The Fruits of Southeast Asia (April 2016)
As I had the opportunity to ride my bike in December through Bali and Thailand I was fortunate to not only experience unique and delicious cuisine but also exotic fruits. I thought I would share with all of you the wonderful types and healthful benefits of these fruits. When many of our day to day fruits are not accessible, it forces us to adapt to changes in our routines. As you can imagine some of these fruits were strange looking and/or had unfamiliar aromas. Below I have listed my favorites.
This fruit, a delicacy in its native habitat of tropical Asia, has resisted attempts to be grown abroad as the fruit does not travel well. The edible flesh of the mangosteen contains tannins, also found in tea, which may slow blood clotting. However, it is a great source of Vitamin C, and B-Vitamins in addition to Vitamin E. It is very high in xanthones which are phytonutrients and the free radicals can help boost our immune system. There is much data that states having a variety of color in our diet due to the “free radicals” which are provided. Xanthones are a yellow pigment common to a variety of fruits and vegetables. The high concentration of xanthones in mangosteen is the reason that we have seen attempts to produce this pigment in the form of supplements, such as powders and pills, in the United States.
This fruit derives its name from the Malay word “rambut” meaning hair, which reflects the fruit’s unusual hairy appearance. The bright red shell is easily removed with the fingers to reveal the sweet translucent white flesh, which is comparable to the lychee.
Rambutan also is a significant source of Vitamin C, but also can provide 13.8 to 31.2% of the amount of iron that we need each day. In addition it is a sufficient source of phosphorous, which our bodies use to to remove the waste from our kidneys.
- Snake Fruit (Salak)
Salak is a species of palm tree native to Indonesia. It is a short stemmed thorned palm with leaves that grow up to 6 meters long. The fruit grow in clusters at the base of the tree, and are known as snake fruit due to the brown scaly skin. Salak fruit is tear-drop shaped which, when peeled, resembles garlic cloves. The taste is sweet and less acid than other fruits. The fruit has a dry, crunchy consistency.
A significant nutritional component is beta carotene, a food pigment known to be good for our eyes’ night vision. I suppose that explains why when I was eating salak throughout my trip the local people would always point to their eyes. Also, it is believed that the fruit is great for the memory, so it has come to be known as “the Fruit of the Memory.” It is a significant source of potassium and pectin but it also contains tannins. Snake fruit can serve as an antidiarrheal agent.
Jackfruit has recently become popular in the U.S. where it is being adopted into traditional dishes, such as tacos and rice bowls, as a meat substitute. During my travels, I enjoyed eating it daily in the raw form. It is a great source of potassium and vitamin A. This large, round fruit is prickly on the outside with a smooth interior flesh. Raw jackfruit tastes to me like a less sweet version of mango with a kick somewhat like pineapple. I imagine we are seeing prepackaged items in natural food stores using jackfruit in place of meat because it is so filling. It is becoming quite popular in the vegan/vegetarian community.
- Dragon Fruit (Buah Naga)
Belonging to the cactus family, the dragon fruit has an unusual yet gorgeous exotic appearance. When one cuts through the skin the sweet flesh is revealed. The flesh, either white or fuscia in color, is consumed raw. Its texture is sometimes compared to the kiwi fruit due to the presence of edible black seeds.
Dragon Fruit, among the most nutritious of tropical fruits, contains many antioxidants, vitamin C, and calcium. The pigment lycopene, which imparts the fuscia color, is wonderful for the eyes and can reduce the chances of prostate cancer. Another nutrient class that dragon fruit contains is polyunsaturated fats, also found in sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Lastly, dragon fruit is an excellent source of iron because it meets 8 percent of the daily value. This fruit has the nickname “crazy fruit” because of the way it looks.
I was fortunate to be able to experience many other exotic fruits but I chose to highlight my favorites. It was exciting to me to have a tutorial from our guides on the important information about these fruits: when they grew, how to cut them, when they were ripe. Of course, the best part was being able to eat them. I hope each and every one of you has the pleasure of eating a fresh exotic South East Asian fruit. Some of these products you might be able to find in ethnic (Asian) grocery stores or maybe even in Gelson’s or Bristol Farms. Whoever you may find them, try them out. It can be a fun and tasty experience for you as it was for me.
- Lancaster, Angel. “Vitamins in Mangosteen.” Livestrong.com, August 11, 2015.
- Wolf, Nicki. “Nutritional Content of the Rambutan Fruit.” Livestrong.com, June 23, 2015.
- www.salak. Wikipedia.com
- Purdue University. “Jackfruit,” www.hort.purdue.edu. January 2015.
- Corleone, Jill. “Dragon Fruit Nutrition,” http://www.livestrong.com/article/81272-dragon-fruit-nutrition/, April 14, 2015.