The rambutan is a medium-sized tropical tree in the family Sapindaceae. The name also refers to the edible fruit produced by this tree.
The rambutan is native to the Malay-Indonesian region, and other regions of tropical Southeast Asia. It is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the lychee, longan, and mamoncillo.
The fruit is a round to oval single-seeded berry, 3–6 cm (rarely to 8 cm) long and 3–4 cm broad, borne in a loose pendant cluster of 10–20 together. The leathery skin is reddish (rarely orange or yellow), and covered with fleshy pliable spines, hence the name, which means ‘hairs’. The fruit flesh, which is actually the aril, is translucent, whitish or very pale pink, with a sweet, mildly acidic flavour very reminiscent of grapes.
The single seed is glossy brown, 1–1.3 cm, with a white basal scar. Soft and containing equal portions of saturated and unsaturated fats, the seeds may be cooked and eaten. The peeled fruits can be eaten raw, or cooked and eaten: first, the grape-like fleshy aril, then the nutty seed, with no waste.
Rambutan are generally eaten as a fresh fruit. However, it is also used as an ingredient in fruit salads, ice cream, sorbets or jams, and added to salads, cheese, meat platters and kebabs. The peeled fruit can also be canned.
Approaching a rambutan fruit can be intimidating, considering it is covered in spines that seem like a natural obstacle to enjoyment. However, these tasty little fruits can be eaten quite easily, once you know the process.
Most importantly, you need to select a ripe rambutan, or the flavour and consistency won’t be correct. At that point, cut a small slice in the middle of the outer skin covering, about halfway around. Now, simply squeeze from the opposite side as where you cut, and the small, white fruit should pop free. You can slice the fruit in half to remove the inedible seed, or you can eat the fruit raw and then spit the seed out.
Nutrients and phytochemicals
Rambutan fruit contains diverse nutrients but in modest amounts, with only manganese having moderate content at 16 percent of the Daily Value per 100 g consumed.
As an unpigmented fruit flesh, rambutan does not contain significant polyphenol content, but its colourful rind displays diverse phenolic acids, such as syringic, coumaric, gallic, caffeic, and ellagic acids having antioxidant activity in vitro. Rambutan seeds contain equal proportions of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, where arachidic (34%) and oleic (42%) acids, respectively, are highest in fat content.
The pleasant fragrance of rambutan fruit derives from numerous volatile organic compounds, including beta-damascenone, vanillin, phenylacetic acid, and cinnamic acid.