You can probably add the Rambutan fruit to the list of ‘superfoods’ you haven’t heard of. You probably won’t be able to identify it from a photograph either, as it looks like something that might have been grown on another planet.
What is Rambutan?
The Rambutan is a hairy red (or sometimes yellow) exotic fruit that is alien to most of us in the western world, but they are commonly eaten as a snack in Asia.
Rambutan’s scientific name is Nephelium Lappaceum. Rambutan is believed to have originated in Indonesia and is now widely found in the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Ecuador, Australia and America. Rambutan is also being grown now in Hawaii and Guatemala There have been 50 growers in Australia since 2003. In the 1970s, horticulturists in Australia did a lot of groundwork selecting varieties that would produce consistently good-tasting and good looking fruit.
There is also some cultivation in parts of South America such as Colombia and Ecuador, as well as in Costa Rica, Cuba, Honduras and Trinidad. The Rambutan sold in mainland America mostly come from Guatemala.
The name Rambutan originates from the Malay word “rambut” which means hair. The fruit grows in clusters on a tree which belongs to a family of trees from which we get other exotic fruits such as Lychees. The rambutan has to be completely ripe when it is picked as it won’t continue to ripen after picking. The trees are evergreen and produce 2 crops per year. The trees actually have genders, male and female or sometimes they are a hybrid of the two. The male tree does not bear fruit at all. The flowers that blossom on the tree are pleasantly sweet-smelling and are often used in bouquets.
The hair on the exterior might look a little strange to us, and even a bit intimidating or off-putting. But once the hairy skin of the rambutan is peeled away, the tender, fleshy fruit inside is revealed. And it’s delicious. Its taste is described as being like a grape, though to some people it might taste a little sour.
The usual uses of Rambutan
Well it’s a fruit so you just eat it, right? Well yes, but did you think that such a bizarre looking species of exotic fruit would only be used for one thing? It turns out that it’s actually a multi tasking wonder fruit.
Once you have peeled away the deceivingly weird looking hairy exterior, you will find a sweet white fruit within. You can peel a rambutan open by splitting the skin apart with your nails or piercing it with a knife, just like when you peel an orange. You can also take the fruit by each end and twist it so the fruit pops out. Don’t worry about the spiky appearance, you won’t shred your hands! The hairy ‘spines’ aren’t sharp, they are soft and bend quite easily. When the rambutan is ripe it can be juicy and so a little messy to eat. They’re usually eaten on their own as a snack, though they are also delicious when muddled into cocktails or paired with other fruits in a tropical fruit salad. You can also use them as a substitute for lychees. They can be also be used in jams and jellies and can be eaten in combination with so many different foods. They can be paired with yoghurt, chutney, soup and smoothies and used in desserts and salsa. Rambutan fruit is a nutritional powerhouse and has abundant amounts of phosphorus, iron, manganese, vitamin C and calcium. The stem contains a fibre called pectin which is also found in apples and is great for digestion. The fruit is also an abundant source of antioxidants called flavonoids. The seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack and contain healthy fats. In Southeast Asia, honey made from the nectar of rambutan is considered a special treat. In Asia, the fruits are often packed and sold in cans, in addition to being available fresh in local markets.
The health benefits of rambutan are not just limited to the fruit itself. Nutritional and medicinal benefits can are derived from other parts of the rambutan tree, like the rind, the bark and the leaves.
This fruit has been used as a traditional medicine in Malaysia and Indonesia for hundreds of years. The Malays utilize a concoction using the roots of the rambutan tree to deal with fever. The bark is also said to have antiviral properties so it is often used medicinally to reduce and treat diarrhoea. The leaves are sometimes used as poultices on the forehead to alleviate headaches.
But there is a lot more to Rambutan than a treatment for minor illnesses. Its particular nutritional and medicinal characteristics mean that it is being hailed as a potential treatment for serious illnesses as well as being a major general health booster.
