Rambutan Fruit: What Is It and What Health Benefits Does It Have?

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Rambutan Fruit Picture Showing the Creamy Flesh and Spiky Red Skin.

Rambutan is an unusual looking tropical fruit from Southeast Asia.

In fact, the literal translation of the Indonesian name 'rambutan' is 'hair'.

Some people (like Oprah) have recently given the fruit so-called 'superfood' status, but is it really worth including in your diet? 

This tag of 'superfood' is given way too easily to various foods, and it is usually related to marketing.

Therefore, this article takes an evidence-based look at rambutan.

We will cover the nutrition profile, purported health benefits, drawbacks, and all the need-to-know information.

What is Rambutan?

Picture of a Whole Rambutan Fruit and a Peeled Fruit.

Rambutan is a small, round tropical fruit that is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian regions. 

Although rambutan comes from the Southeast Asian region, it now grows in hot climates throughout the world.

Growers can be found anywhere from Africa to Central America and Oceania, providing the location offers the tropical climate that the fruit needs to thrive. 

It is a typical, everyday food in its homeland, and at home, it has a similar prevalence to apples in the West.

The fruit grows on a tree going by the same name 'rambutan,' and the species is part of the sapindaceae family.

Otherwise known as 'soapberry', other close relatives in this family include the tropical fruits lychee and longan (1).

There isn't a significant difference in flavor between rambutan, lychee, and longan, but rambutan tends to be slightly juicier and sweeter.

Appearance

Regarding appearance, a bright red skin surrounds the fruit. The skin is full of small green spikes/hairs that make the fruit look hairy.

Once you peel the skin, the fruit inside looks like a smooth and moist white ball. For lack of a better comparison, it looks a little bit like a cross between a pickled onion and an egg.

Inside the fruity flesh there is a large seed that is slightly toxic to humans in its raw state, so don't eat it (2, 3). 

Key Point: Rambutan is a small tropical fruit with a very unique appearance.

Nutrition Facts

Here are the nutritional values for rambutan fruit per 100 grams.

Firstly, the calorie and macronutrient details (4);

  • Calories: 68 k cal
  • Carbohydrate: 16 g
  •   -  Fiber: 2.8 g
  •   -  Sugar: 13.2 g
  •   -  Net Carbs: 13.2 g
  • Fat: 0.3 g
  • Protein: 0.9 g

Vitamin and Mineral Profile

The table below shows the vitamin and mineral content per 100 g (5);

Table Showing the Nutrition Facts, Vitamins and Minerals For Rambutan Fruit.

As we can see, rambutan fruit contains a decent range of micronutrients. 

However, the only nutrient of any real significance is vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which accounts for two-thirds of the RDA per 100 grams.

As a result, rambutan could be a good choice for those who enjoy fruit and want to increase their vitamin C intake.

Key Point: Rambutan provides a substantial amount of vitamin C, and it contains smaller quantities of several vitamins and minerals.

Health Benefits of Rambutan

Like all fruit, the health benefits are mostly down to the vitamin C content.

It is also possible that the polyphenol content may boost the functioning of several biological processes.

Be wary of marketing-focused articles exaggerating the benefits of the fruit though.

For example; 2.8 g of fiber doesn't mean rambutan "may prevent heart disease," and nor are the tiny quantities of most vitamins worth shouting about.

1. Rambutan is Rich in Vitamin C

Picture of a Rambutan Fruit High in Vitamin C.

As previously mentioned, the vitamin C content of rambutan is very high, and the fruit provides approximately 66% of the RDA per 100 grams (5).

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for human health, and it plays a number of key roles within our body.

Higher amounts of vitamin C are especially important if you eat a higher carbohydrate diet, since vitamin C and glucose compete for cell uptake (6, 7).

Some important roles of vitamin C include;

  • Vitamin C is believed to act as an antioxidant in the body, and it helps to strengthen the immune system in times of illness (8).
  • The vitamin plays a primary role in the synthesis of collagen, making it important for our joint, hair, and skin health (9).
  • Glutathione is known as the body's 'master antioxidant', and it is the key to our body's natural antioxidant defense system. Our body makes this compound, and it is essential for our immune health. Markedly, higher vitamin C levels boost the rate at which our body can make glutathione (10).

Key Point: Rambutan provides two thirds of the daily RDA for vitamin C.

2. Rambutan Provides a Decent Amount of Manganese

A Cube Showing the Chemical Element For Manganese (Mn).

Rambutan provides around 10% of the RDA for Manganese per 100 g (5).

Manganese is another essential mineral that we need to consume from our diet, and it plays an active role in several biological processes.

It also acts as an 'activator' of various enzymes, and these compounds are dependent on a sufficient supply of manganese (11);

  • Manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) is dependent on adequate dietary manganese. MnSOD is the primary antioxidant enzyme within our mitochondria (DNA cells).
  • Manganese supports the healthy formation of new cartilage and bone.
  • The consequences of a manganese deficiency include impaired glucose tolerance and regulation, growth and reproductive problems, and skeletal abnormalities.

