Star-Fruit or Ma Phuang
By Brian S.
Star-fruit is not some hot new boy band that’s gossiped about in the tabloids. No, it’s a tropical fruit with a curious shape that originated on the Carambola trees native to Sri Lanka and the Moluccas, in Indonesia. Star-fruit thrives only in a warm environment, it’s now grown primarily in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii, Australia, Southern China, and most of Southeast Asia, including Thailand.
This crunchy yet juicy, oblong-shaped fruit’s name is derived from the distinctive raised ridges, which when cut crosswise take on the shape of a star. Star-fruit is called Ma Phuang in Thailand. In the Western world, star-fruit goes by such names as Chinese Star-Fruit, Star Apple and Five Angled Fruit.
The ma phuang, which is in fact a berry, is ovoid in shape and weighs in at approximately 100 grams. It is easily identified by its smooth, light green to bright yellow skin and by the four to six, equally spaced, strongly pointed ribs that run the length of the fruit. Encased by the waxy rind is a crisp, juicy pulp that can be either sweet or sour depending upon the amount of oxalic acid within.
Star-fruit is typically eaten fresh. It can also be incorporated in salads, and used as an exotic garnish on any Thai dish or cocktail. The fruit is also squeezed into a refreshing juice, dried, pickled and made into chutneys, sorbets and smoothies. In some countries it’s even made into a wine. It’s also said that the juice of a star-fruit is an effective stain remover for both hands and clothing!
There are two varieties of star-fruit on the market. One is sour and the other slightly sweeter. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to tell the two apart. The tart variety, which does contain some sweetness, has narrowly spaced and thinner ribs, while the sweet variety is claimed to be yellower in colour and have thicker ribs. The growing season for the ma phuang in Thailand is from October through December.
Look for examples whose flesh is firm to the touch with a glossy skin. The colour should be anywhere from pale yellow to deep amber with tinges of light green. When ripe the ribs of the star-fruit will also have light brown edges and a full fruity aroma. If you like your fruit on the sour side then select examples that are smaller and greener in colour. Avoid fruits that are too soft, have bruises or are entirely yellow with brown spots. Star-fruit bruises easily and should be handled with care. They can be stored at room temperature for two to three days. However, while ripening, they should be turned often until they turn a rich orange/yellow colour. They can also be kept inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
To slice ma phuang, place the fruit in a vertical position and trim the dry brown edge from each of the ridges. Then turn it horizontally and cut off the flat end with the dark spot where the stem was attached. Then slice the fruit into the desired thickness and separate the apple-like seeds from the center of each cell. The star-fruit is now ready for consumption. Star-fruit does not need to be peeled or seeded before eating, as both the seeds and skin are edible. Both varieties of the fruit have varying degrees of tartness and the taste has been likened to that of a cross between a sour apple and a grape.
At only 30 calories per fruit, ma phuang has the fewest calories of all the tropical fruits. This makes it an excellent choice for anyone with weight loss in mind. Star-fruit is full of antioxidants. It’s packed with vitamins A and C. It has plenty of B complex vitamins. In addition, it’s a good source for iron and natural fibre. On the downside, star-fruit contains a high amount of oxalic acid. Therefore it can be unsafe for anyone suffering from various kidney ailments. Star-fruit may also be harmful when combined with certain prescription medications. If you’re concerned, consult a physician or pharmacist before consuming this delicious tropical fruit.