If you plan on reading Adam Leith Gollner’s “The Fruit Hunters” in public, expect to be posed by friends, lovers and co-workers with the obvious observational question; “Are you actually reading a book about fruit?”

A seasoned food and culture journalist who has written for Bon Appetite, Gourmet and the New York Times, Gollner has spent the last decade trekking the globe to report on the world of fruit – a topic he presents as so much more expansive, fascinating, sexy, dangerous and tasty than your mom could have ever convinced you as a candy-craving child.

From Hawaii to Borneo to Cameroon, we are introduced to facets of the fruit world that are hard to imagine really exist.  Vivid, quirky characters from the world of fruit tourism, fruit smuggling, fruitarians, fruit cults, fruit based therapy, fruit sex and most importantly, fruit hunting, all come alive in prose that is graphic and lyrical in ways distant from common food and wildlife writing.

Gollner’s other strengths is his ability to make his search into the world of fruit a personal story, which includes his girlfriend, friends and family as enablers of his obsession.  His initial introduction to the world of exotic fruits came while depressed and love-sick in Brazil after his world was shaken by a tree that seemed to be sprouting muffin-shaped fruits.  But as wackiness goes, the sapucaia tree, which sprouts the muffin-shaped nuts, barely scratches the surface.

Consider the Wonka-esque miracle fruit miracle fruit, a West African berry that induces a seemingly far-fetched change in your taste buds, making everything that should taste sour, taste sweet for one hour.  While the Miracle Berry has received some press in the last year, Gollner expertly explores the hidden and intrigue-ridden story behind the fruit’s banning in the United States in the 60’s (It has to do with NutraSweet). 

While in Cameroon, Gollner describes the exalting experience of eating the miracle berry and then tasting a lemon – the suggested fruit after the taste-bud alteration – in such a way that you can’t help but smile and salivate long into the following pages.

“Where at first I could barely lick the puckeringly tart African lemon without wincing, now I’m gulping it down, licking up the juice on my chin,” Gollner says.  “Even the bits on my teeth are ecstatically sweet, like liquefied filaments of pure joy.”

The list of fanciful tasting fruits throughout the world goes on – from a combination of fruits that make a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich to mutant Californian orange that tastes like chicken noodle soup to a charichuela that tastes like “lemonade-infused cotton-candy.” 

Gollner seems to write with half-brain and half-tongue, which can be frustrating for the reader who can’t immediately experience it.  But, upon finishing the book I headed to the neighborhood grocery store and bought a bundle of Mexican mangoes.  (Now if only someone could write a compelling work on vegetables and exercise).

 

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