Rambutans are exotic fruits grown in tropical countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia. They are grown on a medium-sized tree, Nephelium Iappaceum, which is related to the lychee.
They are not exotic at all to the people of these tropical areas where they think of them more like people of northern climates think of apples. The name rambutan means hairy, referring to the spikes on the skin of the fruit. The spikes aren't sharp; they are fleshy and pliable.
Rambutan trees fruit twice a year, yielding crops beginning late June and August and in December and January. North American markets are supplied by Hawaiian crops.
The rambutan is native to Malaysia and commonly cultivated throughout the archipelago and Southeast Asia. Many years ago, Arab traders introduced it into Zanzibar and Pemba. There are limited plantings in India, a few trees in Surinam, and in the coastal lowlands of Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad, and Cuba.
Some fruits are being marketed in Costa Rica. The rambutan was taken to the Philippines from Indonesia in 1912. Further introductions were made in 1920 (from Indonesia) and 1930 (from Malaya), but until the 1950's its distribution was rather limited.
How to Select and Eat Rambutans
Although rambutans only grow in tropical regions such as Hawaii, Puerto Rica, Costa Rica, Panama, and Southeast Asia, many Asian markets and even some large grocery stores in North America and the UK sell these nutritional powerhouse fruits. If you're able to find rambutans that are still attached to the branch, go for them as they are thought to have higher culinary and nutritional value than rambutans that have been separated from the branch.
Nutrition Benefits of Rambutans
Rambutans are high in vitamin C, plus copper, manganese, and trace elements of many other nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and iron.
Compared with most other fruits, rambutans are also a good source of copper. Although your body require only a small amount of copper, this trace mineral is crucial for the proper functioning of your body. A copper deficiency may lead, for example, to anemia, ruptures in blood vessels, bone and joint problems, elevated cholesterol levels, frequent infections, and chronic fatigue. Copper is also crucial for healthy hair growth, and foods rich in copper, such as rambutans, may help prevent hair loss, intensify hair color, and prevent premature graying of hair.