When Maria Gonzalez first came to the United States to attend graduate school, she longed for the mangos and avocados of her native Venezuela.

“My aunt had a summer home near the beach that had mango and avocado trees,” says Gonzalez. “She would bring us boxes of them. There were so many, we would give them to everybody in the neighborhood.”

“Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t find mangos in the majority of grocery stores. Now every store has mangos and coconuts and pineapples”

- Kristy Plattner of the USDA

But when Gonzalez emigrated 27 years ago, it wasn’t easy to find such produce.

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“I remember trying to find Cilantro to make ceviche and it was so hard,” she says. Today though, the zoology professor at Miami University of Ohio can buy everything from yucca to plantains at her local grocery store.

Consumption of exotic fruits in the United States is at an all-time high and experts say immigrants, especially Latinos like Gonzalez, are driving that trend.

“Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t find mangos in the majority of grocery stores. Now every store has mangos and coconuts and pineapples,” said Kristy Plattner of the USDA.

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Plattner said 30 years ago, per person consumption of limes in the U.S. was half a pound. By 2009 that number had had risen to 3.5 pounds. Consumption of mangos, avocados, kiwis, pineapples and papayas also increased dramatically in the last three decades.

On the flip side, consumption of apples, what Plattner describes as “the quintessential American fruit,” is on the decline.

“Red Delicious isn’t your own only choice anymore,” she said. “You can go to the store and buy a nectarine or a papaya.”

Esendugue Greg Fonsah an economist at the University of Georgia, said immigrants from a variety of regions — Asia, Africa, and especially Latin America — are a big force behind the trend of Americans’ increasing desire for exotic fruits.

“They come from areas where fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful,” he said, “and they want to eat what they were used to back home.”

That’s certainly the case for Gonzalez, who says mangos have always been her favorite fruit.  Still, as a biologist, who believes in the buy-local movement and has concerns about introducing exotic pests, she struggles with the idea of importing exotic fruit. So even though she wasn’t a fan of apples when she first moved to the U.S., she has developed a taste for them over time.

Just don’t ask her to eat a pear.

“Apples I will eat,” she says with a laugh. “But pears I cannot do.”

Nancy Averett is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

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Nancy Averett is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

 

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