The rambutan is known for its unique appearance. It is about the size of a golf ball and its bright red skin is covered with long soft yellowish-neon green prickly hairs known as spinterns. Its appearance is sometimes compared to a sea urchin. Rambutans are in the same botanical family as lychees and longans. All three fruits are known for having white flesh inside, surrounding one inedible dark seed in the middle. All three fruits grow in clusters on trees and can be eaten straight off the branch. The differences are that the rambutan is often described as soft, the most sweet and creamy, while the lychee has a crisper, slightly less sweet flavor, and longans are the least sweet of the three and are distinctively tart. The rambutan is the largest of the three fruits. Rambutans have a refreshing, rosy, fruity flavor with subtle notes of strawberries and grapes. The rambutan is thought to be native to Malaysia because the name "rambutan" is derived from the Malay word "rambut" which literally means “hair” and refers to the seemingly hairy skin. Rambutans have vitamins and dietary fiber.
Ripening and Storage:
Rambutans are ripe when the skin is bright red and the hairs transition from green to black. If not eating right away, store these in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. They are prone to drying out and have a short shelf-life so they should be consumed immediately for the best quality and flavor. If there are too many black "hairs" it is overripe.
Use a knife and cut part part way through the rind, going all the way around the circumference so that the rind is split into two halves. Then hold the rind and twist it until one half of the rind is pried away from the fruit. At this point the flesh will still be sitting in the other half of rind so simply squeeze the rind until the fruit pops out in one solid ball. The rind and seeds are inedible. Rambutans will dry out easily so they should not be peeled until you're ready to eat them. The flesh of the rambutan can be cut away from the seed, or you can put the ball of flesh into your mouth and spit out the seed when you are finished.
Fresh rambutans are best suited for eating as-is so that their sweet flavor can shine through. The flesh can be sliced and mixed into fruit salads, used as a topping over sorbet and ice cream, incorporated into desserts, muddled into a cocktail, stewed, and used in marinades and sauces. The flavor pairs well with other tropical fruits as well as meat.