While it’s been grown in Hawaii for at least a decade, rambutan is still somewhat new to the islands. It’s a fruit that’s related to the lychee, distinguished by its oval shape and red rind covered in hairlike bristles.
The fruit comes from the Malay peninsula, and its name is derived from the Malay word "rambut," which means hair.
Rambutan season is during the winter months, a nice counterpoint to the summer lychee season. The flesh is white, translucent and grapelike in flavor, perhaps not as juicy as a lychee, but certainly reminiscent of its sweet-tart flavor.
Rambutan are grown mostly on the Big Island, and much of it is exported to ethnic markets on the West Coast. Look for rambutan at farmers markets and Chinatown stores. As trees have matured in recent years, the fruit has become more delicious.
To eat a rambutan, use a small knife to cut through its equator and remove the spiny shell. Just pop it into your mouth and discard the seed. This fruit is a good source of vitamin C and refreshingly delicious.
Hawaii food writer Joan Namkoong offers a weekly tidbit on fresh seasonal products, many of them locally grown. Look for "Fresh Tips" every Wednesday in the Star-Advertiser.