Fruit News This May
The best fresh fruit on sale in May.
May is a month of great change of new and old seasons across the fruit spectrum. European soft fruit, melons and stone fruit start filling supermarket shelves; southern hemisphere avocados, satsumas, kiwis, pears and apples arrive; and Indian mangoes fill Asian grocery shops. It is only the grape offer that really struggles, with oranges and mandarins also late in their season, though still offering good eating quality. There is plenty to enjoy!
Most apples are still from the 2020 European harvest season, but new season southern hemisphere apples, principally from South Africa, but also from New Zealand, Argentina and Chile will start to arrive in May. Already available is Gala, and there is usually New Zealand Cox on shelves by now, but particularly look out for Smitten and other freshly harvested varieties including Braeburn, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Arriving later will be Envy, Jazz, Cripps Red and Pink Lady.
Of the remaining stocks of European fruit, Rockit (in M&S) is a wonderful small variety, but mighty expensive, and Kanzi (in Sainsbury’s) is a regular, lightly textured option.
Early fresh apricots are not far off harvest in southern Spain and usually arrive in stores during the month. Given the cool conditions, there will perhaps be a slight delay, but whenever they arrive, the early varieties will be fresh and tangy. It is often best to wait for slightly later varieties such as Colorado.
The main supply of avocados is moving to Africa and South America. Hass will be mainly from Peru, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania: quality should be excellent for the earlier season fruit. The green-skin Fuerte is also becoming more available, principally from South Africa: a lighter, creamier, more refreshing experience (often in Waitrose and Tesco, or independent stores).
Fresh blackberries come mainly from Morocco, Portugal and Spain in May, but some volumes are also grown in the UK under protected cropping. The big, sweet Driscoll Victoria and Midnight varieties are the most popular, but the more tangy traditional varieties are used in the value packs in many supermarkets.
The southern European / North African season has been underway for some time from Morocco, Portugal and Spain. Quality should be at its peak in May, so buy with confidence and expect some excellent fruit.
Fresh cherries are hard to come by in May, but early varieties, such as Coral, become available from the south of Spain. Don’t expect these to be anything like the sweet succulence of mainstream varieties, rather find some good fresh flavour with an acid tang until the season really gets going.
Evita and Parisian from South Africa, Toro Sentado from Peru and early Black Mission from Mexico are the choice of figs during May. These are all good eating varieties, but the key to flavour is in maturity: make sure the fruit are as dark as possible with uniform colour and without light patches to get the best eating quality.
May is a difficult month for grape suppliers as volumes of freshly harvested fruit are very low and suppliers rely on stored stocks and late varieties from South Africa, Chile and India. Essentially, they are waiting for new season fruit from Brazil, Mexico and Egypt. In the meantime, we have a limited selection of late varieties and varieties that store well from which to choose. The quality of grapes that you buy should have a direct association with the care given by the various retailers. You would expect M&S and Waitrose to be the most reliable, but vigilance is necessary everywhere that you buy your grapes.
Tips of fruit to avoid: Grapes with very dry stems; punnets with loose berries; any sign of juice or mould; green tinges on berries; green grape varieties with hard green colouration (better is straw or yellowish colour); punnets with variable berry sizes.
Red grapes: Crimson, Scarlotta and Allison are the main red varieties available which offer a decent sweet and crisp eating experience. From Chile, look out for delicious Muscat Beauty, and a new variety called Arra Passion Glow.
Black grapes: The flavour-packed Vitoria from Brazil continues alongside delicious Sable from Chile and Brazil. Otherwise, a selection of varieties such as Autumn Royal, Adora Seedless and Sweet Joy will make-up the choice of black grapes. Look out for Maylen (or Iniagrape-One) from Chile: a soft grape, but very sweet and juicy.
Green grapes: India will provide much of the green grape during May which will mostly be Thompson but also Arra 15 (aka Arra Sweeties). These are decent grapes: sweet, slightly tangy and juicy, but can be rather unexceptional. A good rule of thumb is to look for bolder berries with a nice yellowish straw colour. Sweet Globe may start to become available from Brazil.
GRAPEFRUIT & POMELO Update:
Pink grapefruit from USA (Florida Pink) and Sunrise (aka Star Ruby) from Israel continue to be the best grapefruit available. Many stores are supplied from Spain, Turkey, and Cyprus, which tend to have slightly less density and more acidity.
Chinese Pomelo may be in independent grocers.
Green Hayward kiwifruit continues from Italy or Greece, but the first New Zealand Hayward will arrive during the month, as will Chilean-grown fruit. Opinions about which source produces the best eating quality divide the fruit trade: an almost impossible question to resolve! The sweeter yellow kiwifruit from New Zealand, Sungold, is now available, alongside Skelton from South Africa and Jintao from Chile. These are quite different from each other, with the New Zealand variety perhaps having the edge on sweetness and flavour.
LOQUAT (MEDLAR) Update:
Loquats are grown in Mediterranean countries and rarely exported in any volume due to their extreme susceptibility to bruise. They are available in some independent grocery stores in May: try them for their unique flavour.
The switch from Primofiori to Verna as the main lemon variety on sale from Spain is pretty much complete by May. Verna is a less attractive option due to its thicker skin, lower juice content and more knobbly appearance but is available long after Primofiori is finished: regular lemon-users will probably notice the difference. There is also a fair amount of Spanish Eureka on the market which is a new development as the variety has always been associated as the mainstay of the South African industry: certainly, a better option than Verna.
There are no lychee available in early May in supermarkets, but the Mexican season may start by the end of the month.
