asia - tropical

Nephelium lappaceum - Rambutan, Mamon Chino

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Rambutan is one of the most popular and common fruits in Southeast Asia where it is grown both on a domestic level, as a patio tree, and at a commercial level. It has been introduced to some areas of Africa and Central America, like Costa Rica and Panama, to a lesser extent.  The Rambutan is a medium size tree reaching 15 -25 meters in height, with a straight trunk and a dense canopy. 

The fruit is the shape of an egg encapsulated in a red, yellow, or sometimes orange casing covered in soft spiny hairs. The sweet, juicy, aromatic fruit is translucent and surrounds a large seed. There exist freestone cultivars. Fruit can range in acidity, yellow varieties tending to be more acidic than red. 

Reportedly the seed is edible. I forget where I first heard this, but I have eaten the seeds raw, which are not disagreeable in flavor and gave me the sense that they were especially nutritious. Any further info regarding Rambutan seed edibility would be greatly appreciated. 

The Rambutan fruit, like the Lychee, is rich in sugar (11%) and vitamin C.

There are more than 100 varieties of Rambutan in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Culitvars are distinguished by whether they are best consumed fresh (Ayer Mas, Chooi, Ang, Kelip, Rongrien, Tau po Cheng), or used in preserves (Chompu, Kepala Besar).

The Rambutan is a tree from the humid tropics. It isn't found cultivated higher than 600 meters. It has not been successfully cultivated in Florida and other subtropical areas and does not tolerate long periods of drought. The tree is not especially selective in soil type although it does best in heavy clay soils with a heavy organic mulch layer. 

Orange Rambutan.

Orange Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Yellow Rambutan.

Red Rambutan. 

Red Rambutan. 

Nephellium mutabile - Pulasan

The Pulisan is native to South East Asia, widely cultivated in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java. It is also relatively well known in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.  The tree grows up to 10 - 15 meters, with spreading branches and an irregular crown. The fruit is 5-8 cm long and 3-5 cm wide encased in a red or yellow capsule covered in short, soft spines, similar to that of the Rambutan, a close relative to the Pulasan. The fruit is most similar to the Rambutan, typically consumed raw, also made into marmalades and preserves. 

There are two known groups of Pulasan varieties. Dark red and yellow. There are freestone cultivars in both groups. The most prized varieties are "Silbabat" and "Koneng". 

The Pulasan requires a hot, humid climate. Trees cannot withstand prolonged dry seasons. To obtain quality fruit the tree needs deep, well drained soil, rich in organic matter. 

The tree is propagated by seed, graft and air layer. 

unripe-pulisan
unripe-pulisan

Aegle marmelos - Bael fruit, matoom, Indian quince, golden apple, holy fruit, stone apple, elephant apple

BACKGROUND, ORIGIN, AND DISTRIBUTION

Bael fruit

Bael fruit

Syn. Feronia pellucida, Crataeva marmelos) Bael fruit is a citrus relative. One can see the similarity in the leaves and growth habit of the tree. Bael fruit is native to the dry forests, in the hills and plains of Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The species can be found cultivated throughout India, where, due to its status as a sacred tree is grown in Buddhist temples where monks slice and dry fruit, then heat it in water to make a popular hot drink. The tree can be found cultivated in Southeast Asia, Indo-China, Thailand and N. Malaysia.

Bael grows up to 15 m in height. The bark is smooth and light gray in color, leaves are relatively small, deciduous, alternate, ovate - lanceolate, trifoliate. Branches are spiny. Like many of the Rutaceae family, Bael has fragrant flowers.

The fruit matures at between five and twenty centimeters. The ones I've seen are typically the size of a softball and has hard brittle shell, not dissimilar to that of the calabash tree. The inside is full of a very sticky, fibrous pulp around many seeds, which look like large grapefruit seeds. The outside is a hard, brittle shell, slightly thicker then that of the calabash tree. When ripe, the fruit emits an extremely pleasant aroma and can sit around for weeks doing so. Superior cultivars can yield over 400 fruit a year. Better varieties tend to have thinner rinds. The tree I have collected seed from seems to produce a lot, but the rinds are fairly thick, the fruit basically has to be stomped on, thrown onto a hard surface, or hit with a hammer to be broken open.

USES AND ETHNOBOTANY

The leaves of Bael fruit are considered sacred in the Hindu culture, offered as sacrament to Lord Shiva, thus it is highly prohibited to uproot the trees. Shiva is believed to live underneath the tree.

The fruit is also made into jams and preserves. Young leaves and shoots are used to season food in Indonesia and eaten as a vegetable in Thailand.

Bael Tree

Bael Tree

Above all else Bael fruit seems to have potential for its medicinal benefits. In Asia it is widely used for such purposes. The fruit, roots and leaves all have antibiotic qualities. Unripe fruit are eaten by those recovering from dysentery. In India it is a highly revered as an aphrodisiac. Large quantities of the fruit are considered to act as a depressant, slowing the heart rate and inducing sleepiness. Juice extracted from the leaves is given to relieve the symptoms of asthma and fever. Tea made from the flowers is used to cleanse eye infections. Tea made from the root are used to relieve heart palpitations, indigestion, bowel inflammations and to stop vomiting and relieve nausea.

Interestingly, the fruit pulp, in addition to its edible and medicinal properties, is also used as glue; mixed with lime and plaster and employed as a sealant; mixed with cement and used when building walls; and added to watercolor paints. In the cosmetic industry the limonene-rich oil is used to scent hair products. The rind yields a yellow dye.

PROPAGATION AND CULTIVATION

Trees can grow in a wide variety of soils in full sun or partial shade. It is considered sub-trpopical but I grow it in Panama, the full=on tropics.

Again, I am not familiar with a wide range of varieties, the one I have eaten has many seeds surrounded by a thick, stick pulp. The pulp is somewhat similar in consistency to  other citrus, and is divided into sections. The pulp is very aromatic. As is done traditionally in Asia, I have consumed it in a drink, basically made a tea out of the pulp.

 

Bael fruit

Bael fruit