Rambutan is a small tropical fruit that flourishes in the warm Southeast Asian climate. Street markets in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are filled with them when in-season.
They’re unique looking, with bright red spikes that look threatening but are actually soft and pliable. But what do rambutan taste like? Are they worth trying, or do they make a better table centerpiece? In this article, we’ll look at their flavor and texture in detail.
Describing the rambutan flavor
The taste of exotic rambutan is a combination of sweet and sour in one bite, with a floral undertone that takes you to the tropics. Its flavor is similar to a grape, lychee or longan, although not as sweet.
Peeling off the skin is simple, even though it is covered in soft spines. The flesh has a mildly chewy texture, which most find appealing. There is some resistance when you first bite down; however, once you break through the outer membrane, underneath lies a creamy, soft gelatinous texture, loaded with juice.
Watch out for a long seed in the center of the fruit. It has a bitter flavor that most find unpleasant, so it is best to discard it. Although some people eat the pit, it contains saponin, which can be toxic to both humans and animals.
Prefer to sit back and listen?
Rambutan will vary in flavor depending on whether it’s fresh or canned. When picked from the tree, there is more resistance when you bite into it. The juicy texture and natural tasting sweetness are hard to beat. Over the space of a day, the fruits tend to lose some of their sweet flavors. You’ll find the canned version tastes quite sweet as it often has sugar added. Out of a can, the texture is mushier due to the preserving process.
How to choose a rambutan
The biggest challenge in many parts of the world is finding a store that sells rambutan. Your best option, if you’re outside Southeast Asia, is to visit your local Asian grocer. Look for fruit with vibrant red skin, although a hint of yellow or orange is acceptable too. Avoid rambutan with black spines as they’re overripe. It the fruit is green, it’s a sign of unripe fruit.
Rambutan isn’t recommended for storing too long as their flavor diminishes quickly. To improve their lifespan, add them to a perforated plastic bag. They can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. Avoid peeling the skins off until serving time.
- The word “rambutan” in Malay means “hair” – a suitable name for a fruit that looks like it’s covered in the stuff.
- It belongs to the Sapindaceae family and is related to the longan, akee, and litchi (lichi). Its botanical name is Nephelium lappaceum.
- Rambutan skin is used by clothing manufacturers to make an intense black dye.
- It has excellent health benefits, being high in vitamin C, iron, and fiber.
- The rambutan tree is a medium-sized evergreen that can grow to 45 feet tall and bears fruit twice a year.
If you get the opportunity, the best way to eat rambutan is fresh, out of hand. The skins peel off easily, like an orange, but don’t peel it until it’s time to eat. In the kitchen, a paring knife makes the peeling process simple. Run the blade around the middle of the fruit and then pull off each half of the skin. When the fruit is ripe, you can twist it without cutting, and the fruit will pop out.
They also make an excellent ingredient for desserts. Stew them with cloves and sugar, then add to a pie or heat them in a Crème anglaise for a tasty tropical flavored ice cream. Like longans and lychees, they’re perfect added to a tropical fruit salad or processed and forzen into sorbet.
A traditional way to serve rambutan is to remove the stone and stuff with fresh pineapple. The combination of the two types of fruit is delicious, and Indonesians love this dish. If you have a pineapple at home and it looks a little green, check out our article on how to ripen a pineapple fast.
Rambutan is also useful in savory recipes. Add them to a casserole, soup, or stir-fry towards the end of the cook. They provide an exciting twist to the dish.
Jam and chutney are good options for using up rambutan.
Lychee vs. rambutan
These two tropical fruits are often mixed up so here is a summary comparison:
|White flesh.||Lychees are smaller.|
|Large bitter pit in the center.||Rambutan are a little more sour and acidic.|
|Taste similar when used in a cocktail.||Lychee flesh is not as creamy.|
|Grow on trees.||Rambutan have unique spines.|
Comparing 5 different rambutan varieties
As with many types of fruit, the flavor, aroma, moisture content, and texture will vary depending on the variety you choose. Below are a few common types to rambutan for comparison.
A popular choice of rambutan, thanks to its lovely crisp texture and small seed. The Indonesians revere the rapiah and prefer it to the lychee and longan. Interestingly, this fruit has very little or no hair on it.
The binjai is a common variety that is larger than most fruit with a lot of hair. The flesh is thick and dripping with juice. However, the seed is much larger than the one found in a rapiah.
3. Si Nyonya
If you enjoy a bitter kick to your food, then the si nyonya may be a good option for you. It has an over-powering sour taste and is very juicy.
The antagli is a sweet fruit with flesh that is thick and detached from the pit. It has short hair and emits an overwhelming aroma, which is quite distinct.
Bahrang is a more sizeable variety than the others on this list and is orange when ripe. The yellow flesh offers a unique jelly-like texture and is also very sweet.
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Although the rambutan, or Mamón chino, is native to the Malay Peninsula, it is now grown in Hawaii, Central America, and other warm regions. As the fruit becomes more readily available, it’s more likely you’ll see it in markets and on restaurant menus.
Although some exotic fruits have some weird and wacky flavor, the rambutan is a fruit that is likely to appeal to most. The flavor of rambutan will vary depending on the variety, but they are generally described as a combination of sweet and sour in one bite, with a floral undertone. The closest comparisons would have to be a grape, lychee, or longan.
If you enjoy tropical fruit tasting take a look at our article on what dragonfruit tastes like or the taste of jaboticaba. Not the most common of fruit types outside of Brazil, but they’re popping up in warmer parts of the United States. Alternatively, check out our article on what noni tastes like. It’ll probably shock your senses the first time you try it!
Have you tried rambutan before? What do you think of it, and how was it prepared? Let us know in the comments below.