Rambutan: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Rambutan: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Nephelium lappaceum, commonly known as “rambutan,” is a tree native to Malaysia. It produces small fruits with reddish-colored, leathery skin covered in flexible spines or hairs known as spinterns. The name comes from the Malayan word “Rambut,” which translates to “Hair” in English.

Technically classified as berries, rambutan fruits are juicy, sweet, and mildly acidic due to their high concentration of vitamin C. In addition to being a rich source of vitamin C, rambutans provide fiber, protective plant compounds, and several vitamins and minerals.

Rambutans are nutritious and provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, but they’re especially rich in vitamin C.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that plays important roles in immune and skin health and acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants protect against disease development by neutralizing reactive molecules called free radicals. A high amount of free radicals in the body can contribute to negative health outcomes. Vitamin C also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Maintaining optimal blood levels of vitamin C may also protect against heart disease by reducing heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and preventing atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

The average vitamin C content of fresh rambutan varies, but research suggests that a 100-gram (g) serving of rambutan pulp can provide 21.5-69.1 milligrams (mg), or 24-77% of the Daily Value (DV) for this nutrient. Rambutan cultivars grown in Mexico seem to have the highest vitamin C content.

Studies show that maintaining optimal vitamin C status by regularly consuming vitamin C-rich foods, like rambutan, may help reduce the risk of several health conditions, such as certain cancers and heart disease. For example, one 2024 review of 20 studies found that dietary vitamin C intake decreased the risk of lung cancer by 18%.

Other studies have found that high vitamin C intake may also reduce the risk of several other cancers, including breast, stomach, and prostate cancer. Vitamin C may help protect against cancer by scavenging free radicals and preventing damage to DNA and oncogenesis, the process by which normal cells are turned into cancerous cells.

Rambutan also contains a variety of phytochemicals with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. For example, it provides polyphenols such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins, and coumarins, all of which have health-protective properties.

Rambutan is a good source of fiber. One 100 g serving of rambutan pulp provides 0.61-6.5 g of fiber, or 3-23% of your daily fiber needs. Most fruits and vegetables, including rambutan, contain soluble and insoluble fibers, both of which play important roles in health.

Soluble fibers are fermented or broken down by bacteria in your large intestine, which results in the production of compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs, such as butyrate and acetate, promote gut health in several ways, such as acting as a fuel source for the cells lining the large intestine and regulating inflammation in the digestive tract. Soluble fiber also helps keep bowel movements easy to pass and prevents constipation by drawing water into stools.

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stools, which supports regular bowel movements. It also helps you feel fuller after eating by slowing digestion, which can support weight maintenance and encourage blood sugar regulation by decreasing the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. 

In addition to improving digestive health, incorporating more fiber-rich foods like rambutan into your diet may reduce the risk of common health conditions such as colon cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Rambutan contains several nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, nutrition information for fresh rambutans is limited. Many rambutan products sold online are made with rambutan canned in heavy syrup, which can be high in added sugar and lower in certain nutrients compared to fresh rambutan. This is because of the sugary syrup used in these products and the fact that the canning process significantly decreases levels of certain nutrients, including water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C.

The nutritional composition of fresh and canned rambutan varies. The vitamin C content of fresh rambutan also varies significantly depending on where the fruit was grown. Nonetheless, both fresh and canned rambutan are nutritious and provide many essential vitamins and minerals.

Here’s the nutrition breakdown for a one-cup serving of canned rambutan in syrup after draining:

  • Calories: 123
  • Protein: <1 gram (g)
  • Carbohydrates: 31.4 g
  • Fiber: 1.35 g
  • Fat: <1 g
  • Copper: 0.099 milligrams (mg), or 11% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Manganese: 0.515 mg, or 22% of the DV
  • Niacin: 2.02 mg, or 13% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 7.35 mg, or 8% of the DV

Rambutan contains a variety of vitamins and minerals but is especially rich in copper, manganese, and niacin.

Manganese is a mineral involved in immune and nervous system function and energy metabolism, while copper is needed for growth and development, neurotransmitter synthesis, red blood cell formation, energy production, and iron metabolism.

Niacin, commonly known as vitamin B3, is a B vitamin needed for many critical processes. The body converts niacin into its active form, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which is necessary for the functioning of over 400 enzymes involved in energy production, cellular communication, and more.

Rambutans are also a good source of vitamin C, though cooked and canned rambutans are lower in this nutrient than fresh rambutans.  

Rambutan fruit flesh is considered safe for most people to consume. However, while uncommon, rambutan allergies have been reported. If you’re allergic to rambutan, avoid consuming rambutan and any products made with the fruit.

Though fresh rambutan is nutritious, certain rambutan products can be very high in added sugar. For example, rambutan canned in heavy syrup can contain several teaspoons of added sugar per serving. To support overall health, it’s best to keep added sugar intake to a minimum as high-sugar diets have been linked to some health conditions, including heart disease.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults limit their added sugar intake to no more than 6% of calories per day, which equates to 6-9 teaspoons of added sugar per day. When possible, choose fresh rambutans or drain and rinse rambutans canned in heavy syrup to reduce the added sugar content. 

Lastly, rambutan has a spiky, leathery outer skin that should be removed before consuming the pulp. Though the seed is considered safe for human consumption, most people discard the seed before enjoying rambutan fruit.

Rambutan has a sweet, slightly acidic taste and a juice, grape-like texture. It can be enjoyed fresh or cooked and is commonly enjoyed in fruit salads, desserts, and savory dishes like curries. Rambutan juice can also be added to cocktails and smoothies. 

Rambutans have spiky, leathery skin and a rather large seed, so care must be taken when preparing them for consumption.

Here’s how to enjoy a fresh rambutan:

  1. Choose a ripe rambutan with reddish-colored skin. Green skin indicates an underripe fruit while overripe rambutans may have extensive skin darkening or bruising and a mushy texture.
  2. Holding the fruit firmly, cut through the skin with a sharp knife and carve around the middle of the fruit, being careful not to cut into the flesh. 
  3. Peel the skin off of the flesh and remove the fruit.
  4. You can remove the seed using the same method listed above or enjoy the whole fruit and spit out the seed once you’re finished. 

Rambutan is widely available in some parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, but may be difficult to find in United States stores. It’s sometimes sold in specialty stores, such as Asian grocery stores, and can also be purchased online. 

Rambutans are unique-looking fruits with a sweet, slightly acidic taste and a grape-like texture. They are a good source of certain nutrients and beneficial plant compounds such as vitamin C and fiber. 

Rambutans are safe for most people to enjoy, but some rambutan products, such as rambutan canned in heavy syrup, can be high in added sugar. Though uncommon, it’s possible to be allergic to rambutans. 

They’re delicious fresh or cooked and can be enjoyed on their own or added to dishes like fruit salads, smoothies, and curries. 

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