17 health benefits of rambutan
It’s a great energy booster
The abundance of vitamins and minerals, plus a good ratio of carbohydrates and protein help you to stay healthy and energetic. The high water content of the fruit keeps you hydrated and alert. Dehydration is a huge cause of fatigue. Even 2% dehydration affects health. The high water content and nutrient ratio means that it’s an ideal choice for runners and sports participants to help boost hydration and energy during exercise.
It eliminates free radicals
The high antioxidant content in the skin of the rambutan, particularly the levels of a compound called Gallic Acid help mop up free radicals in the body. Free radicals are organic molecules that float around in the body, destroying healthy molecules. Free radicals are created by pollution, cigarette smoking, herbicide use and the use of chemical cleaners and industrial poisons. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from harming healthy tissue.
It is a good source of iron and aids in the production of red blood cells
The rambutan is a good source of iron which is essential for the body’s ability to produce red blood cells. The red blood cells transport oxygen around the body. A deficiency of iron means that not enough oxygen carrying blood cells are produced. This means that there is not enough oxygen getting to the body’s tissues so you feel very fatigued and can develop a condition called Anaemia. A good iron intake is especially important for women of childbearing age or those people who are particularly active.
It removes waste from the kidneys
The phosphorus in rambutan helps remove the waste in the kidneys and is essential for the development, repair, and maintenance of the body’s tissues and cells.
It can help control weight
Rambutan has a high fibre content so it’s great when used as part of a weight control programme, as it will keep you feeling fuller for longer. It is low in calories and has a high water content, so it can be enjoyed guilt-free as a healthy snack. Research has shown that consuming the rambutan’s seeds could be effective in the fight against obesity. The Journal of Carbohydrate Research has suggested that regular consumption of the seeds might reduce the amount of fat absorbed from the diet. More research needs to be done but it’s worth exploring if it turns out to be a viable solution to what is becoming a global health concern. The seeds can be consumed raw, crushed or combined with other foods. Consuming a handful of rambutan seeds regularly has been shown to be effective at managing weight. The seeds can be consumed raw, crushed or even combined with various other foodstuffs.
The rambutan is said to have antiseptic qualities and it is used widely in South Asia to help treat a wide range of minor illnesses and infections.
It’s a great medicine for common illnesses
Rambutan is also commonly used for treating common illnesses like headache, thrush and stomach upsets. For a headache, the leaves are used as a poultice on the temples. This is relaxing and reduces a headache. A concoction made from the tree bark can be used to treat candida (thrush) infections and a mixture made from the tree’s roots can treat fevers. The leaves can be boiled in water to produce a drink which settles the stomach.
It kills parasites
The antiviral properties of the rambutan can help keep our gut healthy and eliminate intestinal parasites which cause unpleasant gastric illnesses and symptoms like diarrhoea and cramping.
It hydrates skin
Rambutan is great for the skin. Whether you consume the fruit or apply it directly to the skin, the high water and antioxidant content can make your skin feel hydrated, soft and supple.
It’s great for your hair
What must be good for the skin must be good for your hair too, right? The answer is a resounding yes! The rambutan contains a lot of water which hydrates the hair, and also contains plenty of skin and hair loving vitamins and minerals. You can make a paste from the rambutan leaves which can be used to nourish and deep condition the hair. It does just as good a job as any hair mask you can buy.To make the treatment, take some rambutan leaves and mash them up until the paste becomes smooth. Add some water and squeeze the extract out . Apply the mixture onto your hair and scalp, leave for 30 minutes and rinse well with warm water. Apply the mixture to your hair regularly for best results and within a few weeks you should notice that the condition of your hair has improved due to using this natural wonder product.
It can treat diabetes
The rambutan contains a compound called Geraniin which appears to reduce the concentration of sugar (glucose) in the blood and make it easier for the body to metabolise the glucose, so it is not floating around in the blood stream. Control of blood sugar levels is essential if you have diabetes, as uncontrolled levels can cause damage to the body’s tissues, serious illness and even death. Consuming the rambutan seeds in a drink is the best way of obtaining the benefits. Take 5 Rambutan seeds and crush them, until you make a powder.Then put the powder in hot water and boil this mixture for about 10-15 minutes. Then let the mixture cool. Drink the mixture, not more than 2 times a day, before having a meal.
