Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola)
Now, those are some star fruits! They are sweet, bursting with flavorful juice, tangy, all the way around, delicious. And, what you see are what Toly and I picked in about five minutes from one tree.
The truth be told, I got so accustomed to these large harvest that I got into the habit of letting some of the fruit drop. When Toly came onto the scene, that was to change. Being Russian, he does not like anything to go to waste. Nothing. So, on our recent trip to Florida, as in January 2016, he insisted we pick each and every fruit the trees produced. Needless to say, that was quite a lot of star fruit. And, I said, while we were picking them, what are we going to do with these star fruit. We can only eat so many. In a classically cunning way, Toly said, Im sure you will come up with something.
Sure enough, once our kitchen was overflowing with star fruit, I used a thing called the internet, to find recipes for star fruit jam. I had SERIOUS doubts about this product, and only when harassed by Toly did I kick it into gear to actually make a batch of jam. The flavor of star fruit is really almost a perfume and I knew it should not be cooked for long lest the perfume evaporate. Thus, I used the French technique for making jam. I mixed the fruit with sugar, let it sit over night. This process draws all the moisture out of the fruit and into a syrup. You then cook this syrup down to a thicker syrup, add the fruit back, stir just long enough for the fruit to become cooked, and then call it quits.
Well, much to my surprise, the result was a delicious aromatic perfumed jam that was one of the best I have ever made or tasted. None of this would have happened if Toly did not make me pick all the fruit and then do something with all the fruit. I would have to say this is my most favorite jam. Well, at least for the moment.
You may notice the jam is stuck to
the lid of the jar. I do this trick of
flipping the jam over while its still
hot to sterilize the lid. But, this jam
was so thick it got stuck on the lid
and would not slide down. Ok, the
jam is delicious but perhaps the
presentation could use some work!
Star Fruit is perhaps one of the most underrated fruits in the world. The reason is simple. Most people have never tasted a good star fruit. They have only tasted bad ones stuck on a fruit torte for decorative effect. The problem is this. Star fruit, picked green, as they always are when used commercially, don't taste like anything. Rather like a fruit celery product in my opinion. To be delicious as a fresh fruit, they must be picked ripe and eaten ripe.
Lets start with a photo array that shows star fruit in our garden in Florida, from flower to ripe fruit. The last pictures are fruit that we picked and Toly artfully arranged on a table by the pool. The picture of the ripe fruit was taken in January, at the height of the star fruit season.
Star Fruit for Health
As we were picking all the star fruit, I came down with a cold. More specifically, Toly brought a cold back from Moscow and I was lucky enough to pick it up. So, I was feeling quite sorry for myself when my good friend Sue Chen stopped by our house in Florida. Sue had a restaurant in Washington, DC for 30 years and we met because I ate at her restaurant twice a week. Anyhow, she is from Taiwan and when she saw the piles of star fruit in the kitchen, she immediately told me to eat the star fruit to stop my cough. I did as instructed and my cough stopped. I mean it just stopped. I didn't feel remarkably better but this super irritating cough went away and I was happy for that small improvement.
Star fruit is not a fruit I had studied previously and I decided to make a full investigation. What I learned was quite amazing. It seems the fruit has long been used to reduce temperature and coughing in its native range, South East Asia. In addition to that, it was traditionally used to reduce the signs and symptoms of aging, being yet another plant that seemed to miraculously improve general health.
My research continued and I discovered several very interesting recent studies.
*Makes exercise easier!
One study found that in 29 seniors, the daily consumption of star fruit reduced the inflammation associated with walking. In simple terms, elderly people experienced less inflammation following exercise. One of the common complaints amongst the aging population is that activities that used to cause no pain, now cause pain. Star fruit may be the solution!
*May help prevent cardiovascular disease!
A study using 27 elderly patients found that using star fruit once a day resulted in an increase in blood levels of anti-oxidants, and, reduced bad cholesterol and improved good cholesterol! Another study, using human cells, had a similar finding. Regular consumption of the fruit could be part of stay healthy diet!
*May help prevent body damage caused by water with Fluoride
Ever increasingly, research is revealing that the fluoride added to public drinking water may be causing more harm than good. It is known to cause abnormalities in blood sugar levels and blood fat levels. In a very interesting rat study, star fruit was found to neutralize the abnormalities caused by fluoride laced water!
*May help prevent liver cancer!
In a mouse study, star fruit was found to inhibit the development of liver cancer in animals given a chemical known to cause liver cancer. Our liver is responsible for getting all the toxins out of our body, and, it can get hurt in the process. This study reveals start fruit might help protect the liver from developing cancer.... when exposed to liver causing compounds. By the by, read the label of the food you eat. All those chemicals that have five or six syllables, the ones you cannot pronounce, go ahead and consider them dangerous. Maybe star fruit can help.
So, there is a long history of people using star fruit to stay healthy, and some recent scientific research that backs up those ideas. To me this says, if you are going to eat some fruit, why not eat some star fruit.
**WARNING: This is a big warning. There is also lots of research that shows people who have kidney disease need to avoid star fruit in all circumstances. Literally, there are reports of kidney disease patients being thrown into kidney failure after consuming star fruit. So, if you have kidney disease, stay away from start fruit. Even a slice on a bad fruit tart could cause problems!
The other thing to bear in mind, star fruit acts in a similar manner to grapefruit. It affects the way the liver deals with drugs you take. Consuming star fruit while taking prescription medication could alter the elimination of the drugs from your body. If you are told to avoid grapefruit, you should add star fruit to your "to be avoided" list.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.
