I like to try new things. You never know you like or dislike something until you try it, the saying goes. I was perusing Wal-Mart recently and noticed some red spiny looking things
in the produce area. They looked like sea urchins.
They were fruits called rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum), native to Malesia and they’ve spread to surrounding areas. Naturally, I bought some.
They look like they’d tear your hands up, but they are soft and surprisingly easy to peel. The fleshy part under the skin is white to translucent and contains a single elongated seed. The flesh itself has the texture of a peeled grape. According to most sources, the flavor is similar to pears. I think it favors grapes, though that might be because of the texture similarity.
Rambutans are related to Lychee fruit (Litchi chinensis). Lychee’s are those red fruits that look a little like red sycamore balls, rounded strawberries, or maybe huge dry raspberries. Both rambutan and lychee grow on trees. Rambutans usually grow 20 to 30 feet tall and can attain heights of 60 feet. Lychee trees sometimes reach 100 feet.
Rambutans are evergreens with foliage that at first glance might remind one a little of hickory or pecan trees. Leaves emerge from stems singly like pecans, but they have a more leathery texture and their edges are smooth.
Rambutan trees are another one of those polygamo-dioecious species. Some are male and some are female and some have both types of flowers. Trees with both flower types usually bear the most fruit. Rambutans produce fruit in spring but a greater quantity in fall.
Don’t expect to grow any of your own unless you have a big greenhouse. Rambutan trees could not possibly survive our winters. They would need to be planted in protected places to survive in south Florida.
Fruits are filled with antioxidants such as vitamin C. They’re also high in essential minerals too, like iron, copper, manganese, calcium and phosphorus. Like nearly all fruits they are also high in fiber.
Wild claims abound on the internet. This fruit is touted as a cure for some cancers. Some researchers claim rambutan can help control blood sugar levels. Others claim that due to high levels of vitamin C, sperm quality and quantity will be increased.
Treatments for many other maladies are also reported also. Therapeutic uses range from treating dysentery to weight loss to headaches to fever. Some even say rambutan can help maintain healthy hair and proper skin hydration. Most treatments involve using other parts of the rambutan tree like leaves and seeds.
Now I’m not saying we should believe everything we read on the internet. I certainly don’t, but I am saying these fruits are definitely safe to eat and they taste pretty good. The slippery texture might be a turnoff to some. Nothing’s perfect.
They are a bit more pricy than our commonly consumed fruits. Being a self-admitted cheapskate, I won’t partake of them on a regular basis. I won’t turn my nose up to them either if some are offered to me.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.