Ambarella (Spondias dulcis) is an equatorial or tropical tree, with edible fruit containing a fibrous pit. The fruit may be eaten raw – the flesh is crunchy and a little sour. It is known by many other names in various regions (See Other Names).
Ambarella originates in Melanesia and Polynesia of the South Pacific. When the fruit came to the Caribbean islands, it became well adapted due to the similar climates as its homeland.
Today, the fruit grows abundantly in the soils of Sri Lanka and southern India. Other countries growing ambarella include Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Zanzibar, and Gabon. Though it’s not a major crop, the fruit grows prolifically in Central America and the northern parts of South America. Ambarellas are hobby crops in certain regions of Australia. Among Caribbean islanders, the recognition ambarellas receive is on par with papaya and mango.
Ambarella as Food
Spondias dulcis is most commonly used as a food source. The fruit may be eaten raw; the flesh is crunchy and a little sour.
According to Boning (2006): “The fruit is best when fully coloured, but still somewhat crunchy. At this stage, it has a pineapple-mango flavour. The flesh is golden in colour, very juicy, vaguely sweet, but with a hint of tart acidity.”
- In West Java, its young leaves are used as seasoning for pepes.
- In Costa Rica, the more mature leaves are also eaten as a salad green though they are tart.
However, it is most commonly used for its fruit.
- In Indonesia and Malaysia, it is eaten with shrimp paste, a thick, black, salty-sweet sauce called hayko in the Southern Min dialect of Chinese.
- It is an ingredient in rujak in Indonesia and rojak in Malaysia.
- The juice is called kedondong in Indonesia, amra in Malaysia, and balonglong in Singapore.
The fruit is made into preserves and flavourings for sauces, soups, and stews.
- In Fiji it is made into jam. In Samoa and Tonga it is used to make otai.
- In Sri Lanka the fruit is soaked in vinegar with chilli and other spices to make the snack food acharu.
- In Vietnam the unripe fruit is eaten with salt, sugar, and chilli, or with shrimp paste. Children eat the fruit macerated in artificially sweetened licorice extract.
- In Jamaica, it is mostly considered a novelty, especially by children. It can be eaten with salt or made into a drink sweetened with sugar and spiced with ginger.
- In Trinidad and Tobago, it is curried, sweetened, salted, or flavoured with pepper sauce and spices.
- In Cambodia it is made into a salad called nhoum mkak.
- In Suriname, the fruit is dried and made into a spicy chutney, mixed with garlic and peppers.
- In Thai cuisine both the fruits and the tender leaves are eaten.
Checking Ambarella Ripeness
Unripe ambarella are hard and green with no hints of sweetness in its tough, fibrous flesh. Though some people enjoy eating sour, unripe fruits with a pinch of salt, others prefer to wait until they have become golden yellow. In this condition they lose their acidic bite and become more palatable. The pit, however, hardens upon ripening.
The best ambarella has a waxy, glossy skin with no signs of bruises. Slight discolouration is natural, as is the occasional small dark spot. The aroma should be pleasant, tropical, floral and slightly musky at peak ripeness.
Ambarellas possess a sour taste with a distinct crunch for a bite. The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts euphemistically describes the taste as “crisp and juicy… sub acid with a pineapple fragrance and flavour.”
Similar to pickles, ambarella’s thin, lime-green skin is edible. However, ambarellas are a much more high-maintenance snack because of their large pit and its floss-like threads. Given the pit’s overbearing size, don’t expect much flesh from this fruit.
When ambarellas ripen to a golden yellow, the taste is similar to an unripe mango: crunchy, fibrous and mildly sweet.
Cut Open an Ambarella
Slice an ambarella like a mango by cutting the flesh alongside the big, hairy pit. Given that the fruit is no larger than an egg, do not expect to extract much flesh. It’s possible to eat the fruit out of hand, but be mindful of the oblong pit in the centre.
If ambarellas need further ripening, keep them at room temperature: Over the course of a week, the fruits will reach maturity.
Ambarellas keep for an additional two weeks when placed in the refrigerator. Though the taste will not be adversely affected, expect the fruits to lose their golden luster during cool storage. Let ambarellas sit at room temperature for an hour before consuming: they will have a more robust flavour profile compared to cold fruits.
Do not chill the fruits below 5C, as ambarellas are highly susceptible to chilling injury. When frozen, ambarellas show deep pits in their skin, and some develop fungal decay.
These are vernacular names for Ambarella :