Exotic fruits like lychees, mangosteens and rambutans along with carambola and mangoes appear on our shelves anytime from November to March. They are usually imported, with only a small sample of the crop grown locally in Australia and New Zealand.
To select good fruit, the best way to tell if they are ripe is to sniff. Smell for sweet, fragrant overtones. The outside casing of the fruit should not be brown or have any mould. The “hairy” rambutans will have bright-coloured spines when they are ripe and at their best. The spines may turn dark brown, but this doesn’t always indicate the fruit has gone past its best.
If there are any signs of bruising on a mangosteen, the fruit will rot quickly. A mangosteen’s outer coat must be shiny and bright to be at its best.
Choose lychees that have the stalk still attached and no bruising or indents in the outer casing.
Tropical fruits are usually picked when ripe, as these fragile fruits will not ripen further after harvesting, but only start to deteriorate. Tropical fruits will lose a lot of water in the days after they are picked and therefore, all tropical fruits should be stored in the refrigerator to delay further deterioration. Place all fruits in plastic bags and seal and store in the vegetable crisper in the fridge for up to 10 days.
Lychees, like mangosteens and rambutans, have a fibrous outer coating, which needs to be peeled or cut away to reveal the juicy fruit. The seeds of these fruits are usually quite bitter and toxic and should never be consumed. Slice fruit open with a sharp knife cutting around the circumference of the fruit, or use a cherry pitter on smaller fruits. These fruits will brown quickly once peeled. A little lemon juice can halt the oxidation, but it is recommended to eat or use the fruit as soon as it is peeled.
Mangosteens have the inward appearance of an orange and can be segmented once peeled to give chunks of fruit. The flesh is best when the seeds are white on the inside. The browner the pips, the older the fruit.
Lychees and rambutans can be bottled or frozen to use the flesh in cooking later.