Description: Rambutan is exotic to most Westerners, looking like it belongs in a fantasy tale. The oval fruits are a common snack throughout Asia, however, and increasingly in Australia and in Central America. A lesser-known relative to the lychee, rambutan fruit grows on evergreen trees in tropical climates. Though indigenous to the Malay Archipelago, the largest island group in the world (essentially Indonesia and the Philippines), rambutan fruit is now commonly cultivated in Mexico and Hawaii, as well as parts of Africa and the Caribbean. The name is derived from the Malay word rambut, or “hairs”; the reference is to the pliable spines covering the red, leathery rind. Inside is smooth, white, semitransparent or pale-pink flesh surrounding a single brown seed.
Flavor Profile: The sweet and mildly acidic flavor is similar to a grape.
Eating Out-Of-Hand: Similar to an orange, a rambutan can be peeled open by splitting the skin apart with your nails and spreading it back. And don’t be afraid of the spines; they look like they can do damage but are actually soft and bend easily.
Storage: Rambutans are delicate and keep just one or two days at room temperature. Wrap in a breathable plastic bag and refrigerate to preserve several days longer.
Culinary Uses: Rambutans are usually eaten out-of-hand, but the peeled fruits can also be stewed as dessert, canned in syrup, made into jellies/jams/preserves, muddled into cocktails and paired with other fruits in tropical salad.