Rambutan is a tropical fruit that is native to Southeast Asia and is widely grown in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. It belongs to the family Sapindaceae, and its scientific name is Nephelium lappaceum. The fruit is known for its distinctive appearance, with hairy or spiky skin and a sweet, juicy flesh inside.
What is rambutan, exactly?
Have you ever heard of this fruit before? It has a very similar appearance to lychee, so much so that it is also known as ‘hairy lychee’. This tropical fruit, scientifically known as Nephelium lappaceum, is actually similar to lychee, but a little larger and protected by a sort of “hairy” skin that has earned it the aforementioned nickname, reserves several surprises.
Rambutan is characterized by a kind of external red fuzz present on the peel, whose color can vary from red to yellowish brown, which makes it similar to a tiny hedgehog, only a little softer. It is no coincidence that its name in Malaysia originally means “mass of hair” or “unkempt hair”.
Beneath the spiky skin, you’ll find translucent and juicy flesh that is somewhat similar to the texture and flavor of lychee. The taste is sweet (the sweetness of rambutan can vary depending on its ripeness) with a hint of acidity, making it a delightful treat. The pulp surrounds a large internal seed that resembles a slightly larger lychee (up to 5 cm in diameter).
But let’s now see what its properties are.
This tropical fruit is not only tasty, but also has interesting nutritional and health properties. Here are some of its key properties:
- Nutritional Content: Rambutan is not only delicious but also offers some nutritional benefits. It is a good source of vitamin C, which is essential for a healthy immune system and skin. Additionally, it contains small amounts of various minerals, such as potassium, iron, zinc and calcium. In the pulp of this tropical fruit you will find also other nutrients such as flavonoids, malic acid and citric acid.
- Low in Calories and Fat: Rambutan is relatively low in calories and fat, making it a healthy option for those looking to enjoy a sweet treat without excessive calories.
- Antioxidant Properties: Rambutan contains antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. These antioxidants may have potential health benefits.
- Hydration: The high water content in rambutan makes it a hydrating fruit, perfect for quenching your thirst on a hot day.
How to eat rambutan?
Eating this fruit is quite straightforward. The typical rambutan variety turns from a bright to a dark red color when it ripens. If they appear black or have black hairs, they’ve become overripe. To prepare the fruit, start by washing it, and there are a few methods for opening them. Some people are used to bite into it to break the skin and then separate it. Alternatively, others use their fingers to split them open. And others prefer to use a knife to cut around the middle to open it up.
Once you have opened your rambutan, you can simply sink your teeth into the central white flesh ball. Inside, you’ll find a seed that you should remove by spitting it out.
Rambutan can be consumed naturally by removing the pulp from the shell and cutting it in half after removing the central seed, alone or in fruit salads.
It can also be used as an ingredient for the preparation of jams.
In the countries where this fruit comes from, it is also customary to use it as a sweetener for tea by squeezing a little juice or directly immersing the peeled fruit in the drink.
What does rambutan taste like? Given that it varies quite a bit depending on the variety and state of ripeness, this fruit generally has a sweet and delicate flavor, which resembles lychee quite closely.
However, different varieties have a slightly more acidic aftertaste than lychee and the slightly more fragrant texture is also slightly different.
It is therefore a fruit that will appeal to those who like to experiment and to all those who appreciate the flavors of South-East Asia.
It is certainly not a local fruit for many of those reading this, but it is no coincidence that the number of consumers who appreciate this strange fruit has increased over the last few years.
Where to find it?
In the United States and most European countries, this fruit is not as commonly found as more common fruits like apples and bananas, but it can sometimes be found in larger supermarkets or Asian grocery stores, especially in areas with a diverse population.
In online stores you can easily find seeds of this plant and rambutan-based products, such as rambutan in syrup, but it is not easy to find the fresh fruit.
More on tropical fruits
If you are interested in strange fruits from distant countries, or unusual crosses, find here more information: