Rambutan are closely related to the lychee, the tropical Rambutan, pronounced ram-BYU-tn, varies in type and quality. The fruit may be greenish-yellow, orange or crimson, are oval-shaped and usually 1 - 2 inches long. The soft, flexible exterior shell is covered in stiff, hair-like bristles. While the exterior makes it seem larger than the lychee, the inner fruit is actually smaller. Rambutan flesh is juicy, milky- white, translucent in color, with a grape-like, gelatinous texture surrounding a central seed with and almond-like taste. The flavor of a Rambutan is more acidic than the lychee, sweet and very aromatic.
Rambutan trees fruit twice a year, yielding crops beginning late June and August and in December and January. North American markets are supplied by Hawaiian crops.
Resemblance to a sweet chestnut, this unusual fruit gets its name, from the Malaysian word for hair, "rambut". Demands from Asian markets have increased the import of this rather rare fruit into Europe, the Middle East and North America. Traditional suppliers include Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia but today Honduras and Australia are entering the raging Rambutan market.
A source of vitamin C and calcium, rambutan provides niacin, iron, protein and fiber. An average fruit contains 59 calories.
Rambutan is best eaten fresh. To prepare, cut or tear base of fruit; press out the translucent pulpy flesh. They can be muddled into cocktails, tossed with tropical fruit salads, or simmered with aromatics to make a flavorful simple syrup. Pair with other tropical fruits, fresh mint and cane-based liquors. Rambutan can be substituted in most lychee applications. Rambutan are fragile and keep only a day or two at room temperature. For longer storage when not eaten immediately, wrap in a perforated plastic bag; refrigerate.