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Carombola is a Star Fruit

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Spring Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(1) page(s): 18 and 19

When cut, this unusually-shaped fruit, called yang tao by the Chinese and botanically known as Averrhoa carambola, really does look does like a star. Its pink flowers develop into a small green fruit, which turn yellow as the fruit becomes ripe and it grows larger. The yellow ribs turn green then brown when very ripe. It gets sweeter and can be five inches in length when mature.

Said to be introduced to China during the Jin Dynasty (236 - 439 CE), carambola, also called 'five-ridges fruit' or 'five-corners fruit,' is popularly known as a 'poplar peach' or a 'goat peach' though no one can tell us why. It has another Chinese name, san lian or 'three-collect-fruit,' another unknown-why nomenclature. Best we could discern, the yang tao means 'peach that came across the sea;' which sea another unknown. Oval or elliptical in shape, carambola sometimes has only four ridges, not five; and as many other fruits, it ripens in summer.

There are other confusions, such as did this fruit originate in Malaysia? Some say, no, believing it indigenous to China and going from there to India, and then on to Malaysia. Still others tell us it could have been domesticated in any or all of these countries, Not confusing is its texture and taste. The former is crisp, but not as crisp as an apple. The latter is slightly acidic, more juicy than most apples and when exceptionally ripe, quite sweet.

Carambola has many different names in the many countries where it is now found. In China and elsewhere, there are two types of this fruit. One is a bit more sour and one does turn sweet. A report by Brettschneider, in the late 1800's, said the more sour one is probably from wild trees.

Though wild and cultivated ones exist, sometimes side by side, both can be sweet or sour, and it is difficult to tell them apart without tasting. There are cultivated varieties of both in markets fresh, dried, and canned, and more recently, frozen ones. We have seen this fruit pickled and salted, in jars of vinegar, and boxed, bagged, or candied.

The Chinese cultivate most of their carambola in the Fujian Province, in Guangzhou, and all along the Pearl River. They say birds adore them requiring the hiring of young boys to chase them away, especially as they ripen. These lads use gongs to help when doing the job, but when they stop beating them, the birds hasten back. Electric noisemakers are used, but one farmer told us the boys are more efficient.

Like other lesser known Chinese fruits, this one has been referred to as a Chinese gooseberry, which it is not. Because it is not as well known as others, it is not unusual to find folk eating them raw and unripe. When cooked in the unripe state, the Chinese treat them as vegetables. When ripe, this fruit is used as are other fruits, served with tea or at the end of a meal alone or mixed with other fruit. Sometimes, slices of one fruit are shared among members of a small family, two shared in larger ones, sometimes one slice decorating a dish; and if used in this way, it is cut across so that it looks like a star.

In traditional medical literature, the Chinese say this fruit activates saliva, eases coughing, suppresses excess energy, relaxes toothaches, and has a positive effect on stomach disorders. For throat inflammations and tooth distress, traditional medicine practitioners recommend using it crushed, the juice extracted, and that juice-fruit combination held in the mouth for as long as possible before swallowing. For sore throats, they recommend taking slices and sprinkling them with salt or honey, and doing likewise.

In the yin-yang dichotomy, carambola is cold by nature. Practitioners recommend it for all of the above and for sunstroke, bleeding, and for a hangover. For the first of these conditions, just eating a few ripe fruits twice a day is their suggestion. For bleeding in the mouth or elsewhere inside the body, they advise slowly chewing fruits preserved in sugar. For those with a hangover, they say to use pickled carambola and steam it first, then ingest it.

Using it medicinally, as a fruit, or as a vegetable, the carambola is more popular in southern and western regions, probably because shipping causes considerable physical damage. Wherever it is found, keep in mind that the carambola often has seeds, that it comes from a tree or shrub, and that eating them raw and unripe causes the lips to pucker quickly.
Fish Soup with Star Fruit
1 whole fish, about one pound, or two smaller ones
1 chayote, peeled, seeded and diced
2 candied Chinese brown dates, each cut in six to eight pieces
1 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 slices fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 star fruit, sliced
1. Scale the fish, gut it, remove fins and the end of the tail.
2. In a large pot, bring eight cups water to the boil. Gently put in the fish, chayote, and cut up dates. Reduce heat to low and simmer for half an hour.
3. Heat oil in a wok or fry pan and stir-fry the ginger slices.
4. Add the stir-fried ginger, salt, and the star fruit to the soup, and simmer another half an hour. Then serve.
Pork with Star Fruit
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 ounces pork loin, minced
2 star fruit, one sliced, the other diced
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with equal amount of cold water
1. Heat wok or large fry pan, add oil, and in half minute, add garlic and stir-fry for a half a minute.
2. Add pork, and stir-fry until brown and crisp, about two minutes, then add diced star fruit and stir-fry another minute.
3. Add rice wine, and the soy and oyster sauce, and when hot, add the cornstarch mixture and the sliced star fruit. Stir until thickened, then serve.
Note: This recipe can also be made with beef, or with half beef and half pork; though it is not commonly made that way.
Fried Beef and Star Fruit
1/2 pound beef
2 teaspoons oyster sauce, divided into two parts
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 star fruits
2 cups vegetable oil
1 chili pepper, seeded and cut into two-inch strips
1 scallion, cut in two-inch strips, then slivered
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
dash ground white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Cut the beef into thin strips. Mix it with one teaspoon oyster sauce, the egg white, and the cornstarch. Let marinate for half an hour.
2. Cut one star fruit into its ribs and cut each rib in half the long way. Cut the other one across horizontally.
3, Heat the oil and deep fry the beef for two minutes, remove and drain it setting aside one tablespoon of the oil. Use the rest for another purpose.
4. Heat the set aside oil and stir-fry the chili pepper and scallion pieces for half minute, then add the beef strips and stir-fry for another minute before adding the rice wine, ground pepper, and the star fruit ribs. Add the rest of the oyster sauce. Put the remaining pieces of star fruit around the top of the wok not disturbing them as the meat mixture is stir-frying for one more minute.
5. Remove the meat mixture to a deep plate, but the star fruit pieces on top, then sprinkle with the sesame oil. Serve.
Apple and Star Fruit Claypot
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 apple, peeled, and sliced stem to bottom
1 star fruit, cut into ribs, top to bottom
4 chicken legs, each one chopped into three pieces
4 scallions, each tied into a knot
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled, each cut in two
1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. On a burner on a stove and at a low temperature, heat oil in a claypot. When it is hot, add the apple, star fruit, and chicken pieces, and stir for two minutes until the chicken browns slightly, then add the scallion knots, ginger slices, soy sauce, sugar, and the rice wine.
2. Cover and cook the claypot for one hour.
3. Remove the cover, add the sesame oil, stir, and serve.
Shrimp with Two Fruits
10 large shrimp, shells and veins removed and discarded, then sliced the long way
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
5 frsh asparagis, cut into one-inch pieces
10 canned litchi fruit, drained, reserving the liquid
1. Mix shrimp, cornstarch and salt. Let rest ten minutes.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil, and stir-fry the minced garlic for half mintue. Then add shrimp and stir-fry another half minute.
3. Add asparagus pieces and stir-fry one minute before adding the litchi fruit. Stir until heated through, then serve.

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