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SPICE up your fruit salad

Chef Lance Seeto
Sunday, September 10, 2017

With the weather finally beginning to warm up it's time to dispense with the heavier winter dishes and jump into a fresh fruit pit of joy using our local fruits. Markets are bursting with ripe seasonal fruit including mango, passionfruit and guava — ready for our unadulterated enjoyment.

As luscious as these fruits taste on their own, it doesn't mean you need to eat them plain all the time. Sure, eating seasonal fruits is a time for minimalist preparations with fantastic ingredients, but that's no reason to lock up the spice cabinet, because that is where the magic begins when eating fruit. Most think of herbs and spices only for curries and savoury dishes, but when used right, small amounts of carefully considered spices can heighten, compliment, and add complexity to the flavours of fruit. When sweet fruits are paired with other sensory flavours like salty, spicy and bitter, it sparks an explosion of flavour and pleasure. If you are looking for ways to jazz up your basic fruit salad and get the family to eat more nutritional food, consider giving fruits a hit from the savoury side of the food world.


It's not something we often think of, but ingredients we generally consider savoury or spicy can provide a delicious contrast when added to a sweet and juicy fruit salad. Most people know to add fresh mint and sometimes basil; the classic garnish to fruits. If it sounds weird to add anything to fresh fruits, just think about how our sense of taste, smell and sight works. The tongue can sense not only sweet, but savoury, sour, salty and bitter flavours, so when food can activate multiple sensors it sends signals to the pleasure zones of our brains — and that's when we experience that "wow" sensation. Something as simple as fresh basil or crushed peppercorns add a peppery bite to a salad of watermelon, while crumbled feta or goats cheese adds a creaminess that just seems to be a made-in-heaven combination. Sour fruits like our in-season starfruit love to be paired with a vinegary spiced sugar syrup. For even more bite, consider adding very thinly sliced chilli or Korean red capsicum powder to sweet fruits like mango. And no matter what savoury element you add, make sure to also add a pinch of salt, preferably natural sea salt. Salt helps accentuate the natural sweetness of the fruit.


Many of the ancient cultures know that herbs and spices have more disease-fighting antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables, however by combining the medicinal power of both, you get the best of both worlds. In the battle against non-communicable diseases, certain herbs and spices can curb inflammation in the body, which may give rise to heart disease and cancer. For example, antioxidants in cinnamon have been linked to lower inflammation, as well as reductions in blood glucose concentrations in people with type-2 diabetes. The list of health benefits from herbs and spices are too long to list in this story but do some research online or speak to your doctor to learn more. Spices literally add spice to your life and diet but can also be a simple way to enhance meals and optimize your overall health, inside and out.


Pairing vanilla bean with most fruit is commonplace, but it often falls short of its potential. For something special buy our fresh Fijian vanilla beans which came from many places including the Wainadoi rainforest. They're more expensive than bottled vanilla essence and nowhere near as strong-flavored as their Mexican or African cousins, but they have an unparalleled aroma with notes of honeysuckle, berry jam, and rockmelon. They're ridiculously good combined with most fruits, and heavenly when added to a poaching liquid or a sauce for grilled fruit.


Mangoes are luscious, juicy emblems of summer weather and our markets are blessed with the first harvest of the year. They're also one of the few edible carriers of toluene, a plant chemical that when paired with black peppercorn, changes the flavour of mango and compliments the fruit's full-bodied sweetness. It's an especially powerful combination in ice cream, savoury compotes for meat, and toppings for desserts.

Winter notes on summer impressions

Traditionally wintry herbs pair quite nicely with summer fruits. Think of Christmas pudding with star anise and cloves. The same use of spices with our tropical fruits also applies. Classic festive combinations such as allspice, nutmeg, ginger and Chinese five spice powder in sugar syrups make great dipping sauces to most fruits. Thyme and citrus is another famous combination, along with rosemary and sage; spices normally used in roasting a turkey or chicken, but also work well with fruits. I use winter spices with my baked and roasted fruit such as starfruit, pineapple and vudi plantains, with star anise, allspice, nutmeg and any amount Christmas booze such as rums, brandy and even coconut vodka.


Tropical and thick-fleshed fruits like papaya, mango, and melon have a sweetness that can sometimes edge on sickly. You can counteract this with a sprinkle of amchoor or aamchur - powdered unripe mangoes. In India, amchoor is used to add sourness to simmered dishes and curries, but it performs equally well in a fruit salad with thin-sliced onions and some peppery greens. I'm always excited when I get to use this subtle potpourri that kind of smells like a dusty crate of tropical fruit, but in a good way. The surprisingly complex sweetness of amchoor just begs for something to compliment it like mangoes. Of course many Indian families know the delights of eating green mango with salt and chilli but next time try adding raw brown sugar too. Chilli sugar salts are perfect accompaniments to fruits that are a bit on the raw or green side.

Nutty and Savoury Spices

Whether making a savoury or sweet dish, fruit can benefit from slight savoury notes, especially the roasted flavours of black sesame seeds, poppy seeds or just about any nut. Toast these seeds or nuts in a dry pan before tossing with cubed papaya or watermelon, or add them as a crunchy topping to baked fruit. Nuts and seeds also offer huge nutritional benefits as their mineral and natural oil content helps our body to function and repair. They also add a delightful crunch that compliments softer fruits such as paw paw and banana. Natural oils such as extra virgin olive and coconut oils can also be added to fruit dressings and help round out a fruit salad just as a salad dressing does for a piece of lettuce.

? Join Chef Lance Seeto for lunch at Malamala Beach Club.

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