Rambutan is a medium-sized tropical tree that belongs to the family of Sapindaceae. The name rambutan also refers to the edible that is produced by the tree. You need to know that rambutan is a native of Southeast Asia, and the fruit is related closely to several other edible tropical fruits such as pulasan, lychee, mamoncillo, and lychee. The name “Rambutan” comes from the Malay language word “rambut” which means “hair.” It is a reference to the numerous hairy protuberances that the fruit has, along with the noun-building suffix-an.
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However, in Vietnam, the fruit is called chom chom, which means “messy hair.” The genetic diversity for rambutan is centered in the Malaysian-Indonesian region. Rambutan has been mostly cultivated in Southeast Asia regions like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Rambutan has also spread from these regions to others such as Africa, Central America, parts of Asia, and Oceania. Between the 13th and 15th centuries, Arab traders played a significant role in the Indian Ocean trade, and they introduced rambutan to Zanzibar and Pemba, which is in East Africa. Also, there are several limited plantations of rambutan in various parts of India.
During the 19th century, the Dutch also introduced rambutan in Southeast Asia and Suriname in South America. This made the crop spread across the tropical Americas, with plantations in Ecuador, Cuba, Trinidad, Costa Rica, the lowlands of Colombia, and Honduras. Rambutan was also introduced to the Philippines from Indonesia in 1912. From 1920, further introductions of rambutan were made by Indonesians and Malaysians, but its distribution was limited until the 1950s. There were also other attempts to introduce rambutan to the Southeast of the USA in 1906, as seeds were being imported from Java. Unfortunately, the seeds were not successful except in Puerto Rico.
Rambutan vs Lychee
Most people confuse rambutan and lychees to be the same. What you need to know about rambutan/lychees is that these fruits aren’t the same at all. Research shows that these two fruits have more differences than similarities. Although they are both tropical fruits, lychees are exotic and mostly associated with the arrival of summer in Asia. Lychee is native to Southern China but has spread widely and is currently grown in various parts of the world. Therefore, this is why lychees are mostly compared to their lesser popular cousin, which is the rambutan fruit. Lychee was initially cultivated in the southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in China.
The origin of lychee dates back to the Tang dynasty, while rambutan came from Southeast Asia, specifically, the Malay Peninsula. Both these fruits are members of the Sapindaceae, also referred to as the soapberries family. This is why these two fruits are called cousins. They also have similarities in cultivation because they both require frost-free tropical climates. However, it’s important to note that lychees require humidity, the summer heat, slightly acidic soils, and rainfall, while rambutan can perfectly grow in higher terrain areas with good drainage, clay foam, sandy loam, and deep soil.
The good thing about lychee is that its production is easy. That is why the fruit has managed to spread across many subtropical regions such as North America and several parts of Europe. Rambutan, on the other hand, aside from its roots in Southeast Asia, is currently grown even in Central America.
Difference between Litchi and Rambutan
There are several differences between lychee and rambutan. Check them out below.
- Although at first glance these fruits may seem similar, they are not. The fruits tend to differ in size. Rambutan has the size of a golf bag, while lychee is smaller in size.
- Aside from the difference in size between these two fruits, it’s also easy to see how much they differ just by looking at them. This is because the rambutan has a red outer skin with hair-like prongs all around its shell and is colored between neon green and orange. Lychee, on the other hand, has a red outer skin that is rough and thinner.
- The only time the fruits will start to look similar is when you cut them open. They both have white flesh, and when you open the flesh you’ll find a large seed in the middle of each fruit.
- There is also another difference between these two fruits and that is taste. Rambutan tends to have a creamier and richer taste, which is normally described as sweet with a bit of sourness. Lychee has white translucent flesh and doesn’t have a sweet or creamy taste. Lychee has a crisp bite and floral taste.
- When it comes to health benefits, these two tropical fruits have their differences. Rambutan helps to decrease risks of diabetes, which is why it has low sugar counts than other sweets. Lychee contains plenty of nutrients and some locals in Vietnam even believe that the fruit helps to boost your immune system. However, the health benefits of lychee have not been widely studied.
What Does Rambutan Taste Like?
The taste of rambutan is a mix of grape and fresh date. If you’ve ever eaten a fresh date, you probably know the fruit that surrounds the seed tends to have a bitter taste. This is a quality that rambutan also shares. Rambutan has a tender fleshy part which is also juicy like a grape. Therefore, the best way to describe the taste of this fruit is sweet like a grape, but with a sour and tangy taste. Rambutan also has a similar taste as lychee. But, if you’ve never eaten lychee before, it’s difficult to understand. Once you eat lychee, you’ll clearly feel the similarities in taste. Both lychee and rambutan are sweet and juicy. Rambutan has an exotic appearance and is very large.
