What is a starfruit?
A starfruit, also known as carambola, is a tropical fruit that is shaped like a star when sliced crosswise. The starfruit is originally from Sri Lanka and the Moluccas but is now grown in tropical areas around the world, including Hawaii, Florida, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.
The starfruit tree is slow growing, broadleaf evergreen that can reach heights of 50 feet. The tree produces flowers year round and the starfruit itself is usually picked when light green or yellow. When ripe, the five-angled fruit has ribs running down its sides and a waxy cuticle. The skin of the starfruit is thin and firm with a light green to light yellow color. Underneath the skin, starfruit flesh is juicy and firm with a tart flavor.
Is starfruit edible?
Yes, starfruit is an edible tropical fruit. When ripe, starfruit can be consumed raw straight off the tree. It is juicy and offers a crunchy texture with a sweet and sour tropical flavor. Some describe the taste as a mix between apple, grape, and citrus.
Starfruit is popularly used in fruit salads, drinks, cocktails, preserves, and chutneys. It can be used in cooking as well and pairs nicely with spices, chili peppers, lime, fish sauce, coconut milk, and other tropical ingredients. When shopping for starfruit, look for fruit that is fragrant, has bright color, and feels firm but with a slight give when squeezed. Avoid fruit with brown spots or bruises.
Is starfruit poisonous?
Starfruit is only poisonous in rare cases for individuals with certain medical conditions. For most people, starfruit is not poisonous and can be safely consumed.
However, there have been reported cases of starfruit causing severe illness or even death in people with a chronic kidney disease. This is due to the fruit naturally containing toxins that healthy kidneys can filter out but damaged kidneys cannot. The toxins act as a neurotoxin, causing neurological disturbances that can lead to hiccups, seizures, confusion, and death in extreme cases.
If you have advanced chronic kidney disease, it is best to avoid consuming starfruit or starfruit juice altogether. Pregnant women are also sometimes advised to avoid starfruit. However, for otherwise healthy individuals, starfruit is not considered poisonous or dangerous. Only those with impaired kidney function need to exercise caution with this fruit.
Does starfruit need to be peeled?
Starfruit does not necessarily need to be peeled before eating. The skin is thin, smooth, and not too fibrous or tough. Many people choose to eat starfruit whole like an apple, skin and all. The skin contains beneficial fiber and nutrients.
However, some people prefer peeling starfruit, especially thicker-skinned varieties. Reasons you may want to peel starfruit include:
– Removing any wax coating – Starfruit is sometimes waxed to extend shelf life. Peeling removes waxy chemicals.
– Reducing pesticide residues – Peeling removes surface pesticide residues if fruit is conventionally grown.
– Avoiding skin allergies – The starfruit skin contains raphides which can cause mouth irritation for sensitive individuals.
– Reducing bitterness – The skin tends to be more bitter while the flesh is sweeter.
– Changing texture – Removing the skin makes the flesh softer and juicier.
– Eliminating brown spots – Peeling can get rid of any brown bruises or blemishes on the skin.
So in summary, peeling starfruit is optional. It can make the flavor less bitter and the texture softer. But the skin is thin, edible and nutritious. If you don’t mind the mild bitterness or fibrousness, you can certainly eat starfruit unpeeled.
How to peel a starfruit
If you choose to peel starfruit, it’s easy to do with a vegetable peeler, paring knife, or fingers. Follow these simple steps:
– Vegetable peeler or paring knife
1. Wash the starfruit thoroughly under cool running water. Dry with a clean towel.
2. Hold the starfruit in your non-dominant hand. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife in the other hand.
3. Place the peeler or knife at the top of one of the ridges. Carefully slice downward, cutting a thin strip of only the green/yellow skin.
4. Rotate the starfruit and continue slicing strips of skin off around each ridge until the entire surface is peeled.
5. Alternatively, you can simply use your fingers to pinch and peel the skin off. The skin should come off fairly easily in strips.
6. Once peeled, slice the starfruit across the ridges. Then enjoy it fresh or add it to your favorite recipe.
Can you eat starfruit skin?
Yes, the skin of starfruit is edible. While it’s slightly more bitter and fibrous than the juicy flesh, the skin is thin and not dangerous to eat.
Here are some benefits of consuming starfruit skin:
– Fiber – The skin contains fiber that promotes good digestion and heart health.
– Nutrients – Compounds like calcium, potassium, and magnesium are found in higher concentrations in the skin.
– Antioxidants – Starfruit skin contains antioxidant polyphenols like quercetin and gallic acid. These combat free radicals.
– Added texture – The skin provides a nice crispness when eating the fruit fresh.
The main drawbacks of eating starfruit skin are the increased bitterness and sometimes bothersome mouthfeel. As long as you don’t mind these qualities, go ahead and eat your starfruit whole. Just be sure to wash the fruit well first.
Those with kidney disease should avoid the skin altogether, as toxins concentrate in the peel. For them, it’s safer to stick to just the flesh.
What color should starfruit be when ripe?
