Are kiwano horned melons, wild-haired rambutans, and soursop flying off the shelves at your local grocery store today? If so, the chances are you should be wishing the shoppers buying them a happy Rosh Hashanah. Though not as widespread as eatings apples dipped in honey—which signifies a sweet new year—it’s customary for some Jews to introduce a new fruit on the second night of the Jewish New Year celebration, which is this evening. According to Chabad, the “seasonal fruit which we have not yet tasted since its season began” should be on the table for the lighting of the candles and the recitation of the kiddush—the blessing for the wine—and consumed after the blessing for fruit. While commonly available fruit like kiwis, pomegranates, or dragon fruits have often served as go-tos, some New Yorkers have taken the tradition of buying strange fruit on Rosh Hashanah up to 11, according to the Wall Street Journal. These intrepid holiday observers will go to extraordinary lengths to secure the most unusual fruit available for their dinner tables.
“Everyone and his brother gets a dragon fruit,” Chaia Frishman told the Journal. “I don’t think it’s a competition. I think it’s more like a challenge.”
The competitive spirit is great for business, exotic produce sellers and New York grocers report. Generally, the Northeast gets about a quarter of the country’s exotic fruit, one distributor told the Journal, but as Rosh Hashanah nears, the region, which is home to millions of Jews, sees close to 70 percent of imports. And according to senior buyer Patrick Ahern of the speciality produce company Baldor, the ritual is growing in popularity. Baldor’s exotic fruit sales around Rosh Hashanah in 2014 increased more than 500 percent compared to the same week the year before. One Long Island resident said she sets aside $50 for Rosh Hashanah fruit and, naturally, plans to brag about her best discovery on Instagram.
As U.S. import restrictions have loosened, exotic fruit offerings have become increasingly outlandish. Seasons Kosher grocery is selling soursop, a spiny tropical fruit, for $10 a pound. Others are selling jackfruit, which has become a popular meat substitute and holds the distinction of being the world’s largest tree fruit, and monstera fruit, which looks like a scaly cucumber and tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana. While some of the fruits are actually quite delicious, shoppers and sellers alike say the taste is a secondary concern. Novelty, they say, is what’s most important.
“Some of them are really awful tasting,” said Malki Levine of Evergreen Kosher Market in Monsey, New York told the Journal. “We buy them anyway.”