Welcoming in April with both Thai Songkran and some of our own expat’s celebrating Easter, I thought the Starfruit, Carambola, with 91% water, would be a wonderful fruit to highlight! An Easter star and the hydrating needs we all crave during these hot days comes to us on a species of tree native to SE Asia, the Averrhoa carambola. Starfruit, Carambola or Ma-fuang in Thai, fuang meaning “gear”, grows all over SE Asia and in Thailand I have enjoyed the deep orange larger starfruits at any season. There are two main types of starfruit, the small/tart and the large/sweet. The skin is fairly waxy but the whole fruit can be eaten. The flavour is unique and can be similar to an apple, grape, pear and citrus. Some say they are best eaten yellow with a slight greenish tint, but I prefer them when they are more orangey-yellow, much sweeter and just a tad softer, not so crunchy!
These fruits have lots of vitamin C (52% of RDI), most B’s and A, are low in sugar (3%), high in minerals and fibre and has high amounts of antioxidants including some zinc. They can be up to 91% water so a great source of healthy hydration also. The ripe fruit and fruit juice has antidiarrheal effects and has been used in Ayurvedic medicines for thousands of years. In the culinary kitchen creativity reigns. In SE Asia, they are stewed in cloves, sugar and apples. China cooks them with fish and in Australia they may be cooked as a vegetable, made into jams or pickled. I discovered Jamaica dries them and uses them as snacks combined with peanuts. The sour variety makes a nice relish with chopped spices and can be combined with fish or shrimp. I use them as additions to my mangosteen, dragon fruit, mango and papaya tropical fruit platters when treating myself during hot days and look so pretty too with the star shape! Wishing on a star never tasted so good! I am lucky to of found a SE Asian man myself, Mr. Souphanya from Laos, that knows how to organically grow most of my favourite fruits here in Hawaii while I await SE Asia/Thailand to re-open. Shopping at local markets and supporting the local people during these times is a positive human interaction we can have during these times for all involved.
I must mention a slight risk for people with any hard kidney issues like kidney stones, kidney failure or are on kidney dialysis. Starfruit contains caramboxin and oxalic acid. Caramboxin can create adverse neurological effects and oxalic is in many fruits and vegetables but combined with caramboxin and predisposed kidney failure together, I must at least give a slight warning here to not indulge. Taking starfruit juice or even just the fruit on an empty stomach is also not advised for anyone but the normal ingestion of the tropical fruits during the day for most is fine. Please do not let this deter you unnecessarily. It is fine to do juice fasts and fruit fasts etc. as I have written about before, but this particular fruit isn’t one of them for that!
The true native range of this plant is pinpointed closer to Malaysia, Indonesia and S. China than Thailand and has never been located in the wild, like the guava and many other tropical plants. It seems it was domesticated through India and SE Asia in prehistoric times, but it was in the American tropics that it was established just over 150 years ago. Commercial production of starfruit takes places in most tropical places throughout the world now including Hawaii, however, Malaysia is the global leader in starfruit production. The Averrhoa carambola are also grown as ornamentals due to the easy pruning of the mini tree-shrubs which can lead to a decorative addition to any garden yet can be worrying for some as an invasive species since they are quick to spread. Carambola flowers throughout the year with beautiful dainty pink and light lavender flowers which against the background of the dark green leaves can be a gorgeous addition to any garden. The main fruiting season in Thailand is April through June and October through December, which again, for Christmas, is so nice to have the star shaped fruits for decorative fruit platters! One last idea for the kids is to slice the fruit thin and bake them with some sea salt supplying a cute version of snacking. Healthy snacks are always a plus!
I call the painting accompanying this article Blue Skies; Starfruit Surprise because it is in the tropical, glorious, sun filled skies these fruits grow and the element of surprise you enjoy when the fruits are cut in half can be a delight. Happy Spring! May this new season bring some respite to how things have been moving along during wintertime. I am anxious to get back to SE Asia and send you all blessings from across the Pacific headed West! Let us all stay healthy, vibrant, happy and sane!
Check out Margaret’s other article in this April edition all about Thai Massage! Keeping our minds and bodies active and healthy during these times is extra important. Treating food as medicine can be a way of eating and eventually, we are what we eat since we make new cells everyday with what we put in our mouths. Enjoy Thailand’s fruits and stay hydrated during these hot months! Margaret’s paintings can be seen on www.mejcreation.com and one can join her on her other healthy discoveries.