There is a fruit that grows on vines in Southeastern Asia that looks like nothing else on Earth. This large fruit, about the size of a grapefruit, is related to the gourd and as it ripens it puts on a beautiful show of colors, starting from neon green and working it's way up to bright hot-pink.
It is called simply a "Gac," and to add to this interesting landscape, this odd fruit is covered in pointy spikes the likes seen nowhere else in nature! Simply put, all first appearances of Gac convey a beautiful and captivating fruit.
Equally wonderful are Gac's nutritional assets. The world of nutrient science has only recently started to get around to interviewing this remote fruit, but they've already ascertained, without any doubt, that Gac is the world's most concentrated source of lycopene, to the order of 76 times the amount of lycopene found in the average tomato!
It has very high levels of Beta Carotene (10 times that of a carrot) and zeaxanthin too, making Gac extremely helpful for your eyes. Also, it is an ideal source of Omegas 6 and 9 fatty acids, which of course your body needs but cannot produce on its' own.
Research, again, is new on Gac, and there may be many other big discoveries about its' nutrient properties in the near future. Already though, it only seems fair to officially pronounce the Gac fruit a bona fide superfruit.
Sadly, this is where Gac's beauty ends. The sides (mesocarp & exocarp) of a Gac fruit are poisonous, and worse yet, the inner seed chamber of a Gac looks strikingly similar to human intestines!
The Vietnamese people have been using & eating Gac for centuries, but I have a feeling that even they are a bit grossed out by the internal appearance of this horribly conflicted fruit. After speaking to several people who grew up around Gac, I have come to the conclusion that Gac has mostly been used as an ornamental fruit, letting it's vines creep over their houses and proudly showing off their large, bright pink Gacs to the neighbors like we would pink flamingos in our yards. Few of them even seemed to realize that Gac was indeed healthy to eat.
The occasions when these people had actually eaten gac was limited to weddings. A bright red dish called Xoi-Gac, made out of sticky rice and the red oil from inside the Gac's seed chamber, is a traditional Vietnamese wedding dish served to ensure that the bride and groom have a happy marriage. Rarely had anyone I've found to talk to about gac eaten it in other dishes, or at other times throughout their life.
I feel this must be because Gac is so repulsive and difficult to cook. I may be wrong, however, I have only eaten Gac on one occasion.
Lesson # 1: DO NOT EAT THE MESOCARP OF GAC FRUIT.
Not having done my research properly, I cut open my first Gac fruit and happily forked up a bit of the mesocarp of this ripe gac, which looked and even smelled exactly like a slice of cantaloupe.
I put it in my mouth and chewed for about 1 second, before spitting out the very worst thing I've every tasted in my life! In fact, it taste so bad that I instantly knew I was in trouble, and I went to wash my mouth out without hesitation.
Sadly, I was too late, and I spent the next day and a half painfully expelling that tiny bit of poison out of my system- The hard way. You have been warned.
What I didn't know was that the only edible parts of the Gac were that red oil covering the seeds (where all the Lycopene is) and those huge seeds themselves. Apparently you can roast those and they have a nice, nutty flavor, not unlike a chestnut, but not quite as tasty.
I didn't get a chance to eat a seed, not having access to a fireplace or other way to roast it while I was in Asia, but I did try the oil. Both alone and on some rice, the red Gac fruit oil is pretty tasteless. It didn't taste bad or good, it was just a neutral, oily liquid that is pretty thick and of course bland.
Availability of Gac Fruit
How to find some Gac? Well, it's simply not available outside Southeast Asia. Gac is a hardy plant that should be able to grow anywhere that it doesn't freeze, but currently the US Dept. of Agriculture isn't allowing the fruit into the US at all. (As usual, the USDA is afraid of Asian bugs riding along.) Perhaps that will change in the future.
I was in Bangkok, Thailand and I tried my luck for them at markets there. Gac is known by the name "Fuk Kao" in Thai, which made everyone giggle a bit to tell me that in English, but eventually I was pointed to a farmer's market that had exactly 3 Gac fruit available, in February.
I mention the month because Gac season is very short, only lasting from December to the beginning of February. If I had shown up a week later, they told me, I'd have to wait until next year, since Gac doesn't grow anywhere at all until next December.
Incidentally, I paid about $1 US for both the ripe and unripe gac fruits together. -They tend to think of this plant as a weed more than anything else, so price at the source is no issue when trying to obtain gac.
In the right-hand picture above you'll notice that the small, green gac fruit in there too... That is an unripe gac, which the farmer was selling that day because Gac can also be fried and eaten unripe. She couldn't tell me how to do so though... Fried, unripe gac is apparently difficult to prepare. (Not to mention, devoid of any health benefits... There is no red oil nor even seeds inside the green ones yet!)
I found the insides of the unripe gac fruit very interesting though, because it appears that in a short period of time, the gac's insides go from this:
I wasn't brave enough to try to fry the green gac without instructions, so sadly it went to waste. Oh well, I hope you're finding some use out of it now.
The Moral of The Story:
Anyway, I have come to the conclusion that Gac fruit is something we here in the western world will likely just have to wait on. I don't see why some Vietnamese entrepreneurs don't simply bottle up the oil and sell it to us, but there may be a good reason for that. Until that day, we always have the options of either flying to Asia for some Gac, or somehow grabbing some seeds and growing them ourselves in a greenhouse.
Your eyesight is worth it; why not?