Rambutan (Ngo)

  • Red and ruby rambutan
  • A basket of ripe rambutan
  • Strange, oval-looking rambutan
  • What goes well with rambutan?
  • Rambutan has a semitransparent flesh

Thailand is home to a large variety of amazing seasonal fruits such as durian, rambutan, mangosteen, longan and lychee, and all-year-round fruits such as papaya, guava, coconut, orange, banana, pineapple and rose apple, all of which are as nutritious as they are delicious. The huge variety of local produce, combined with the culinary art of the Thai people, has resulted in a wealth of ways that Thai fruits can be enjoyed all-year-round. Ruby red and covered with ne green-tipped hairs, the rambutan is one of the most attractive Thai fruits, and also one of the most delicious.

Rambutan has a semitransparent flesh

In the months of July and August, fruit stalls and cart vendors in Thailand present an extra colourful picture: the rambutan is in season and abundant with bunches of this strange-looking oval fruit with its bright crimson or yellow skin covered with short fleshy hairs, displayed in great heaps in roadside stalls and local markets.
Rambutan, a native of Southeast Asia, now grows in tropical climates all over the world. The leaves differ from one variety to another, but the hairy or spiky red (when mature) fruits are unmistakable. In Thailand, there are two varieties of rambutan: Ngoh Rong Rian has sweet, succulent flesh that clings to the seed, while the oval-shaped Si Chompoo, the pink rambutan, has crisp, white flesh that comes o the seed easily.

The rambutan name comes from the Malay, ‘rambut’ meaning hair, which refers to its spiky rind. To people of Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Borneo, and other countries of this region, the rambutan is a relatively common fruit the same way an apple is common to cooler climates.
Thai rambutans are noted for their sweetness and considerable quantities are exported both fresh and canned; rambutan’s sweetness intensifies when eaten at the peak of ripeness between May and September, when it is most plentiful. The rambutan flourishes from sea level to 500 or even 600 mt, in tropical, humid regions with well-distributed rainfall. Without the soft spines on the rind, the rambutan would resemble the lychee, which is in the same botanical family. Rambutans make a lovely addition to a selection of dessert fruit. Leave some whole for guests to admire.

Origin and Distribution 

Red and ruby rambutan

The rambutan is native to Malaysia and commonly cultivated throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia. Many years ago, Arab traders introduced it into Zanzibar and Pemba. There are some plantations in India, a few trees in Surinam and in the coastal lowlands of Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Cuba. The rambutan was taken to Thailand and 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. Then popular demand brought about systematic efforts to improve the crop and resulted in the establishment of many commercial plantations.

How to open a rambutan 

Never cut the fruit in half right through the seed. Make a cut with a sharp paring knife and remove part of the skin leaving the rest as a decorative holder, especially when presenting rambutans as part of a fruit platter. Alternatively, squeeze the rambutan till the skin breaks, then peel half the skin off, leaving the other half to hold in your hand like a wrapper. Inside is a narrow seed covered with semitransparent flesh, which is crisp and mainly sweet. If using a knife to make an incision into the skin, beware not to cut through the seed. When starting to eat the translucent flesh, eat around the seed and avoid biting too deeply – you want to avoid the tough, papery skin surrounding the seed. Eating the seed or the rind is not advisable as they contain toxic saponins and tannins and are therefore bitter and narcotic. If the flesh sticks to the seed and is difficult to separate, the rambutan is probably overripe.

Medicinal Uses 

What goes well with rambutan?

Unripe rambutan is astringent and stomachic; they act as a vermifuge and febrifuge, and are taken to relieve diarrhea and dysentery. The leaves are poulticed on the temples to alleviate headache. In Malaysia the dried fruit rind is sold in drugstores and employed in local medicine. The astringent bark decoction is also a remedy for thrush – decoction of the roots is taken as a febrifuge.

Harvesting – In Thailand, the rambutan generally fruits twice a year, the first, main crop in June and a lesser one in December

Nutritional value – High vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus

Fruiting season – July-August

Botanical name – Nephelium lappaceum

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more than fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on www.asianitinerary.com

View all articles by Thomas Gennaro