All About the Starfruit

The starfruit, also known as carambola, got its name from the star-shape of the fruit when cut.

Description of the Fruit

The starfruit is native to Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. It is very common in portions of East Asia as well as throughout the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Micronesia. It grows well in tropical zones.

The fruit has five ridges along the side, which create the namesake star shape when you cut the fruit in a cross-section.

Changes to the Fruit Over Time

Experts believe that the starfruit first grew in Indonesia or Sri Lanka, but people throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent have been growing it for years. There is also commercial cultivation in the southern U.S., portions of Africa, and several other areas. In some locations, cultivation of starfruit is purely ornamental instead of for consumption.

Experts have also created several cultivars in recent years, including specific types from Florida, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

Description of Taste

You can cut starfruit open and eat the inside. It is delicious when raw, or you can use it for relishes, juice, preserves, and in meals. Smaller starfruits tend to be sour or tart due to a higher content of oxalic acid, while larger versions are sweet. The flesh is juicy and firm.

Is It Used in Desserts?

Many desserts with starfruit have other fruits as well. These include curds, cakes, and tarts.

Pop Culture References

Many people suggest consuming starfruit for its vitamin C, potassium, niacin, copper, and dietary fiber content.

Other Uses

Some areas of the world grow starfruit just for its ornamental purposes thanks to the beauty of the fruit, leaves, and flowers. Some regions use the sour type of starfruit’s juice to clean tarnished or rusty metal, or for mordant in dyeing. Brazilian folk medicine also uses it as a cough suppressant, expectorant, and diuretic.

All About the Water Chestnut

Water chestnuts, also known as Chinese water chestnuts, are vegetables and not nuts.

Description of the Fruit

Water chestnuts are grass-like sedges that are native to Asia, tropical Africa, Australia, and various islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Many cultures grow them to enjoy the edible corms. These aquatic vegetables grow underwater and in the mud. The corms are small and rounded with white flesh.

Changes to the Fruit Over Time

In some areas, including New York, water chestnuts are an invasive species. It arrived in the Northeast during the late 1800s and currently clogs many waterways in the area.

Description of Taste

You can eat the white corms of the water chestnut raw, grilled, or lightly boiled. They are also easy to find tinned or pickled. They are most common in Chinese dishes, where they are frequently eaten raw but occasionally sweetened. Remarkably, water chestnuts stay crispy even after cooking. Water chestnuts taste slightly sweet with a crunch. Their flavor is mild and nutty, easily overpowered by other flavors in a dish.

Is It Used in Desserts?

Water chestnuts are usually part of a range of dishes, both main meals and desserts. You can make a water chestnut egg dessert using water chestnut powder and whole water chestnuts, among other ingredients. Alternatively, you can try a cake made with water chestnuts.

Pop Culture References

Water chestnuts are touted as a health food due to their high nutritional yet low-calorie content, making them a staple for many diets. They are also praised for containing high levels of antioxidants and their potential ability to reduce heart disease risk and high blood pressure.

Other Uses

In Australia’s Northern Territory, magpie geese eat water chestnuts during the dry season so they can put on fat. During the wet season, these geese use them for building floating nests.

All About the Java Plum

Java plums are also known as black plums or Malabar plums.

Description of the Fruit

Java plums, or Syzygium cumini, are evergreen tropical trees that are part of the family Myrtaceae, which includes other flowering plants. The fruit is native in the Indian subcontinent along with the adjoining areas of Southeast Asia, Queensland, and China.

Changes to the Fruit Over Time

Indian emigrants have spread the java plum to other regions of the world. It is now fairly common in former British colonies that have tropical climates. The USDA brought it to Florida in 1911, and you can also now find it in certain South American countries. Brazil has some spontaneously dispersed wild java plum. It is an invasive species in Hawaii. The species grows very slowly.

Description of Taste

The java plum tastes mildly sour, sweet, and astringent. After you eat it, it is normal for your tongue to turn purple.

Is It Used in Desserts?

Many types of cakes feature java plum in them, including one with almond meal and cream cheese frosting.

Pop Culture References

The java plum seed is a common part of alternative healing systems, such as Chinese, Unani, and Ayurveda medicine. The fruit contains high levels of vitamin C and vitamin A. The fruit also appeared in “The Useful Native Plants of Australia,” originally published in 1889. The fruit has some religious symbolism in parts of India.

Other Uses

In Brazil, many native birds, including the great kiskadee, tanagers, and thrushes, make use of the java plum and its tree. The wood of the trees is water-resistant, making it useful for installing motors in walls and railway sleepers. Some people also use it to make cheap dwellings or furniture, despite being hard to work with. The leaves are fed to livestock thanks to their nutritional value.