It can treat fever
A mixture made from the rambutan leaves is used in Malaysia as a potent antipyretic. Dried rambutan leaves are boiled in water, then allowed to cool and strained. The mixture is drunk 3 times per day and is said to reduce fever.
It can strengthen bones
You don’t just have to drink milk and eat cheese to have strong bones. The rambutan has reasonably high levels of phosphorus and calcium, which are essential for healthy, strong bones. As we get older, we risk fractures due to the normal age-related weakening of bones and hormonal changes (in women), so it makes sense to support your body from the inside as much as you can nutritionally.
It can boost immunity
The fruit’s high vitamin C content helps strengthen our defences against illness and infection. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, so it prevents cell damage caused by exposure to free radicals. It also helps us absorb other nutrients like iron, which also plays a huge role in maintaining good overall health.
It can be used to fight cancer
Rambutan’s high levels of antioxidants mop up the free radicals which cause ageing and cell destruction which can cause diseases such as cancer. Research carried out by a leading Thai University studied the rambutan fruit, seeds and skin and found that all contained high levels of antioxidants known as flavonoids, which reduce inflammation in the body, reduce cholesterol and mop up disease causing free radicals.
A study carried out by a Malaysian University on ‘Antioxidant and Antiproliferative Activities of Non-Edible Parts of Selected Tropical Fruits’ found out that rambutan can be effective against cancer. This is an exciting development and precedent for future research into cancer treatments. Most treatments currently available for cancer are very invasive and aggressive, and can cause side effects which are more unpleasant than those caused by the disease itself.
It can aid digestion
Rambutan’s high fibre content improves gut motility which keeps the gut healthy. It’s antiviral properties also keep the digestive tract free of parasites which cause unpleasant viral illnesses.
It can improve a man’s sperm quality
Vitamin C has been proven to be important for healthy sperm development. A deficiency of vitamin C is rare in the Western diet, as a lot of foods are now fortified with vitamins, but even a slight deficiency in males can impact upon sperm development.
How do I choose which rambutan I buy for best results?
Select fruits that feel firm when squeezed gently. The spines should be firm to the touch and not brittle. Look for a fruit with a deep red colour and maybe a hint of green. A slightly yellow or brown colour is still okay to eat, but it indicates that the fruit has been off the tree for longer so is not as fresh. Generally the brighter in colour they are, the riper the fruit and the better for your health. A brighter colour usually suggests a higher antioxidant content. Do not buy fruits that are bruised or that have blemishes on them, or that shown signs of leakage.
How do I store them
You can expect fresh rambutan to keep for about a week after purchase. Keep them in the refrigerator, in a plastic container which has a lid or a plastic bag will suffice. If they are kept at room temperature, they will only last 2-3 days.
You can freeze rambutans whole to enjoy at a later date. Freezing them whole means that the rind protects the fruit in the frozen state and ensures that you retain all of the nutritional value as the fruit has been frozen at its freshest point. Flash freeze the fruits by spreading whole fruits onto a baking sheet in the freezer, then transfer to an airtight bag or container once frozen. Thaw them fully before you eat them and peel them as you would normally.
It seems like everyday we see a new ‘superfood’ come to the fore, which is hailed as a cure-all for illnesses and infections. It seems like we can add rambutan to the list after looking at the potential uses and health benefits explored in this article.
The key to good health, whether it’s the food we eat or the products we use on our skin or in our home, seems to be to always use products or consume food that is as close to its natural state as possible.
Indigenous people have been using what Mother Nature has provided them with for centuries, and it seems that they are onto something.
Natural products are gentle and cause less adverse side effects than man-made products and medicines.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if one day, the cure for horrible diseases like cancer was found to be a simple piece of fruit, growing on a tree?