When ripe and ready to eat, starfruit should be a bright, uniform yellow color. Ripe starfruit may also have hints of green on some varieties. Here’s a guide to telling when starfruit is ripe based on color:
– Green starfruit is unripe and will taste very sour and astringent. The flesh will be hard and crunchy.
– Light green starfruit is close to ripe. It will be tangy and tart but still very firm.
– Pale yellow starfruit is perfectly ripe. It will taste sweet with just a bit of sourness and have tender, juicy flesh.
– Golden yellow starfruit is ripe and at its peak. It will taste very sweet and delicate.
– Yellow starfruit with brown spots is overripe. It will taste bland and mushy.
Ideally, starfruit should be harvested when 75-100% yellow. Full yellow color with a tinge of green is best. Starfruit will not continue to ripen or get sweeter after picking, so only buy ripe, yellow fruit.
What does starfruit taste like?
Ripe starfruit has a sweet-tart tropical flavor that’s unlike any other fruit. It’s described as a cross between apple, grape, citrus and pineapple.
When unripe, starfruit tastes very sour, bitter and astringent. Once ripe, the flavor becomes nicely balanced between sweet and tart. Well-ripened starfruit will taste juicy, crisp and light. It has high sugar content which gives it its sweetness.
There are also subtle hints of other flavors. Some detect lemongrass, pear, kiwi or plum notes. The taste is complex for such a light fruit.
Starfruit isn’t overwhelmingly sweet. It has a milder sweet-tartness compared to other tropical fruit like mango or pineapple. The flavor is delicate rather than intense.
Keep in mind starfruit tastes best when eaten fresh. Cooking tends to make it lose its delicate flavor. For the best experience, get ripe, yellow starfruit and eat it whole. The skin provides a nice contrast of tartness to the sweet flesh. Enjoy starfruit plain or in a fruit salad.
Is it better to eat starfruit ripe or unripe?
Starfruit tastes significantly better when ripe. Unripe starfruit is too sour, bitter, and crunchy to be enjoyable. Allowing starfruit to fully ripen results in a softer texture and a better balance of sweet and tart flavors.
Here’s a comparison of unripe vs ripe starfruit:
– Hard, crunchy flesh
– Very sour, bitter taste
– Astringent, puckering mouthfeel
– Not enough sugar developed
– Tender, juicy flesh
– Balanced sweet-tart flavor
– Smooth, rich taste
– Good sugar level
While an unripe starfruit is still edible, its harsh sourness is unappealing. Only when ripe does starfruit become a delicious treat.
The most foolproof way to identify ripe starfruit is color. Ripe starfruit will be light greenish-yellow to full yellow. Unripe fruit is bright green.
For the best, sweetest flavor, allow starfruit to ripen on the counter until yellow with a fragrant aroma before eating. Cooked applications like chutneys can use semi-ripe starfruit, but fresh is always best consumed ripe.
Can you eat a starfruit straight from the tree?
It’s possible to eat starfruit straight from the tree, but the flavor and texture will be better if you allow the fruit to fully ripen first.
If you pick and eat starfruit directly from the tree before ripe, expect the fruit to be:
– Very firm and crunchy
– Extremely tart and sour
– Astringent, drying effect in the mouth
– Bitter, with unpleasant aftertaste
Without time on the tree, starfruit doesn’t develop adequate starches and sugars. The acids and tannins overwhelm the fruit’s flavor when underripe.
While not harmful in small quantities, eating unripe starfruit off the tree provides an unpleasant experience for most. You’ll enjoy the fruit’s flavor much more if you let time it ripen first.
Look for these signs your starfruit is ripe and ready to eat from the tree:
– Light greenish-yellow to golden yellow skin
– Softening of flesh when squeezed
– Sweet, fruity aroma
Pick ripe fruit selectively and avoid any that is fully green. Bring home and let sit at room temperature to complete the ripening process before enjoying its sweet-tart flavor.
Is there a best time to eat starfruit?
Starfruit can be eaten year round in tropical regions where it grows. But its peak season is considered late spring through early fall. The fruits tend to be largest and sweetest during the warmer months.
Here are some guidelines for when starfruit is in season and at its best:
– Florida – May through September
– Hawaii – June through October
– Asia – May through October
– Australia – September through December
– Central America – April through August
During the off season, starfruit is still readily available but may have to travel farther distances. This can affect freshness, texture, and flavor. Fruits that are shipped long distances are often picked early and ripened with ethylene gas to simulate natural ripening.
For peak flavor and texture, try to buy starfruit in season in your region. Ask your local grocer when starfruits from a nearby source are delivered.
In any season, choose fruits that are fragrant, partially yellow, and free of brown spots. Let them ripen at room temperature until completely yellow before feasting on their sweet-tart taste.
Starfruit is a fun and exotic tropical fruit worthy of a try. Its signature star shape and sweet-sour taste add unique appeal. Though the skin is edible, starfruit can be peeled easily with a vegetable peeler or paring knife if desired. Allowing starfruits to ripen to a yellow color results in the best flavor and texture. While available year-round in stores, starfruit is at its peak during warmer seasons like late spring through early fall. Give this lesser known fruit a chance and enjoy its complex, tropical essence.