The flavor of rambutan is often described as sweet and creamy. The advantage of rambutan is that it doesn’t comprise oligopoly and polyphenol. Similar to lychee, rambutan contains various minerals and vitamins that offer plenty of health benefits. Unfortunately, rambutan has higher calories than lychee, although it’s also rich in fiber content. With its exotic taste, the flavor of rambutan is quite appealing, and trying it for the first time will make you love the tropical fruit. The seed in the center of the fruit has a bitter flavor, which most people find unpleasant and discard. It may seem like a bad thing to discard the seed in the center of the rambutan fruit, but it’s actually a good thing because saponin is toxic to not only humans but also animals.
Rambutan is versatile and can be used to make several delicacies and juices. The recipes of rambutan are plenty, but we are going to write down a few of them that you can use at home.
1. Rambutan Fruit Smoothie Recipe
Preparing the rambutan fruit smoothie will only take about 5 minutes.
- 3 peeled and pitted rambutans
- 2 cups of coconut meat
- 1 banana
- Gather all your ingredients together.
- Process them in a blender and process until they are smooth
- Once you are finished, pour the smoothie into a glass and enjoy
2. The Tropical Smoothie Recipe
Another recipe is making a tropical smoothie with rambutans.
- Half cup plain low-fat yogurt
- 5 peeled and pitted rambutans
- 1 medium-sized ripe banana
- 1/3 cup pineapple chunks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Half cup crushed ice
- Have all the ingredients in a blender
- Puree until it’s smooth
- Serve the smoothie once you’re done
Pro tip: You can also use canned rambutan or lychee. However, you have to ensure that you drain them from any syrup that they are canned with before you add them to the blender.
3. Summer Rambutan Curry Recipe
Aside from making smoothies, you can also use rambutans to make other food delicacies such as this summer curry recipe. Making the summer rambutan curry will only take 1 hour.
- 8 rambutans
- 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 4 torn kaffir lime leaves
- 4 roughly-chopped garlic cloves
- 3 stemmed, red Thai chiles
- 1 smashed stalk lemongrass with fiber outer layers removed and thinly-sliced inner core.
- 1-inch piece galangal root that is well peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon of peanut oil
- Half small pineapple, which is peeled, cored, and cut into small 1-inch cubes
- 1 medium and thinly-sliced yellow onion
- 2 ½ cups of coconut milk
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
- 1 pound of skinless chicken breasts and that are thinly-sliced
- 2 teaspoons of palm sugar
- Cilantro leaves to garnish
- cooked white rice lime wedges and for serving
- With a pestle and mortar, pound the chiles, garlic, , lime leaves, galangal, and lemongrass with the turmeric until it forms a coarse curry paste. Take a small paring knife and use it to cut the rambutans into half and then peel away their outer shell. Discard the soft flesh from the center nut, but ensure that you avoid the papery skin surrounding it. Put the flesh in a bowl.
- Take a saucepan and use to heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high. Add the pineapple and then cook for about 4 minutes while stirring until it is slightly caramelized. Use a slotted spoon and transfer the pineapple to a plate. Add the remaining one tablespoon of oil and onions into the pan. Cook while stirring until it is golden brown for about 4 minutes. Take the curry paste, add it to the mixture, and stir until fragrant for about 2 minutes or more.
- Pour the coconut milk and stock and bring it to boil. Reduce the heat and maintain a simmer as you cook while stirring for about 20 minutes until reduced by half. Stir in the chicken and then continue to simmer until it’s well cooked for 8 minutes. Add the rambutans and pineapple and cook for about 2 minutes until the fruit is warmed.
- Remove the curry from the heat and then stir in the fish sauce, as well as palm sugar. Garnish with cilantro and then serve immediately with rice and lime wedges.
4. Rambutan Marshmallow Sugar Cookies Recipe
If you’re a fan of cookies, then you’re in luck because you’ll get a chance to learn how you can use rambutans to make sugar cookies.
- 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter kept at room temperature
- 1 egg kept at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- ¼ cup of powdered sugar
- 1 ¾ cup of all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
- 1/8 of teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup of fruity mini marshmallows
- ¼ cup of chopped rambutans
- Peel the outer skin of the rambutans and remove the flesh from the seed. Chop the flesh of the rambutans into chunks and set them aside.
- Using the bowl of a stand mixer affixed with the paddle attachment, add the sugars and butter. Mix on a medium to high speed till fluffy and light. Add the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix til all the ingredients are fully combined.
- Change the mixer to low and add the flour, cornstarch, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder. Remove the bowl from the mixer and then use a rubber scraper until all of the ingredients are properly incorporated. Fold the rambutans and mini marshmallows, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and allow it to chill in the refrigerator for a whole night.
- Once it is chilled, preheat the oven to 3500 and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, and set them aside. Scoop out the dough balls. Roll the balls in sugar and place and place them a few inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Rest assured that the cookies will spread during baking.
- Bake the cookies – one cookie at a time in a 3500 oven for about 12 minutes. Get the cookies off the oven and if they’ve become misshapen, you can use your fingers to put them back into the circle form.
