Rambutan — what’s with this hairy tropical fruit?

Rambutan is one of the more common tropical fruits around and one that Westerners would find exotic. What it lacks in visual appeal it makes up for by the charming, mildly sweet and tangy flavor of its white, jelly-like flesh. All hairy and spindly and red, rambutan is not one fruit you would easily fall in love with at first sight, but one which would beguile you at first bite.

My family used to have a couple of prolific rambutan trees and I remember my big family of 8 siblings plus some extended family feasting on a mound of rambutan fruits every day or so. We used to try so hard not to mind the annoying swarm of black, harmless ants that for some reason are so enamored with rambutan fruits. Those pesky “sulom” as we call them would crawl all over the fruits and reach our arms and necks, but eat delicious rambutan we still did, black ants notwithstanding.

Rambutan is Nephelium laapaceum, that pinkish to reddish spherical fruit covered with a sparse matting of spindly, hairy extensions. The term rambutan comes from the Indonesian root word rambut which means hair. It is mainly a tropical fruit, native to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Rambutan may not be as potent an antioxidant as Acai berry or pomegranate but it offers a little of most everything that is good — natural sugars, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Here’s a shortlist of the health benefits rambutan fruit offers.
Traditional medicine.
Rambutan is traditionally used in Malaysia and Indonesia to treat various illnesses, including the lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
  • Rambutan leaves are made into poultices and applied on the temples to relieve headaches.
  • Rambutan leaves can be mixed with water, mashed into a paste and its extract squeezed out to give an excellent hair tonic and hair grower.
  • The bark is made into a decoction and is used to treat oral thrush or candidiasis.
  • Frequent eating of rambutan fruit is believed to kill parasites in the intestines.
  • In Indonesia, rambutan fruit has long been used to treat dysentery.
Has anti-obesity potentials
The journal Carbohydrate Research published a study which showed that an extract from rambutan hulls is able to inhibit fatty acid synthase which is an enzyme responsible for the synthesis of fatty acids. What this could mean is that rambutan hull extract may yet prove to be the elusive anti-obesity medication.

It contains the antioxidant Gallic acid which scavenges for free radicals, preventing them from causing oxidation and inflammation in the body.

Good source of nutrients
  • Rambutan is a significant source of calcium which, along with phosphorus, is important for bone and dental development.
  • It is also a good source of potassium which is important for blood pressure management.
  • It is a good source of magnesium, a mineral which is involved in over 300 metabolic pathways.
  • It is an excellent source of iron which promotes oxygenation of the blood.
  • Has moderate amounts of copper which is necessary for the generation of both red and white blood cells.
  • Is a source of manganese which is responsible for activating various body enzymes.
I hope you’d have more respect for the humble and not so pleasant-looking rambutan. It does pack flavor and nutrition beneath all that hairy queerness.

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2 thoughts on “Rambutan — what’s with this hairy tropical fruit?

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