The Seeds Are Better

Pondering the Osage orange, the historically important fruit you probably shouldn’t eat—unless you’re willing to go to the trouble of picking out the seeds.

By Ernie Smith

Of the many strange niches one can find on YouTube, the most interesting might be that spearheaded by Jared Rydelek, a man who has gained some notice on YouTube for tracking down rare kinds of fruit to try out. His channel, Weird Explorer, features him mostly talking about the weird fruits he’s eaten over the years, often while traveling. (It’s a very specific niche.)

Clearly, this takes him a lot of strange directions, including in the direction of one of the most unusual-yet-common fruits you might find in the U.S., the Osage orange, which might also be called a hedge apple or horse apple. The tree that bears its fruit is most commonly associated with Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, though it’s become common around the continental U.S. It’s considered more prized for its dense wood than its fruit, which is, to put it simply, weird.

This week, for example, a local TV news station in Lynchburg, Virginia had to actually report on the fruit from the tree, which is green and scaly on the outside, after lots of viewers called with questions. (The plant in question was near a school.)

To be clear, this plant is not uncommon—it actually has a place in American history, as they were a notable finding by Lewis & Clark. And certainly, the plant itself, despite its issues, had its benefits—beyond its useful properties in wood forms, Smithsonian notes that it was popular for protective hedges in the days before barbed wire, due to the plant’s thorns.

Really, the main problem with the plant is that it creates a fruit that is large, unwieldy, and secretes a fluid that has a tendency to give you a rash. Despite its most common names, it’s closer to a mulberry plant than either an orange or an apple.

It’s a fruit that squirrels eat for the seeds, rather than the other way around, making it an anomaly among fruits. And that was the direction Rydelek tried to take in a 2015 clip on salvaging something edible from the Osage orange.

Of the fruit itself, he said: “It’s edible in the same way as this pad of Post-It Notes is edible. You can eat it, but it’s not going to taste very good. It’s probably going to make you sick.”

He compared the fruit’s flavor to “watermelon rind”—and pointed out that the oil it secreted made his hands sticky.

But what of the seeds? That was the hard part. He had to soak the plant for a solid day to soften up the fruit around the seeds just enough so that he could painstakingly pull out the seeds one by one. He then let those seeds air dry, then roasted them. This multi-day process produced just enough seeds for a single bowl of dried hedge apple seeds—which had a flavor somewhere between sunflower seeds and popcorn, per Rydelek.

“Dare I say it? These are good. Very good,” he said. “It’s not worth the trouble, not at all. … It just requires a lot of patience and a lot of effort for a relatively small return.”

Long live the Osage orange, America’s strangest fruit.

(Virginia State Parks/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

Find me on: Website Twitter