Orri, Nadorcott and Tangold from Spain and Morocco (and Israel for Orri) continue through May, but it is a stretch in terms of quality. With skill, the best orchards and good harvest planning, these varieties will continue through much of May, but there will be a noticeable flattening of the taste structures as the acids diminish to emphasise a rather bland sweetness. As an alternative, look out for Mor (aka Spring Sunshine) and Murcott: both are lovely, sweet and dense. The peel is slightly tough, but their acids hold-up for a little longer.
The reason these are on sale of course, is that we are awaiting the freshly harvested mandarins from South Africa, which generally start appearing in late May, with a very different taste profile!
The origins of the standard sea-freight varieties that make up the main supermarket mango offer become more complex from May. Kent from Peru continues for a while, as does Palmer from Brazil (the more flavoursome option), but gradually Central America, Caribbean and West Africa dominate supply, which includes Keitt, the other main ‘Florida’ variety. In terms of eating quality, this means a period of turbulence and uncertainty due to the number of different origins and season start-ups of numerous producers. Some of this fruit is delicious, but often the result is bland and uninspiring.
More exciting is the start of the Indian mango season with Alphonse, Kesar and Badami. These are exceptional mangoes for flavour: among the best in the world. Alphonse is probably the most reliable in early May, but Kesar will get better and better. It is possible to buy these mangoes on-line (e.g. Red Rickshaw) at a price (circa £3 per mango), though they should be appearing in South Asian groceries. In some Waitrose stores you will find Alphonse, the best of these varieties (£2.50 each), but not being the prettiest in appearance, can look a bit lost on the shelf: don’t be put off. Prices, like last year, are high due to limited air-freight capacity, but, by the box, £10 for 5-6 fruit is worth paying for the experience.
Other varieties are available here and there, for example Ataulfo, the favoured mango of Mexico (occasionally in M&S, Costco, independents). This smooth, fragrant mango is wonderful at its best, though it can suffer somewhat from long-distance transportation. Also worth trying is Amelie from Burkina Faso which has an unusual shape and a lovely perfumed flavour (if properly mature)(occasionally in Waitrose, often the organic option).
Melons from Central and South America continue into May but are gradually replaced by Spanish fruit as the new season gets underway. Watermelons are usually the first to change: regular consumers will notice slight changes in eating quality in all varieties as the new fruit arrives.
The late season Valencia Late (along with variants Midknight, Barberina and Delta) gradually becomes the main orange on sale during May as the supply of Navels reduces. This is a good, versatile orange, flavoursome and great for juicing, though not as fine as the Navel. There will be a slight acid tang in early fruit (from Spain, Morocco and Egypt). Check labels carefully as some supermarkets use the same packaging for Navels and Valencias, though they offer a quite different eating experience.
Navels, while they continue, should be given preference as the better eating orange. These are mostly Lane-Lates from Spain which are deliciously sweet and succulent. They gradually give way to the ultra-late Navels such as Powell and Chislett which will appear in main supermarkets: equally delicious, though perhaps not quite as succulent. Once they finish, there will be no more Navels until the start of the new South African season in late June.
PEACH & NECTARINE Update:
Egypt provides the first of the northern hemisphere peaches in the form of Florida Prince. This has a typical early season tanginess, but can be sweet and pleasant after the late varieties from South Africa. In short order there will be the first peaches and nectarines from southern Spain on the shelves which signals the start of the summer stone fruit campaign. Eating quality will only improve as the summer months unfold, but will start, as ever, with some acidity in the fruit.
May is a great month for pears as the best of the southern hemisphere arrive. Look out for Forelle, Comice, Green Williams (Williams’ Bon Chrétien), Qtee, Abaté Fétèl and Concorde from South Africa and Argentina, along with tasty stalwart, Packham’s Triumph. Also expected shortly will be New Zealand pears such as Taylor’s Gold to add to a wonderful choice. The best chance of finding these varieties is in larger supermarkets, with Tesco, Waitrose and M&S being perhaps the more enthusiastic retailers.
In some independent stores there are Brazilian Triumph persimmons to be found, but supermarkets will await the new South African season towards the end of May before restarting sales.
Not many supermarkets regularly sell this wonderfully flavoursome fruit (except M&S and Sainsbury’s). It is mostly from Columbia and has a huge, unique flavour and plenty of acid tanginess.
The late season variety Angelino is now the dominant choice of plums from South Africa and Chile and will continue to be so until the new Spanish season gets going in June. This is a sweet, firm-fleshed, though rather uninspiring variety. There are other alternatives to be found, such as Fall Fiesta and FlavourFall, but they are all quite dense. Some retailers have the more succulent September Yummy which is the better option while stocks last.
Morocco, Portugal and Spain, and, increasingly, UK will provide beautiful raspberries during May.
South African Mihowase satsumas can be found in most stores. This is a wonderful fruit for those that like a bit of acidic tang in their citrus: plump, sweet and juicy, and a great contrast to the late European mandarins. Also on shelves is Okitsu from Peru which is equally delicious.
The English strawberry season really gets going in May, though huge volumes are also sold from Spain. The best varieties include Malling Centenary and the Driscoll range of varieties (Lusa, Elizabeth, etc). Tesco have been selling a variety called Seaside in their Finest brand which is succulent and flavoursome: there is plenty of good fruit to come!
©Good Fruit Guide 2021. Recommendations on fruit varieties and types with the very best taste are personal to the editor of Good Fruit Guide, and do not attempt to be exhaustive or supported by verifiable consumer research. The highlighting of fruit with the very best taste in the opinion of the editor is not intended as a judgement on the taste of varieties and types of fruit not mentioned.