The health benefits of exotic fruits

Siski Green ( 18 August 2015 )

Discover the health benefits of rambutan, carambola, kumquat, sharon fruit, physalis, custard apple, passion fruit and pomegranate.

Rambutan is a rich source of vitamin C

What is it? A vivid red fruit covered in hairy spikes, cultivated throughout South East Asia. Closely related to the lychee, it has leathery skin that peels easily to reveal a juicy pearly white fruit with a delicate, almost perfumed, flavour.

Health benefits A rich source of vitamin C. According to a research conference on tropical fruit held in 2006, 10 to 12 rambutans supply 75 to 90 mgs vitamin C, over twice the amount we are recommended to consume daily by the Food Standards Agency. A key antioxidant, vitamin C helps protect cells from free radical damage and improves the absorption of iron. Rambutans also contain small amounts of copper, needed for the production of red and white blood cells and manganese, which the body uses to help manufacture and activate certain enzymes.

How to eat Peel and eat on their own, add to fruit salads or to oriental sweet and sour dishes for a change.

Visit our A-Z of vitamins and minerals to find out more

Carambola (star fruit) is high in fibre

What is it? A yellow-green fruit native to Indonesia and Malaysia, which when cut forms a five- or six-pointed star shape. It can be sweet or tart. In general, the thicker and fleshier its ‘ribs’, the sweeter the fruit.

Health benefits A good source of vitamin C, which helps repair free radical damage. It contains some beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body, which we need for good eyesight, appetite and taste. It also has small amounts of potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure; iron for healthy red blood cells; and magnesium and calcium, which work together to help strengthen bones. It's also a good source of soluble fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and keeps the bowels healthy.

How to eat The skin is tender and edible, although sometimes you may have to remove the outer edge of the ribs if they are bruised. Eat by itself, in salads or fruit salads, puddings, tarts, stews and curries.

Find out more about the role fibre plays in a healthy diet

Kumquat helps reduce cholesterol

What is it? A small round or oval citrus fruit that looks like a mini-orange, native to China, but now grown in California, Florida, the Mediterranean countries, Japan, Indochina, Indonesia, Israel, Peru, and Brazil.

Health benefits A good source of vitamin C, which helps protect our cells from damage and helps us absorb iron. Kumquats also contain a small amount of fibre, which helps to prevent constipation and to lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and/or glucose levels.

How to eat Enjoy it on its own ‘skin and all’. Kumquats can be candied, marinated, prepared as marmalade, added to fruit salad, poached or preserved whole.

Find out more about cholesterol

Sharon fruit is rich in antioxidants

What is it? An orange tomato-like fruit with a tough skin. They take their name from Israel’s Sharon Valley, where they were originally cultivated. They are also now grown in South Africa. A relative of the persimmon but without that fruit’s astringency.

Health benefits Rich in antioxidant vitamin C, which our bodies need to help protect against cell damage and to increase absorption of iron, they also contain a good amount of beta carotene, another antioxidant, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. We need vitamin A to help maintain the health of skin and mucous membranes, to strengthen immunity and for good vision.

How to eat Eat like an apple or a peach with or without the skin, add to fruit salads and use in puddings and stir-fries.

Discover more about antioxidants

Physalis (cape gooseberry) is a beta-carotene food

What is it? A shiny orange fruit similar in size, shape and structure to a small cherry tomato and contained in a papery husk that looks a bit like a Chinese lantern. A member of the nightshade family, it is mainly grown in Colombia and South Africa.

Health benefits A good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, calcium and trace amounts of B vitamins. There are reports of it being used as a diuretic in traditional medicine, although there is no scientific data to support this.

How to eat Eat on its own, add to salads and puddings; it can also be made into jams and jellies as well as dried and eaten like figs. 

Find out why we need to eat a rainbow of colourful foods

Custard apple (cherimoya) to calm the nerves

What is it? A heart-shaped tropical fruit with a greenish scaly skin that is inedible. Native to South America and the West Indies, they get their name from the custard-like texture of their flesh which tastes like a mixture of honey, banana and pineapple.

Health benefits An excellent source of vitamin C, a good source of dietary fibre, and a useful source of vitamin B6, which helps calm the nerves. They also contain calcium, needed to promote healthy bones; iron, needed for healthy red blood cells; manganese, which helps make and activate some enzymes, and potassium which helps regulate blood pressure.

How to eat Cut in half and scoop out the flesh, then add to fruit salads or make into an ice cream, sorbet or milk shake.

Discover ten unusual ways to combat anxiety

Passion fruit (granadilla) is an iron-rich food

What is it? An egg-shaped purple-brown fruit containing small, black, edible seeds embedded in an aromatic golden flesh. It was named by the early Christian missionaries who thought that its flowers resembled Christ’s crown of thorns. Originally from Brazil, it now grows throughout the Tropics.

Health benefits An excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene. They also contain the minerals potassium, magnesium and iron.

How to eat Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, then add to fruit salads, use as a flavouring in baking or for mixing cocktails. Passion fruits are good for juicing and can be added to other fruit juices to enhance the aroma.

Visit our A-Z of vitamins and minerals for more information

Pomegranate for your daily vitamin c

What is it? Reddish leathery-skinned fruit about the size of an orange, containing red, edible seed clusters.

Health benefits One pomegranate contains 40 per cent of an adult's daily requirement of vitamin C. They also contain vitamins E and A, iron, fibre and potassium. Research by a team at the Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa, Israel, found that pomegranate juice slows down the process of oxidation caused by free radical damage by almost half. They also discovered that pomegranate juice reduced the retention of 'bad' LDL cholesterol, which can lead to furring and narrowing of the arteries. In the test tube it also kills prostate cancer cells.

How to eat Cut in half and scoop out the kernels with your fingers, a spoon or a cocktail stick or squeeze out juice.

Find out what else you can eat to boost your health

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.