Rambutan season has started!!! The first harvests of this wonderful fruit are starting to hit the local markets. Last Saturday I purchased a very fresh bunch of rambutan grown in Batangas or Laguna at a still pricey PHP80 a kilo at a local market. Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) is believed to be native to Malaysia and Indonesia (hence its name being derived from the Malay word rambut or hair) and thrives in the Philippines in Mindanao, Palawan, Mindoro and more recently in Laguna and Batangas. Although the season is usually from August to October, as with most summer fruits this year, rambutan seems to be ripening a little earlier following a really hot summer and a nice rainy start to the wet season. A relative of the lychee and longan, rambutan is distinguished by a spectacular peel that appears to have tons of â€œhairâ€ and is either bright red, yellow or a mixture of both with tinges of green as well.
Fresh rambutans look alive and sprightly, almost creature like. The fruit I bought on Saturday were picked within the past 24 hours. Still on their woody stems, the bunches of fruit looked absolutely wonderful. Though they keep well in a refrigerator for several days, the hairs wilt and dry up and the fruit looks a lot less appetizing from the outside. Because of this, the fruit is not typically exported outside of Southeast Asia and it is very rare that you see it in the West. Probably why it hasn’t acquired an English name either…hmm…what would some of the likely options be: hairy red fruit, spiky fruit, bad hair day fruit? Inside the â€œhairyâ€ skin is a pearly white and translucent fruit/pulp that can be incredibly sweet or sweet/sour. The meat is attached to an inedible seed, though I read that in Thailand they have perfected the art of extracting just the yummy pulp (removing the seed, then they sell these already peeled and de-seeded). For the Thai royal family, kitchen staff used to remove the seeds and return the pulp to the skins to make life easier for the pampered royalsâ€¦niceâ€¦I wish someone did that for me hereâ€¦
While I have only eaten this fruit fresh, it seems other countries have started to can it and its juice for local and export consumption. Others also have started to toy with the fruit in cooked dessertsâ€¦ Rambutan also comes in a surprisingly yellow varietyâ€¦ I saw some a couple of years ago and they were stunning. Apparently some growers in Los Banos have started to raise the all yellow variety. How would I rate this first bunch of rambutan fruit for the season? About a 8 out of 10. They were extremely fresh, sweetish sour (I have had sweeter) and juicy â€“ a good sign that as the season peaks the quality should get much better. Sources: Desmond Tate’s Tropical Fruits and Doreen Fernandez’s Fruits of the Philippines.