What is rambutan?
Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) is a fruit native to Southeast Asia.
It grows in a tree that can reach up to 80 feet (27 meters) in height and thrives best in tropical climates, such as in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Rambutan got its name from the Malay word for hair because the golf-ball-sized fruit has a hairy red and green shell. Its unmistakable appearance is often compared to that of a sea urchin.
The fruit is related to the lychee and longan fruits and has a similar appearance when peeled. Its translucent white flesh has a sweet yet creamy taste and contains a seed in its middle.
Rambutan is very nutritious and may offer health benefits ranging from weight loss and better digestion to increased resistance to infections.
Here are some of the main health benefits of rambutan and how to eat it.
Rambutan is rich in nutrients and antioxidants
The rambutan fruit is rich in many vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds.
Its flesh provides around 1.3–2 grams of total fiber per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) — similar to what you would find in the same quantity of apples, oranges, or pears.
It’s also rich in vitamin C, a nutrient that helps your body absorb dietary iron more easily. This vitamin also acts as an antioxidant, protecting your body’s cells against damage. Eating 5–6 rambutan fruit will meet 50% of your daily vitamin C needs.
Rambutan also contains a good amount of copper, which plays a role in the proper growth and maintenance of various cells, including those of your bones, brain, and heart.
It offers smaller amounts of manganese, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc as well. Eating 3.5 ounces (100 grams) — or about four fruit — will meet 20% of your daily copper needs and 2–6% of the daily recommended amount of the other nutrients.
The rambutan peel and seed are thought to be rich sources of nutrients, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds. Though some people eat them, neither are currently considered edible.
They appear to contain certain compounds that may be toxic to humans.
Roasting the seeds may reduce these effects, and individuals from some cultures seem to consume them this way. However, reliable information on the proper roasting procedure is currently unavailable.
Until more is known, it may be safest to avoid eating the seeds altogether.
Summary: Rambutan is rich in fiber, vitamin C, and copper and contains smaller amounts of other nutrients. Its peel and seed are also full of nutrients but generally considered inedible.
Rambutan promotes a healthy digestion
Rambutan may contribute to healthy digestion due to its fiber content.
About half of the fiber in its flesh is insoluble, which means that it passes through your gut undigested.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and helps speed up intestinal transit, thus reducing your likelihood of constipation.
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The other half of the fiber is soluble. Soluble fiber provides food for your beneficial gut bacteria. In turn, these friendly bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate, which feed the cells of your gut.
These short-chain fatty acids can also reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of gut disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Summary: Rambutan is a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber, which can prevent constipation and improve symptoms of certain gut disorders.
Rambutan may aid in weight loss
Just like most fruits, rambutan may prevent weight gain and promote weight loss over time.
At around 75 calories and 1.3–2 grams of fiber per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), it’s relatively low in calories for the amount of fiber it provides.
This can help keep you fuller for longer, which may reduce your likelihood of overeating and promote weight loss over time.
What’s more, the soluble fiber in rambutan can dissolve in water and form a gel-like substance in your gut that helps slow down digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It can also lead to reduced appetite and greater feelings of fullness.
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Moreover, rambutan contains a good amount of water and can help keep you hydrated, which may further prevent overeating and aid weight loss.
Summary: Rambutan is low in calories, yet rich in water and fiber. This combination may prevent overeating and keep you feeling fuller for longer — both of which can lead to weight loss over time.
Rambutan may help fight infection
The rambutan fruit may contribute to a stronger immune system in several ways.
For starters, it’s rich in vitamin C, which may encourage the production of the white blood cells your body needs to fight infection.
Getting too little vitamin C in your diet can weaken your immune system, leaving you more prone to infections.
What’s more, rambutan peel has been used for centuries to fight off infections. Test-tube studies show that it contains compounds that may protect your body against viruses and bacterial infections.
However, though some people eat the peel, it’s generally considered inedible.
Summary: Various compounds found in the rambutan flesh and peel may strengthen your immune system and help fight infection.
Other potential benefits of rambutan
Rambutan may offer additional health benefits — the best-researched include:
- May reduce cancer risk: A few cell and animal studies found that compounds in rambutan may help prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells.
- May protect against heart disease: One animal study showed that extracts made from rambutan peel reduced total cholesterol and triglyceride levels in diabetic mice.
- May protect against diabetes: Cell and animal studies report that rambutan peel extract may increase insulin sensitivity and reduce fasting blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
Though promising, these three additional benefits are generally linked to compounds found in the rambutan peel or seeds — both of which are not usually consumed by humans.
What’s more, most of these benefits have only been observed in cell and animal research. More studies in humans are needed.
Summary: Compounds found in rambutan peel and seeds may offer some protection against cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. However, more human studies are needed.
Rambutan vs lychee and longan fruits
Once peeled, the rambutan fruit is very similar to the lychee and longan fruit.
All three belong to the same Sapindaceae — or soapberry — family, grow on trees native to Southern Asia and have translucent white flesh with a seed in the middle. Their nutritional profiles are very similar as well.
However, their exterior appearance differs. Rambutan is the biggest of the three and bears a reddish-green hairy peel.
The lychee is slightly smaller and has a tough, textured, red peel, while the longan has a brown, smooth outer skin covered with tiny hairs.
Their flavors also vary slightly. Rambutan is often described as sweet and creamy, while the lychee fruit offers a crisper, slightly less sweet flavor. Longans are the least sweet of the three and are distinctively tart.
Summary: The rambutan fruit is related to the lychee and longan fruits. Despite their different flavors and exterior appearances, their flesh is similar in color and nutritional profile.
How to eat rambutan
Rambutan can be purchased either fresh, canned, as a juice, or as a jam.
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To make sure the fruit is ripe, look at the color of its spikes. The redder they are, the riper the fruit will be.
You ought to remove the skin before eating it. To do so, slice the middle of the outer skin with a knife, then squeeze from the opposite sides from the cut. The white fruit should pop free.
The sweet, translucent flesh contains a large seed in the middle, which is generally considered inedible. The seed can either be removed with a knife or spat out after eating the flesh.
The flesh can add a sweet flavor to a variety of recipes, ranging from salads and curries to puddings and ice creams.
Summary: Rambutan can be consumed raw either from fresh or canned fruit. Its flesh can be used to make juice or jam and can add a pop of sweetness to many recipes.
Potential risks of rambutan
The flesh of the rambutan fruit is considered safe for human consumption.
On the other hand, its peel and seed are generally considered inedible.
While human studies are currently lacking, animal studies report that the peel may be toxic when eaten regularly and in very large amounts.
Especially when consumed raw, the seed appears to have narcotic and analgesic effects, which may cause symptoms like sleepiness, coma, and even death.
Currently, roasting is the only known way to counter the raw seed’s natural narcotic properties. However, clear guidelines on how to best roast it to make it safe for human consumption are unavailable.
It may be best to avoid eating the seed altogether until research says otherwise.
Summary: The flesh of the rambutan fruit is safe to eat. However, its peel and seeds may be toxic when eaten raw or in very large amounts.
Related to lychee and longan fruits, rambutan is a Southeast Asian fruit with a hairy shell and sweet, cream-flavored, edible flesh.
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It’s nutritious yet low in calories and may aid your digestion, immune system, and weight loss.
Though some people eat the peel and seed, they’re generally considered inedible.
Yet, the flesh can add a sweet flavor to salads, curries, and desserts or can be enjoyed by itself.