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Getting to Know Exotic Rambutan

Q: Is rambutan fruit as good for you as the Internet claims it is?

A: You might have heard that rambutan is one of the hottest “superfruits” of the year, as some popular magazines and websites have proclaimed. And this exotic fruit certainly looks the part-its ruby-colored outer surface is covered with yellowish-green, hairy tubercles (nodules), inspiring the fruit’s name, which means “hair” in Malay.

A close relative of lychee, rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum L.) grows on trees that can reach up to 80 feet in height, and is a treasured fruit in its native Asia. In countries like Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Borneo, people munch on rambutan just as we do on apples.

When you peel away the hairy rind, you are left with translucent, white or rose-tinted flesh. Rambutan has been cultivated all over Asia, where it thrives in a tropical climate, but has never been successfully grown in the U.S.

The most common way to enjoy rambutan is to eat it out-of-hand; tear away the rind, pop out the glistening fruit, remove the seed and bite into its sweetness. The fruit is also enjoyed in a traditional, Asian stewed dessert, as well as preserved or canned. Rambutan seeds are used in making candles and soaps. You can find fresh and canned rambutan online, as well as at specialty stores that sell exotic, tropical produce.

Rambutan has long had a role in traditional folk healing. The fruit is used to treat stomach ache and diarrhea, while the leaves are used as a poultice to relieve headaches; and the rind, bark and roots are used as folk medicine, for treating fever, for example.

Today, scientists know very little about the nutritional properties of rambutan. U.S. Department of Agriculture analysis reveals that it is high in the antioxidant vitamin C, as well as in minerals like manganese. In a study published in March 2010 in Molecules, Thai scientists identified active compounds in rambutan peels, such as ellagic acid that exhibits strong antioxidant properties, leading them to conclude that rambutan peels might serve as a beneficial component in both medicine and the food industry. And that’s about the only scientific evidence currently available on the health properties of this delicious fruit.

So, enjoy the sweet, exotic taste of rambutan. Just keep in mind that there’s not much proof yet that rambutan has the supernatural health properties that some websites attribute to it.

 

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