- Allow the cookies set on the cookie sheet to cool for 5 minutes before you transfer them into a wire rack to finish cooling properly. Ensure that you store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Put a few marshmallows on the top of the cookies after you pull them from the oven.
How to Eat Rambutan
There are several ways to eat rambutan. This tropical fruit has a lot to offer, and you can see from the 4 recipes that we provided above. What’s more, rambutans are very healthy and provide a lot of benefits to our bodies. This is why rambutan is referred to as a “superfruit” and highly valued for its antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
How to Eat Rambutan without Seed Skin
The first step to eating rambutan is to select ripe ones. These fruits start green and then turn red, orange, or yellow when ripening. They have hair-like spines which are green in color when the rambutan is freshly picked, although the spines turn black afterward. Rambutans can remain fresh for at least several days.
To eat rambutan without seed skin, you need to cut a slit in the skin by holding the fruit firmly on a flat surface. Use a sharp knife and cut the middle of the fruit, which will make it separate in half. Ensure that you cut gently, severing the hairy, leathery skin without piercing the flesh. Also, carve the knife halfway around the rambutan to extend the slit. The seed skin is not meant to be eaten, and this is why you first need to peel it off. However, ensure that you properly wash the rambutan as is the custom before eating any fruit.
How to Peel Rambutan
Peeling a rambutan is easy – you can even do it with your thumbnail, or bite open a slit. This is because the spines of the rambutan are often harmless and soft, although the skin is edible and tends to be bitter. You can also peel the rambutan by cutting or tearing the skin apart easily. What you need to do in this case is to completely pull one side of the fruit as if you’re opening a hinged lid. Inside the rambutan, you’ll find something that resembles a grape, since it’s oval and slightly translucent, with a white or pale yellow color.
How to Eat Fresh Rambutan
Eating a fresh rambutan is the way to go. But first, you need to select a ripe one and cut a slit on its skin. Ensure that you’re cutting the rambutan on a flat surface and completely remove its skin, then scoop out its flesh. You can also squeeze to pop out the fruit and remove the seed. Can a rambutan kill you? No. Rambutan is a safe and healthy fruit that anyone who wants to stay healthy should eat. However, its seeds are toxic when eaten raw in large amounts. Therefore, that’s something you need to keep in mind before buying this tropical fruit.
How to Cut a Rambutan
- Take a paring knife
- Find a flat surface
- Place the rambutan on the flat surface
- Hold the fruit firmly with one hand on the flat surface and use the knife to cut it with your other hand.
- Remove the scoop and seed out the flesh part of the rambutan.
- Eat and enjoy
The rambutan fruit benefits are plenty. One significant health fact about rambutans is that they can cure small ailments. Below are some of the rambutan health benefits.
- Enhances bone health – Rambutans contain phosphorus which plays a significant role in enhancing bone health in humans. The tropical fruit has good amounts of phosphorus that aid in the formation of bones and also their maintenance. Rambutan also contains vitamin C that contributes to the health of bones.
- Aids in weight loss – Eating rambutan can also help you lose weight. This is because fruits are known to prevent weight gain, and rambutan being a fruit is associated with that quality. Rambutan is also rich in fiber which aids in weight loss.
- Prevents cancer – Rambutan is rich in high antioxidant content, which helps to avoid cancer. The antioxidants fight inflammation and protect the cells in your body from getting affected. Vitamin C contained in rambutan also contributes to fighting cancer, since it neutralizes the toxic free radicals and provides protection against various types of cancer. These are also associated with the health benefits of rambutan seeds.
- Rambutan boosts energy – This tropical fruit contains protein and carbohydrates which offer an energy boost in the body. There are equally natural sugars in the fruit that help to aid in this regard.
- Improving digestive health – The fiber contained in rambutan also significantly helps to improve the digestive health of humans. It helps to aid in digestion but also prevents digestive issues such as constipation. The antibacterial properties in rambutan also help to kill intestinal parasites and treat diarrhea.
- It helps in diabetes treatment – Research conducted by the Chinese shows that the rambutan peels contain anti-diabetic properties. Therefore, the diabetic mice that were induced with phenolic extracts of rambutan peels showed a reduction in fasting blood glucose levels.
- Functions as an aphrodisiac – Several sources have indicated that a rambutan can work as an aphrodisiac. When you simmer the leaves in water and consume them, it can activate the hormones that boost libido.
What Is Rambutan Good For?
The above health benefits of rambutan say it all. The fruit is rich in health-beneficial content and is also sweet. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the benefits of rambutan outweigh its drawdowns. So, to answer the question – rambutan is good for your health.
Rambutan is a unique tropical fruit that incorporates a wide range of benefits. The fruit is not only sweet and ideal to use in many delicacies or even for making juice, but also offers plenty of health benefits. Although rambutan is closely similar to lychee, they tend to differ in many ways such as appearance and the health benefits that each fruit offers. Therefore, it’s worth noting that rambutan is a fruit that offers value for money.