Samui Wining & Dining
Tropical Pick

June’s fruit of the month – the rambutan.


4You’ve probably seen this fruit at all the local markets and large supermarkets on the island. Seemingly furry, hairy or perhaps even prickly, the rambutan is a curious fruit.

      Rambutan is also the name of the tree that produces the fruit. It’s a medium-sized tropical tree, and said to be native to Indonesia and Malaysia. It was apparently cultivated by the Malayan jungle tribes around their temporary settlements. Despite their origins, rambutan trees now grow quite happily throughout South East Asia. It is closely related to the lychee, which many people are probably more familiar with.

      The name ‘rambutan’ comes from the Malay word ‘rambut-an’ which means ‘hairy’. The tree itself grows to around 15 - 20 metres tall, and curiously, the trees can be male (only producing staminate flowers and therefore no fruit), female (producing flowers), or hermaphroditic (producing flowers that are female, as well as a small number of male flowers).

       The fruit itself is somewhere between round and oval, and is a single seeded berry growing up to six centimetres long and roughly three centimetres wide. The fruit is produced in hanging clusters of around 10 to 20 pieces. A ripe fruit will have reddish (sometimes orange or yellow) skin and they are covered with fleshy spines or hairs. The fruit inside is translucent, or a very pale white or pink, and tastes somewhere between a grape and a lychee. Contrary to popular belief, the seed can also be eaten. Eaten raw it tastes a bit like an almond, but it can be cooked too. Tests have shown no toxicity, even if comsumed in large amounts. Oil from the seed is sometimes used in the manufacture of candles and soap.

      The fruit usually sold fresh in its natural cluster. It is also sold in cans (obviously without its seed and most definitely not in a cluster). When buying the fruit, make sure you grab the ones with the bright red skin. If they are green they are unripe, but a little orange or yellow is okay. Don’t bother with black ones or ones with black hairs, these fruits are past their ‘best before’ date. The spines should be firm. They can be stored at room temperature for only a few days, and refrigeration keeps them fresh for around a week (make sure you wrap them in a paper towel).

     Don’t be intimidated by these fruits. They are easy to peel and delicious to eat. Simply dig your nail into the skin anywhere on the outside and peel away the outer hairy skin. Or you can squeeze the fruit gently until the skin breaks, then peel away the top half while keeping the bottom half to hold it while you eat it, like a wrapper.

      Nutritionally, rambutans are high in vitamin C, manganese, potassium, calcium and iron. The carbohydrate and protein content of the fruit helps to increase energy and even prevents bloating. Being rich in water, it also helps quench thirst and combat dehydration. The fruit is a traditional medicine in Malaysia and Indonesia, and is used to treat diabetes, hypertension and other ailments. The leaves can be used as a poultice on the temples to treat headaches, and a decoction of the bark is applied to the tongue to treat oral thrush. The fruit has antiseptic qualities which help the body to fight infection and kill intestinal parasites.

       Very flexible in cooking, they can be a great substitute for lychees, can be used in fruit salads, you can make jams and jellies and you can combine it with yoghurt, chutney, smoothies, or desserts. They can be mixed into cocktails, simmered with aromatics to make syrup or paired with other tropical fruits and added to cane-based liquors.

      Or how about making a really easy rambutan martini? All you need is some ice cubes, half a cup of pitted, peeled rambutans, a pinch of freshly grated ginger, two tots of vodka, half a tot of Cointreau and some soda water. In a cocktail shaker, combine the ginger and the rambutans and mix until they are broken up and have released their juices. Don’t completely flatten them though. Fill the shaker with ice then add the vodka, Cointreau and soda. Shake like you’re applying for a cocktail mixologist job and strain into a martini glass. A deliciously tropical cocktail.

      And you thought it was just a funny looking hairy fruit…


Colleen Setchell


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