What You Need to Know About Rambutan

Rambutan's popularity is growing with Americans. (Photo: Khumthong/Shutterstock)

Have you noticed a small, red-spiked fruit in the produce section recently? What you're seeing is rambutan, and it's in demand — both for eating and photographing. Instagram users love this fruit's vibrant colors and texture.

According to the lifestyle website Coconuts, the demand for rambutan from Thailand (along with durian) is "growing exponentially," having increased 30 to 40 percent since last year. Most of Thai rambutan is heading to other Asian countries, but according to importer HLB Specialties, rambutan from other regions is taking the United States and Canada by storm. It has become one of the summer's trendiest fruits.

Since it looks like we'll be seeing rambutan more often at the market, here's some basic information about the fruit so you'll know whether or not to buy it when you see it on the shelves.

It's a tropical fruit

rambutan harvesting
When rambutan is bright red, it's ready to be harvested from the tree. (Photo: Tapui/Shutterstock)

Rambutan looks a bit like a sea urchin, but it also resembles lychee, although they are different. Grown in tropical locations, the fruit originated in Southeast Asia, but it's also grown in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Hawaii. The fruit grows in clusters of 10-20 on trees. Rambutan is covered in soft spines that you can run your hand over. The fruit gets its name from those soft spines. In the Malay language, rambut means "hair."

The edible portion of rambutan is white, and its flavor is often described as similar to a lychee or a really good grape. The flesh is usually eaten raw, but there's a pit inside that needs to be removed.

The nutrition of rambutan

The sweet flesh of a rambutan fruit has only 58 calories per 100 gram serving. The fruit is packed with vitamin C, according to Mercola, and it's a good source of copper, phosphorus and iron. It has three grams of fiber and one gram of protein per serving, and it's naturally fat- and cholesterol-free.

Even the leaves of the rambutan tree are useful. When mashed into a paste and added to water and applied to the hair and scalp, they are said to improve hair health.

How to cut rambutan

Rambutan has a big pit in the middle of it, and there's a trick to cutting it. This video shows how to cut the fruit open and remove the pit, which is all you need to do before popping the sweet fruit in your mouth.