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February, 2009

A Winter Delight Star Fruit

By Dennis Linden

Star Fruit is a great winter treat that is as rich in Vitamin C as any citrus, and packed with as many antioxidants as last summer’s blueberries.

While Star Fruit, also called Carambola, may seem exotic because of its appearance and Malaysian origins, it is now being grown commercially throughout Southeast Asia, India, Taiwan, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Florida. At this time of year, the fruit is readily available in most large supermarkets, especially if Melissa’s sales staff has anything to say about it. We always look forward with marketing anticipation to the first arrival from Taiwan in mid- December. The season slowly builds to peak production by February.

The fruit grown in Taiwan is larger and, we believe, superior in quality to all other regions that are in the marketplace. It is an 11-day boat ride from Taiwan to the port of Long Beach, California, where the containers enter this country. During the voyage, the fruit completes the final days of a stringent import protocol required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to insure that no stowaway pests will survive. By law, the fruit must be stored in a sealed room at 33 degrees for 18 days before entering this country. For perishable fruit, the only practical way to comply with this requirement is to begin the procedure in a sealed refrigerated container a week before the fruit is scheduled to depart, then complete the cold treatment in route to the marketplace aboard ship.

It is a pretty amazing feat and a great example of how globalization has come to the produce industry. Melissa’s is one of the final links in a distribution chain of produce and transportation professionals stretching across the Pacific Ocean. If we all do our parts correctly, a fresh tropical fruit grown on an island in Southeast Asia, where there is no winter, can end up in the produce department of a supermarket in, say, snowy Denver, Colorado in February. Star Fruit has a unique flavor that is difficult to define. It can taste slightly sweet or pleasantly tart. Always juicy, the taste has simultaneous hints of papaya, orange, grapefruit, plum, pineapple, grape, apple and lemon. It is said that the closer together the ribs are set, the more tart the flavor. The validity or accuracy of this rule is unconfirmed, but was found in many sources during the research for this article. Since this fruit is so succulent and tasty, may we suggest that the reader investigate this theory with a taste test of your own; no matter the results, the experience will be delicious!

Ripe Star Fruit turns a bright yellow with light tinges of green more concentrated at each end. The fruit will have a dark brown line along the five ridges - this is normal and, in fact, a sign that the fruit is at optimum flavor ripeness. The fruit itself should still be quite firm when it is ripe. Star Fruit makes a beautiful and flavorful addition to any salad. It also juices well for a healthy and refreshing drink. There is even a more potent bar libation served at resorts in the tropics called a Carambola Cocktail. The layered flavors of the fruit pair deliciously with almost any meat or poultry when reduced to a sauce. Try any, or all, of the recipes suggested in the links below to experience the versatility of this tropical fruit that now comes like, what else, a shooting star to brighten the winter kitchens of North America. Enjoy.

Handling tips:

Hold the Star Fruit vertically over a cutting board or counter-top. Using a sharp knife, cut very shallow along each of the five ridges (star points) to remove the brown outer edge. Now turn the Star Fruit on its side and note that one end of the fruit tapers to a peak, while the other end is flatter with a dark spot (where the stem was attached). Cut two inches off the “peak” end and discard. The Star Fruit is now ready to slice crosswise at any thickness, depending upon use; the slices form a perfect 5-point star. The small dark seeds are easily removed using the tip of a knife.