TROPICAL TASTE – Ay, Caramba….It's a Carambola!

Filed in Gather Food Essential by on October 1, 2008 0 Comments

Most people know this exotic fruit as the starfruit for obvious reasons, but its proper name is the carambola (Averrhoea Carambola). It is native to Southeast Asia and Indonisia, but it is now commercially cultivated in the Caribbean, Hawaii, South Florida, Taiwan and other regions with tropical climates.

The beautifully shaped star when the fruit is sliced has made this fruit very popular in restaurants, with food stylists and caterers, since it makes a lovely garnish.  Due to its popularity, it is not uncommon to find it at your local supermarket or greengrocer.

The elliptically shaped fruit is usually from 4 to 6 inches long and has 5 or 6 ribs.  The edible skin is thin and waxy and slightly translucent, and the flesh is crisp, juicy and slightly “perfumey.” 

Some varieties are highly acidic, and you can’t tell unless you taste it first.  If you can only find the acidic ones in your area, you can minimize the tartness by cutting off the ribs, which is where most of the acid concentrates.

Starfruits are a good source of Vitamin C, contain only 30 calories per fruit and are a good source of fiber, antioxidants and flavonoids.

It is best eaten raw and chilled, and does not need to be peeled.  It is wonderful when juiced and combined with orange or pomelo juice.

The fruit will ripen slightly if picked sort of green, but the greener fruit is best in chutneys, preserves or pickled. The fruit is best when turning yellow with some traces of green. 

This is one of those fruit that does not taste as good when completely ripe, since it will start to develop ‘rust spots’, get mushy and start tasting as if it has gone off.

In Hawaii, most trees will bear fruit through November and will continue until almost Christmas.

Last year, the tree in our yard produced just one fruit.  This year we have several which will be ready to be harvested soon and the tree is still blooming!

HOW TO CUT A CARAMBOLA

*Choose one that is not completely yellow but still has a tinge of green under the translucent skin.

*Cut off the stem end, but not too thickly.

*If the ‘ribs’ have any brownish edges, trim them off without cutting too much of the fruit.

*Cut the fruit in thin slices.

*The seeds are small and insignificant.  Some sources say to remove them, but we never do.

*Use the slices to eat out of hand or to garnish other food.  They are beautiful when floated in fruit punch. 

WARNING: Due to the high amount of oxilic acid, the consumption of starfruit and starfruit juice can be dangerous for someone with a history of kidney problems.  If you have never eaten the fruit before, check with your physician before you decide to try it.

CARAMBOLA PICKLES

4 cups carambola slices
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup apple vinegar
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

Place the slices in glass jar or bowl. Make syrup of sugar, vinegar and spices.
Bring to boil, pour over carambola slices. Let stand overnight. Next day, drain
off syrup in a saucepan and bring to boil again. Place carambola slices in hot
sterilized jars and pour boiling syrup over (to overflowing). Seal.
Store in cool place.

HONEY-CARAMBOLA PRESERVES

Slice ripe carambolas crosswise, cover with honey and let stand overnight.
Next day, cook for 5 minutes; fill hot, sterilized jars and seal. Makes a
delicious preserve with a plum-like flavor.

CARAMBOLA AMBROSIA

Slice and combine with other fruits to make a beautiful fruit salad. Any
combination of pineapple, grapes, apples, orange slices, pomelo slices, plums,
kiwi, strawberries, or pitted cherries and top with a dusting of flaked
coconut.    This makes a very festive salad for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

CARAMBOLA GARNISH

Sauté carambola slices lightly in butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar and use
as garnish for beef, pork roast or ham.  I also tried it once on a turkey
for Thanksgiving: Loosen the skin off the turkey’s breast with your fingers,
gently, as you don’t want to tear it, then insert the star shaped slices of
sautéed carambola and brown sugar between the meat and the skin. Roast or
bake your turkey in your usual way.  The stars will show through the skin,
making a pretty pattern 

CARAMBOLA JELLY

Cut up the fruit in chunks and heat for 30-40 minutes. Use no water. 
Mash and press to get the juice.
Mix the following and bring to a boil:
3 cups juice
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons lime juice

After the mixture boils, add ½ bottle liquid pectin.  Return to full boil,
stirring constantly for one minute.   Skim and pour into hot sterilized jar.
Seal at once. Do not double this recipe.

CARAMBOLA JUICE

Wash carambolas in cold water; cut into small pieces. Chop in blender, a few
at a time until they are a thick puree.  Strain juice through a sieve or use
cheesecloth. Serve carambola juice diluted with water (1 cup juice-2 water).
Add sugar to taste, and serve over ice.  Another way to serve is to sweeten
the juice, (do not dilute), and freeze in ice cube trays. Serve 2 or 3 cubes
in ginger ale. Garnish with fresh carambola slices making a small slit on one
side of the slice and perch on rim of glass.

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Sonia Martinez, Gather Food Correspondent
Sonia’s column, ‘Tropical Taste’ is a regular twice-monthly feature of Gather Essentials: Food.

Sonia is a cookbook author and freelance food writer for several publications in Hawaii, and is also a Hawaii Island Journal restaurant reviewer in partnership with her son Anthony Mathis.  She lives in a beautiful rural rainforest area on the Big Island of Hawaii.

You can keep up with Sonia’s adventures and ongoing love affair with Hawaii by joining her network, or visiting her food & garden blog at Sonia Tastes Hawaii.

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