Bold, beautiful and bristly, Jenny Hobson McGrigor reveals why the personality-bursting rambutan is the perfect addition to your summer menu.

The rambutan is a tropical fruit, built to protect itself with its prickly, outer layer. Covered in luscious red hair-like spines, it could be considered a wilder version of the neat and rather tidy lychee. Regardless, it should be no surprise that the name ‘rambutan’ comes from the Malay word for hair - ‘rambut’. Similarly, the Vietnamese call it ‘chôm chôm’ meaning messy hair. How appropriate!

Native to Southeast Asia, the rambutan is a popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. It can also be found in Mexico, Hawaii and, of course, Australia where it is still somewhat of an unfamiliar sight to many fruit eaters, especially outside of the tropical areas.

Closely related to the lychee and the longan, the rambutan is similar in make-up to its soapberry or Sapindaceae family members. Like them, the fruit is typically the size and shape of a golf ball, and has soft white, creamy flesh encasing a single (inedible) seed. Aesthetically, the obvious difference is the outer layer.

Unpeeled, the ripe rambutan should be a bright red in colour. However, some varieties ripen to a vibrant yellow-orange blush.

When rambutans are ready to eat they have a sweet and floral flavour, which can be likened to that of a grape but with an extra juicy delivery. Making this tropical fruit an altogether energising refreshment.

To eat rambutans, dig your nail or a sharp knife into the skin (there could be juice squirts) and peel away the outer, spiny layer to reveal the white, sweet, edible flesh. Be sure to avoid the seed as it is bitter and by some accounts poisonous.

In Australia, this fruit is growing in popularity as a commercial crop. Production is increasing with the majority of produce coming from the Northern Territory. There are 15 varieties grown locally, so it is only a matter of time until they are as familiar as the lychee.

The Australian growing season for the rambutan runs from October through to June.

The premium Australian crop is exported to Japan where rambutans are considered a luxurious delicacy.

When selecting your fruit look for vivid, uniform colour with no black forming on the tips of the outer spines. If the fruit is fresh the seed will come away easily from the flesh. To store them, keep them refrigerated and they will last five to ten days.
Nutritionally, the rambutan offers an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of copper, even more so if you can find fruit still attached to the branch as the nutritional values are higher. Easier said than done.

Aside from a great cocktail mate, the rambutan can be used in curries and smoothies. However personally, I think they are best used as in a delicious dessert, served with a sweet syrup and a hint of spice, or simply packed as a snack to eat on the go.

Jenny Hobson McGrigor is from Murdoch Produce. Contact her on jenny@murdochproduce.com.au or visit her website, murdochproduce.com.au.