Although it is great that rambutan contains some manganese, it is worth noting that other foods provide far higher amounts.

For instance, cocoa provides 189% of the manganese RDA per 100 grams. This means that even a tablespoon of cocoa supplies double the amount in 100 grams of rambutan fruit (12).

Key Point: Rambutan contains a good amount of manganese, but many other foods provide a larger amount.

3. There Are Claims That Rambutan Has Anti-bacterial Properties

Cartoon Picture Showing Various Bacteria.

The claim that rambutan has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial benefits is quite common.

Just a quick Google search brings up hundreds of results.

Firstly, this is technically true. 

In clinical studies, various compounds within rambutan have shown antibacterial activity against pathogens (13).

However, the compounds that are responsible for this effect are an extract from the fruit's peel (which we can't eat).

In other words, this benefit may have some future use in medicine, but you won't get it from simply eating the fruit.

Key Point: Compounds in rambutan peel have anti-bacterial properties, but these are not contained within the fruit.

4. Rambutan Provides a Polyphenol Called Gallic Acid

The Chemical Structure of the Polyphenol Gallic Acid.

Gallic acid is associated with several health benefits, and it is part of the phenolic acid class of polyphenols (14).

Perhaps the most famous source of gallic acid is green tea, and the compound is believed to have cardio-protective properties (15).

However, yet again, these claims are a little misleading because the vast majority of gallic acid is located in the rambutan peel (16). 

Furthermore, studies that show benefit use highly concentrated extracts from the peel, and such levels of polyphenols are not found in the flesh.

Key Point: Rambutan does contain some polyphenols, but they are mainly concentrated in the peel and therefore unavailable to us.

Rambutan Drawbacks

Providing you don't eat the (slightly toxic) seed, there are no hugely negative points about this tropical fruit.

Fruit Sugars

Interestingly, compared to other tropical fruits, rambutan is relatively low in fructose/fruit sugars.

Once the fiber is taken into account, rambutan provides around 13 grams of net (digestible) carbs.

Per 100 grams, here is how that amount of net carbohydrate compares to other fruits (5, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23);

  • Medium Apple: 11.4 g
  • Banana: 20.2 g 
  • Blueberries: 12.1 g 
  • Grapes: 17.2 g 
  • Kumquat: 9.5 g
  • Mango: 15.2 g
  • Rambutan: 13.2 g
  • Tomatoes: 2.7 g

As shown above, rambutan isn't one of the highest carb fruits, but nor is it one of the lowest.

Personally, I don't see any problem with fruit sugar in sensible amounts (i.e. a portion of two of fruit per day).

However, for those following a very low carb ketogenic diet for a health condition, this fruit may be a bit too high in carbs.

Key Point: Rambutan is a medium-carbohydrate fruit, so it may not be ideal for those on very low carb diets.

How To Eat Rambutan

A Womans Hand Holding a Fresh Rambutan Ready To Eat.

When someone first gets given a prickly rambutan fruit, they could be forgiven for wondering how they are supposed to eat it.

Despite the thick and spiky exterior, it is fairly straightforward to eat. 

  • Firstly, the skin needs piercing with either a sharp nail or a knife.
  • After making a small tear in the prickly skin, tear the fruit apart and peel one side off.
  • Next, squeeze the base of the fruit between the fore finger and thumb and the inner flesh will pop out.
  • There are two varieties of rambutan. For all fruit with large seeds (peach, rambutan, plum etc), you can either have a 'clingstone' or a 'freestone' fruit. If you have a clingstone, then you will need to eat around the stone since it is very difficult to separate. 
  • If you have a freestone variety, then you can easily remove the seed and then just eat the flesh.

Key Point: Preparing and eating rambutan is straightforward and it only takes a few seconds.

What Does Rambutan Taste Like?

If you have ever tried lychee before, then you will have some idea of what a rambutan tastes like.

Although the two tropical fruits do have a similar flavor, rambutan is richer, sweeter, and juicier.

If you have never tried either, then perhaps the taste could be described as sweet and creamy, with a very slight sour note from the citric and malic acid content. The fruit also has a kind of flowery aroma.

As is the case with many tropical fruits, rambutan has good hydration properties due to very high water content.

To be precise, the fruit is 82.1% water.

Key Point: The fruit is sweet, creamy, and slightly sour. It's also very juicy. 

Where Can You Find Rambutan?

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find fresh imported rambutan in your local grocery store/supermarket.

If not, they come in canned form which most markets will stock. 

Fresh options are also available online here.

Final Thoughts

Overall, rambutan is a reasonably decent fruit option that offers a wealth of vitamin C.

It is also quite refreshing and has an enjoyable taste.

However, there is a lot of exaggeration taking place in regard to the fruit's health benefits.

If you enjoy fruit and like this one, then that's great, but eat it for enjoyment/vitamin C rather than the 'superfood' claims.

There is no such thing as a superfood, and rambutan certainly isn't one either.