Tropical Temptations

Fruit market in Kuala Lumpur (photo: Lee/flickr)
Fruit market in Kuala Lumpur (photo: Lee/flickr)

by Rebecca Koay

With tropical weather through out the year, bountiful rain and fertile soil, Malaysia has perfect conditions for agricultural products. Although this nation continues to develop with its rapid modernisation, agriculture still thrives and Malaysia becomes home to approximately 370 different species of edible fruits!

Durian (Zalmuhd/flickr)
Durian (Zalmuhd/flickr)

Star fruit, cempedak, jambu, banana, rambutan, pineapple, mango, papaya, ciku, watermelon, coconut, langsat, dragon fruit and nutmeg are just some examples to start off! Many say that a trip to Malaysia is not complete without trying out the “King of Fruits” — the durian (see page 30). The durian is a seasonal fruit that is harvested in most abundance between April to September. However, advances in technology has made less popular species of durian to be available all year round.

If you’ve had enough of the king of fruits, maybe then you can try the “Queen of Fruits” instead! The mangosteen comes in a unique shade of purple and tastes either sweet or sour. Grown abundantly in Perak, Kelantan and Johor, this is another seasonal fruit that can be harvested between June and August. Mangosteen has many valuable properties for the betterment of health such as high levels of antioxidants and as a source of fiber for gastrointestinal health.

Several tropical fruits in Malaysia look really similar and can be hard to tell apart! Among one of the more difficult fruits to tell apart is the cempedak and the jackfruit. Both look about the same but the cempedak is smaller, oblong in shape and has a stronger smell than the jackfruit. The flesh of the jack fruit is springy compared to the soft flesh of the cempedak. If one finds it hard to take the smell of these fruits, here’s another way to savour the goodness of these fruits: street stalls in Malaysia do sell cempedak or jackfruit flesh wrapped in batter called ‘cempedak goreng’ (fried cempedak) or ‘nangka goreng’ (fried jackfruit).

Jackfruit
Jackfruit

Another tricky one is to tell between duku, dokong and langsat as all have yellowish leathery skin. All three are native to Malaysia but however, can be told apart by their size. The duku is round in shape and is bigger than the langsat or dukong. The langsat has yellowish leathery skin and soft, tiny hair. The dokong one the other hand, is a hybrid between the duku and the langsat and is much sweeter than the two.

Malaysia has its own kind of ‘lychee’ called the rambutan! Similar in texture, the rambutan is less rich but definitely more sweet than that of lychee. The rambutan got its name from the Malay word “rambut” which means ‘hair’ because of its outer skin that is covered with a soft, spine-like ‘hair’. This red fruit when ripened can easily be spotted growing on tress and usually attracts large, black ants to it due to its sweetness. The fruit can be found in abundance especially after the rainy season in July and November.

Another must-try fruit is the nutmeg, native to both Malaysia and Indonesia. More commonly used in seasoning, the nutmeg fruit is renowned for its beneficial properties. Some of the health benefits of nutmeg are for detoxification, relieving insomnia, improving blood circulation and even for soothing indigestion or flatulence. While the fruit itself is not usually consumed on its own, it can be found in most street stalls as a fruit juice topped with Chinese sour plum. This is because nutmeg juice on its own is too strongly sour and the addition of Chinese sour plum just balances the drink with its sweet and salty taste! Another interesting variation of nutmeg is the use of shredded nutmeg rind topped on ‘ais kacang’, a famous Malaysian dessert.

Although many types of fruits can be found in supermarkets, opting to go to wet markets or local farmers can guarantee the best or freshest of quality. The best time of the year to try as many tropical fruits as possible is between May to July as this is the fruits season where fruits buffet are even offered in certain places! One is definitely spoilt for choice during this time because of the incredibly varied selection of fruits here in Malaysia.

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