you see available in supermarkets are plantation grown and non-organic, if you happen to stumble on an organic pineapple from Costa Rica—snatch it up! They’re doing great things in the way of sustainable farming unlike some of the bigger plantation operations, and when you consider the weight of the fruit, it uses a lot of fossil fuels to be transported. Make those miles count by supporting organic.

The papaya is one of the most undeserving victims of biotech’s ugly interference, but that’s just what has happened. Genetically modified papayas have taken over the market due to their development to combat the Papaya Ringspot Virus. Genetically modified foods have been linked to serious health problems and require large amounts of pesticides. So always make sure your papayas are certified organic or skip them altogether.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: AZAdam