Star fruit, also known as carambola, is a unique tropical fruit with a sweet-and-sour flavor. Native to the Malayan peninsula, star fruit is cultivated in many parts of Southeast Asia, China, and many Pacific Islands. Although abundant and plentiful, carambola is yet to gain popularity, especially in the western world. Star fruit is recognized as belimbing manis in many Southeast Asian regions and kamrakh in India.
This small, bushy evergreen tree grows very well under hot, humid, tropical conditions. The plant bears small, lilac-colored, bell-shaped flowers in clusters which subsequently develop into oblong-shaped fruits with characteristic five-angled edges. These ribs are what make the fruit look like a starfish when cut in cross sections. Both sweet and sour varieties begin to yield under cultivable orchards, and are ready for harvesting when the plants reach about 3-4 years old.
Each star fruit weighs about 70-130g, and can vary from light green to yellow with an attractive, smooth waxy surface. Inside, its crispy, juicy pulp can either be mildly sweet or extremely sour depending upon the cultivar type and the amount of oxalic acid concentration. In some variety types, 2-5 tiny edible seeds are found at the center of each angled cavity.
A Small Fruit with a Lot to Offer
Any of you who have been following this blog for any amount of time will know that my real interest in any fruit or vegetable centers around not only its taste but its nutritional offerings as well. The star fruit is no exception, and it has much to offer!
• Star fruit is one of the most low-calorie exotic fruits available. 100g of fruit provides just 31 calories, which is much lower than any other popular tropical fruits. Nonetheless, it has an impressive list of essential nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins required for well-being.
• The fruit, along with its waxy peel, provides a good amount of dietary fiber, which helps prevent absorption of dietary LDL cholesterol in the gut. The dietary fibers also help protect the colon’s mucous membrane from exposure to toxic substances by binding to cancer-causing chemicals.
• It contains good quantities of vitamin C, which is a powerful natural antioxidant. 100 g of fresh fruit provides 57 percent of daily-required levels of vitamin C for just the 31 calories mentioned above! Consumption of fruits rich in this vitamin assists the human body to develop resistance against infectious agents, and to scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
Antioxidants and Minerals
• This fruit is rich in an antioxidant phytonutrient called polyphenolic flavonoids. Some of the important flavonoids present are quercetin, epicatechin, and gallic acid. These compounds work together to help protect from deleterious effects of oxygen-derived free radicals by warding them off the body.
• Star fruit is a good source of B-complex vitamins such as folates, riboflavin, and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6). Together, these vitamins help as co-factors for enzymes in metabolism as well as in various synthetic functions inside the body.
• The fruit also carries small amounts of minerals and electrolytes like potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids and helps to control heart rate and blood pressure, thus countering the bad influences of sodium. Most Western diets involve the over consumption of sodium.
• Its juice is often recommended in many folk medicines in Brazil as a diuretic (to increase urine output), an expectorant, and a cough suppressant.
Read more: Stone Fruits – Healthy and Delicious
When Are They Available?
Fresh star fruit can be available twice in a season. In Florida and my part of Texas, for example, Arkin cultivars are available from December to March. In general, fruits just short of the ripening stage are picked for shipment and storage, since ripe fruits bruise easily, especially along their thin, ribbed edges. While shopping, choose uniform, large, attractive-looking, yellow-orange fruits. Avoid green, small-size fruits since they tend to be extremely acidic and unappetizing. Don’t buy shrivelled or spotted star fruit, or those with cuts and bruises.
Ripe fruits tend to perish early, but they stay well preserved in cold storage when kept at appropriate temperatures in your refrigerator. At home, unripe light green fruits may be kept at room temperature until they turn rich orange-yellow in color, and then need to be refrigerated. Ripe fruits may keep well for 2-3 days at room temperature, but must be stored inside the refrigerator for extended shelf life.
A Few Tips for Preparing Star Fruit
• Use star fruit as a garnish in salads, sorbets, and drinks, as well as to impart a tart flavor to dishes.
• To prepare, wash them thoroughly in cold water, dry mop using absorbent cloth or paper towels. Trim off the ends and dry the ribbed edges. Cut the fruit cross-wise into thin sections, which will resemble stars. (Wow! This must be how they got their name! -Duh!!)
• Pick out any seeds located near the center if you wish.
• Choose only the sweet variety of carambola to eat fresh, or to mix with other fruits in salads. Juice the fresh to use in cocktails mixed with other, complementary tropical fruit juices.
• Use sour fruits to impart a unique tart flavor to poultry, beef, lamb, and seafood dishes.
• Add cut sections of fresh fruit to Asian stews, curries, and stir-fries with chicken, fish and shrimp.
• Transform the fruit into sauces, pickles, chutney, tarts, and jams.
If you have never tried this tropical delight, do yourself a favor and cut into one today! Kids love the shape and you will love all the great nutrition they get from enjoying it!