(Averrhoa carambola – Family Oxalidaceae)
Carambola, Starfruit, five-corners, five-fingers, barbadine, granadilla (West Indies), carambole (French), Carambola (German), carambola (Spanish/Portuguese), kamrakh (Hindi), karamanga/yeongtoh (foreign peach)(Sri Lanka), belimbing manis (Malay/Indonesian), ma fueang (Thai), gorenshi (Japanese)
Carambola was originally a Portuguese name, and goes back to the Sanskrit “karmara”, which means ‘food appetizer’.
The Latin name for this family comes from Averroes, the famous Moorish philosopher, doctor, and astronomer who lived in Cordoba, Spain, in the 12th century.
To the English living in southern Asia, the carambola was known as the Coromandel gooseberry. The settlers in southern China dubbed it the Chinese gooseberry and learned that the Chinese name for it was “yang t’ao”, meaning ‘goat peach’. But, when the Chinese from the north used the same name for the kiwi fruit, they simply transferred their English name to the carambola. Even today, the term Chinese gooseberry may get you a kiwi fruit in London and a carambola in Hong Kong.
Carambolas originated in the Malay Archipelago between South-East Asia and Australia. They are now grown in Africa, Brazil, the West Indies, and the US.
They are a good source of Vitamin C, along with some potassium, niacin, and phosphorus.
The Javanese propagate the trees by ‘air-layering’, a technique which involves making a parcel of soil around a branch so that it takes root and can be cut off and planted. Growing the fruit from seed may produce a sour-fruited tree. This does not appeal to the Javanese, who like to eat the fruit as a dessert and as sweet as possible.
The ridges are removed before the fruit is eaten fresh, but the fruit can also be cooked. The Chinese and the Indians use the unripe fruit as a vegetable and the ripened fruit as dessert.
Resembling an elongated Chinese lantern, the fruit may be up to five inches long, with five prominent ridges running its length so that, when cut crosswise, it is a perfect star shape. When ripe, the fruit has a waxy orange-yellow skin with crisp yellow juicy flesh.
Although the flavour is less exciting than its appearance, it is still fresh and juicy to eat. Some are more flavourful than others, but there is no way of telling from the outside.
There are numerous varieties that exhibit different degrees of sourness and sweetness. The best seem to be those which have a relatively high content of ascorbic acid and only a little oxalic acid. A good carambola will be sweet and tangy enough to eat on its own, complete with skin; but it does make a good decoration, mixed with other tropical fruits, or made into jams.
A relative of the carambola, the bilimbi (Averrhoea bilimbi), closely resembles the carambola, but is always green in colour, earning it the nickname of the cucumber tree fruit.
It can only be eaten cooked in a sugary syrup or as a preserve. Unriped carambolas can be used in a similar fashion. When the carambola is green, the astringency is at its peak, making it good for pickles or, as in Asia, to clean copper and brassware.
The goraka is another relative of the carambola.
It is the fruit of a small tree, Garcinia cambogia, and used as a flavouring, thickening, and souring agent in Sri Lanka. The fruit is about the size of an orange, yellow or orange in colour, and fluted on the outside. The interior is divided into segments which are sun-dried and stored turning black as they dry.