Rambutan, Nephelium lappaceum, is closely related to lychee and mamoncillo. It is native to Malaysia, but is cultivated in many areas of the world. In several languages it means “hairy” for the little yellow-tipped red hairs that emanate from its leathery, red skin. In Central America it is known as mamon chino.
Rambutan grows on a mid-sized evergreen tree and produces 10 – 20 round fruits hanging in a pendant at the end of the branch. The fruit keeps much better when harvested by the branch than when it is picked individually. It is similar to a lychee in flavor and is white to pink inside. It contains one light brown seed. It is used in desserts, jams and jellies, is canned and also eaten as a fresh fruit. Its roots, bark and leaves are used in medicine and as a dye.
Thailand is the largest producer of rambutan and it is now grown in many countries in the West. In 1997 it was the third biggest tropical fruit crop in Hawaii.
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