Using The Ultra Fab Star Fruit
Well, as I mentioned earlier, the problem with star fruit is they are really best when picked off the tree. But, once again, Toly to the rescue. Because of his "do not waste any food program, a helpful discovery was made.
As we were leaving Florida, and he did not want to waste any of the star fruit, we picked all the green star fruit. I told him it was a big waste of time, because in my experience, unripe star fruit is a big bust, but, he insisted. Once again, encouraging me to come up with a recipe for the green fruit. I said straight up I was not going to use it on a fruit tart and ruin the fruit tart, but, that I would consider some other options for the green star fruit.
He suggested we make a jam using the green star fruit and a small amount of lemon peel. So, back to the kitchen I went, and, made a batch of green star fruit lemon peel jam. Once again, I was shocked. This became my second most favorite jams in the world. In fact, so good, that I highly recommend you make some yourself. And, the good news is that your grocery store will be more than happy to provide you with some under ripe star fruit. They are always in stock!
Star Fruit Jam Recipe
10 star fruit
4 cups sugar
1 packet pectin
In the middle of the star fruit is a core with seeds. Step one is to slice the arms of the star off the core. By doing this, you leave the core and all the seeds in the middle and keep all the meat. Then cut these "wings" in chunks. Add these to a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the sugar over the cut fruit. Juice the two lemons and add the lemon juice to the star fruit sugar combination. Cover the bowl and leave it on the counter overnight. Remove the peel from half a lemon, and dice into small peices. Put these chopped up bits of lemon peel in the fridge.
The next morning you will find your star fruit swimming in a sea of syrup. Put this syrup in a pan and put it on a medium heat. Cook it carefully, and when the syrup has been reduced by half, add the fruit to the mixture. When the combination comes to a boil, add the pectin and the lemon peel. Let me mixture come to another boil, and then turn off the heat. Put the jam in canning jars and twist those lids. Let it cool overnight. In the morning you will have one delectable jam on your hands.
Toly likes to let the cooking pot cool and then scrap the jam remains out of the cooled cooking pot. Its a good idea. It will give you a good idea of what is in the jars and is a nice treat. It goes without saying, but, I guess I have to say it, wait until the pan is entirely cool before you go to work scraping out the jam stuck to the sides. A hot pot filled with hot sugar will cause a nasty burn!
If you are not a jam person, you can still enjoy the unique flavor of star fruit. They can be used to make an excellent complement for fish or chicken. Rather than making a jam to put on toast, you can make a sweet relish to put on top of fish or chicken before or after grilling. Simply take three star fruit, clean, chop, and add to a pot. Then add half a cup of sugar and mix thoroughly. On a low heat, stir the star fruit until the mixture has reduced to a thick consistency. Use this as you might chutney, to finish off grilled salmon or roasted chicken. To star fruit sauce, you can add a lithe curry powder, fresh cilantro, diced red onion, a little vinegar, or any other flavor you like. Its a very flexible base and the tropical flavor comes through no matter what you add to it.
As for eating them fresh, well, unless you buy them and they are orange, I would plan on cooking them. Unless they are picked ripe, they are not really worth eating.
The Star fruit is a tropical fruit native to south east Asia. Its native range includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam. Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. Though it started out in Asia, early in the colonial age it made its way to tropical America, and can be found from South Florida all the way down into tropical South America.
One of the key features of this tree is that it is easy to grow, and, produces buckets of fruit, twice a year, with no fertilizer and no pesticide. This tree is a producer. When I first bought a garden space in South Florida, I was keen to plant a bunch of them because they were so productive. And plant them I did. However, as ever, there is a story involved my star fruit adventure.
I had seen old star fruit trees in my area, covered with fruit, indeed, dropping fruit that no one ever picked up. I think the owners of the trees either did not know what to do with the fruit, or were overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of fruit produced. I decided it was time to start shopping for some trees. As it turns out, there are quite a few types of star fruit, just like there are many different types of apples.
This lead to one of my most disgusting and painful garden stories to date. I found out about a guy this guy who had a collection of different star fruits and I was invited to come out and sample them. As it turns out, he lived way far away, in the swampy interior of my part of Florida. When I say swampy I am talking about swamp. You drive along drainage canals to get to the farms that are used to draw the water out of the land so people can cultivate it. I drove along drainage canals for about an hour when I arrived at the star fruit sampling farm. The guy was super great and I was going from tree to tree, sampling star fruit, amazed at how delicious they were, how they did not taste like sour celery, and so on. I picked one star fruit from the tree, and the nightmare began.
I did not realize there was an evil tropical stink bug underneath the fruit and when I bit into the fruit, something terrible happened. The stink bug stung my lower lip and sprayed a big load of stink bug stink in my mouth. You don't want stink bug spray anywhere, but, you certainly don't want it in your mouth. Plus, I am allergic to some bug bites and my lower lip began to swell immediately. So, I had visions of my throat closing up, and dying from a stink bug bite. Not a very glorious end to my life. I said a hasty good by and got back in my car and sped along the sweaty canals to go to a hospital, or as close to a hospital as I could get. As I am writing this story, I clearly did not die from oral stink bug attack, but, it did teach me a valuable lesson. When in the tropics, always examine fruit carefully before you eat it, there may be a surprise lurking on the underside.
I also learned there were MANY different types of star fruit, some sweet, some sour, and that I could add a collection of different star fruits to my garden. I went to my favorite nursery in Palm Beach County, Excalibur Fruit Nursery, and there put together a collection of 12 star fruit trees, a few of each variety, and planted them in my garden. As you can see from the photo below, the trees not only grew, but, went on to produce large crops of fruit.