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The rambutan is a fruit grown primarily in Southeast Asia, and is cousin to the longan and the lychee. It grows on trees that are 10-20 feet (3.05-6.1 m) high. The trees are prized in landscaping because they are evergreens.
The rambutan produces two crops each year, a smaller crop in mid-spring and a larger crop in late fall. Not all rambutan trees produce crops, because some trees are male. Some trees are hermaphrodites, producing both male and female blossoms, while others are exclusively female. The hermaphrodite tree is the most prized.
The blossoms on the rambutan have a sweet aroma and are often used in flower arrangements. They are white or green in color, and some difference exists between the male and female flower. Cross-pollination is necessary in female trees, or the tree will produce no fruit. However, bees are attracted by the quality of nectar in rambutan blooms, so this generally poses no significant problem in a large orchard.
The rambutan is a sweet fruit that most palates find appealing. Ten to 20 fruits will grow in clusters. Their exterior appearance looks a bit foreboding, as it is covered in spikes. The spikes, however, are soft and will not harm one who touches or handles the rambutan.
The exterior of the rambutan can be orange to deep red in color. Each fruit is small, generally no more than 2 inches (5 cm) long. The interior can be white or light pink in color. One large seed, similar to the seed of a peach or plum, marks the middle of the fruit. The seed should be discarded, as it is poisonous.
The rambutan is often eaten as dessert, simply served fresh and uncooked. However, some use the rambutan to make preserves or jelly. Some cultures also use the roots of rambutan trees for alternative medicines.
Though rambutan is quite difficult to grow in the US, Australia began to cultivate the fruit in the 1990s. Occasionally, one can find a supply of rambutans at Asian markets in the US. Usually, rambutan must be ordered online or purchased canned.
As the rambutan proliferates in Australia, top chefs will no doubt soon develop more recipes for it. One such recipe, rambutan glazed ham, includes wine, pineapple and lychee as well. However, without many recipes, the rambutan is still vastly enjoyed as is.