These days, access to foods from all over the world is easier than ever, especially when it comes to exotic fruits. This series will introduce you to some of the world’s most interesting exotic fruits and for this post, it’s all about the rambutan. Commonly known as rambutan, it is known botanically as Nephelium lappaceum. The rambutan is a tropical tree which belongs to the Sapindaceae family and also the name of the fruit of this tree. Although it does not grow very tall, it produces an ample harvest. Rambutan is widely distributed throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Southeast Asia and is identified in some countries, by different names.
For example, in Nicargua, Costa Rica and Panama, rambutan is identified as mamon chino while Thailand people call it ngoh. In Malaysia, another type of rambutan is sold called wild rambutan. Although the common color of rambutan is red, the fruit of this particular type is yellowish. The hairy skin of the rambutan fruit is removed to get to the whitish or pinky edible parts. They typically taste sweet though some are sour as well as sweet.
The rambutan tree grows to about 10 to 20 m in height. Its alternate leaves are 10 to 30 cm in length and pinnate and have three to eleven leaflets, each with an entire margin about 5 to 15 cm in width and 3 to 10 cm in breadth. Petal-less small flowers which are about 2 1/2 to 5 mm in size are disk-shape and they bloom cluster wise. The shape of rambutan fruit is round or oval and it is about three to six cm by three to four cm in dimension.
Rambutan is borne in clusters, and about 10 to 20 Rambutan fruit can be seen. Its leather like skin has pliable thorns. Rambutan fruit is typically red though some are yellow or orange. ‘Rambut’ is a Malay word that means ‘hairy’, which gets its name from the thorn like appearance of the fruits. Its brownish seed is about two to three cm in size . Usually, it’s eaten around since the seed itself tends to be bitter tasting.
In some countries, the rambutan tree is very commonly seen in gardens. There are also actual rambutan plantations found in many Southeast Asian countries as well as the Caribbean, Africa and Central America. Rambutan trees are genetically male or female. Although female rambutan trees are only with female flowers, the male Rambutan tree has both flowers.. The fragrance of rambutan flowers attracts a lot of various insects which in turn helps in its fertilization process. Since the female flowers lack pollen, they need cross pollinations to be fertilized. Although some cultivars are apomixes, rambutan mostly depends on insects to be pollinated.
Once properly fertilized, eventually, they will be ready for harvesting. With a height between 3 to 5 meters, Rambutan trees are easy to harvest. The seeds from the ripened fruit are in turn used to re-plant more trees. After removing the fleshy fruit, seeds are thoroughly washed before planting. It will take about nine to 25 days for sprouting. It takes 5 to 6 years before a rambutan is able to produce actual fruit.
Other than for eating, the seed oil from the Rambutan is used to manufacture candles and soap. Although Rambutan trees are rarely cut down, their wood is sometimes used in the construction industry. Medicinal uses for rambutan fruit include helping with healing dysentery and diarrhea. The leaves are also used as cataplasm to cure headaches. In Malaysia, the skin of the Rambutan fruit is used to prepare native medicines. Further, the roots of Rambutan trees are boiled and used as a medication to cure fever.
Rambutan fruit is rich in following components: Fat, Calcium, Iron, Protein, Nitrogen, Ash, Sodium, Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, pH, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Fiber.
When it comes to eating fresh rambutan, here are some tips. The opening of the rambutan can be accomplished by either cutting part way into the rind or, if fresh, biting into it as the spines are quite soft and pose no threat. Once the rind is cut part way around the equator of the fruit it can be pried open. There may be some juice if the rambutan is really fresh that you should try to catch before it drips. It will be as sweet as the fruit you are about to enjoy. The rambutan can now be removed from the rind by squeezing until it pops out.
There is one seed in the center which you discard as it is bitter. The rest of the fruit is yours to enjoy and it is quite refreshing. The fruit can then be eaten out of hand or served in fruit salads. It can also be added as a dessert topping to ice cream or puddings or prepared as a pulp that can be made into jams and jellies.
So the next time you see this hairy fruit, don’t let the spiky appearance fool you, because you might miss out on a sweet new treat!