What is it?
Don’t let the spiky exterior put you off—the fruit within is juicy, sweet, and fresh-tasting. Similar to lychees (at least on the inside) but larger, tarter, and more floral, rambutans are at their peak in June and July. If you see them at your market, grab some, peel back the soft, thin skin, then eat around the pit to enjoy this fragrant tropical fruit.
The name means ‘hairy’
Native to Asia’s Malay Peninsula and the surrounding archipelago, rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum) take their name from the Malay word “rambut,” which means, fittingly, “hair.” Arab traders brought the fruit to other parts of Southeast Asia between the 12th and 15th centuries, but commercial cultivation outside of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand didn’t take off until the mid-20th century. Now rambutans are grown in a handful of tropical regions around the world—the Philippines, Hawaii, and Central America, to name a few.
How to choose
Look for rambutans that are bright red and have hairs that stand up straight. It’s fine if they curl at the ends or have yellow or green tips. Just avoid any that are brown all over with wilted-looking hairs, as well as any that are punctured or oozing. The fresher, the better, so refrigerate them in a plastic bag and eat them within five days.
Pair with othre tropical flavors
Rambutans are delicious eaten out of hand or cut up in fruit salsas and salads. Puréed, they make a nice addition to smoothies, juices, and cocktails, as well as ice creams, sorbets, and granitas. Rambutans are also sometimes used in curries to balance out spicy heat.
Just about all tropical fruits pair well with rambutans’ tangy-sweet flavor—pineapple, coconut, and mango are especially good. Fresh herbs like mint and basil, as well as tart citrus like lemon and lime, are a nice accent to the fruit’s floral notes, while hot chiles work well with their sweetness.
A simple syrup blended with rambutans gives this cocktail a refreshing fruity flavor. You’ll have enough syrup to make at least eight cocktails, which is a good thing because you’re…