Friday, May 18, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Starfruit (Carambola)

Many of the most popular tropical fruits in Brazil originated in what is now Brazilian national territory - fruits like caju, açaí, and lots of others. Some fruits, though, even though they are thoroughly Brazilianized, came to this country from distant shores. In this group are fruits like the mango (from Southeast Asia), all the citrus fruits (also from Asia), and Brazil's most popular fruit, the banana.

Another Asian import to Brazil which has been enthusiastically added to the roster of Brazilian fruits is the magically-shaped starfruit, known in Portuguese as carambola. In fact, in certain regional variations of English the fruit is also referred to as carambola, not starfruit.

The carambola grows prodigiously in Brazil's tropical climate, and the tree is perfectly suited to backyard gardens and small orchards. Many Brazilian homes come "equipped" with their own carambola tree in the yard, thus eliminating the necessity of shopping in the market when the recipe at hand calls for star fruit.

Starfruits (Averrhoa carambola) are most often eaten, in Brazil as elsewhere, in their raw, uncooked state. Unlike many tropical fruits, the entire fruit is edible, including the waxy skin. Although the fruit can be sweet, it is never overpoweringly so, and there is always a sharp, tart undertone. The taste of a starfruit is often compared to a combination of citrus, pear and sour apple flavors.

Because the exotic star-shaped form of a sliced carambola is so dramatic, often this fruit is relegated to the category of garnish - it sits on the rim of a cocktail glass next to a tiny paper parasol, or perches on the edge of a salad bowl. This is unfortunate, because when added directly to a dish, like a seafood salad, or a rice pilaf, its flavor can add a flavor note that enlivens and sparks up the dish.

Starfruits are high in vitamin C and antioxidants and low in sugar and sodium, so they are extremely healthy. A note of caution, though - the fruit contains oxalic acid and is therefore very dangerous for anyone with compromised renal function, for example, anyone suffering from kidney failure or kidney stones. Persons with such conditions should not eat starfruit at all.

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