Starfruit (Averrhoa carambola), or Carambola, is a tropical fruit native to the Malayan archipelago and belongs to the family Oxalidaceae.1 With its sweet-sour taste, the starfruit is a popular fruit in Singapore, most often eaten raw. The starfruit displays a star shape when cut, thus its popular name.
Origins and distribution
Carambola supposedly has its origins in the local region, found on the islands of Java up to the Philippines.2 From the Malay Archipelago, it spread to other parts of the world.3 The Portuguese first came across the fruit in India before they encountered it in Malaya. It was called carambola in India in the Malayalam language, and this became the name used by the Portuguese to refer to the fruit.4 The word “carambola” is derived from the Sanskrit karmaranga, meaning “food appetiser”. The Portuguese took the fruit from India to Africa and South America.5 When it reached Europe in the 18th century, it was considered a fashionable fruit and was served only in exclusive restaurants.6 In Malaysia, the main areas of cultivation are in Johor, Selangor, Kedah, Perak, Melaka and Negri Sembilan.7 Many varieties of the tree are found, with fruits ranging from sour to sweet. Sour carambola plants are found commonly in the wild, while the sweeter varieties are the ones that are cultivated. The plants are propagated asexually by the Javanese through budding seedlings and marcotting.8
The carambola shrub grows up to 12 m in height in cultivation, but in the wild it grows much higher. The trunk is short and crooked. It branches near the base and has an irregular dense crown. The bark, greyish-brown to dark grey, is smooth. The leaves of the tree are small, measuring between 15 to 25 cm in length. They are arranged alternately and grow along a horizontal plane. When young, seven to nine leaflets are arranged together and they seem sensitive to touch or external stimuli.9 Carambola flowers are produced in a tuft measuring two to three cm long, and are pentamerous. The starfruit is a large, fleshy berry of a rich amber colour when ripe. When cut cross-sectionally, it is shaped like a star, hence its common name. It is a very juicy fruit with a sweet-sour taste.10
Usage and potential
The starfruit is usually consumed fresh or made into a refreshing juice. The Malays use it in making tarts, jams, pickle it as sunti, salt it as achar and boil to make it into a syrup called manisan. The Javanese use the unique-tasting flowers in salads.11 Carambola is also processed into jellies, sweets and cordial concentrates.12
A related species of carambola, A. bilimbi, is used commonly in traditional Malay medicine. Sometimes carambola tree parts are substituted for parts of A. bilimbi, though this not a widely practised feature. The Malays crush the leaves and shoots and use it as application for chickenpox, ringworm and headaches. Vomiting is treated by giving a decoction of the leaves and fruits, while in India and China, the roots were made into a decoction with other ingredients and used to treat poisoning. A conserve of the fruit is used to treat drunk people for bad bilious attacks and diarrhoea. Carambola fruit juice is used as a body coolant and drunk by those suffering from fever. In Indochina, lacquer workers rubbed the flowers over the itchy or sore parts of their skin, a condition arising from exposure to lacquer. The inner portion of the bark was used along with sandalwood as a powder application for prickly heat. The leaves, roots and stem of carambola tree is believed to contain hydrocyanic acid.13
The juice of the fruit, being acidic, can be used to clean metal surfaces.14
Malay names: belimbing manis (sweet variety), belimbing besi, belimbing sagi (angle variety), belimbing sayor (green-vegetable variety), belimbing batu (rock variety) (Malaysia), blimbing alas, blimbing manis, blimbing legi, blimbing wana, balingbing, chalingching amis, balimbing manis (Indonesia).15
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Othman Yaacob and Suranant Subhadrabandhu, The Production of Economic Fruits in South-East Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 171. (Call no. RSING 634.0959 OTH)
2. I. H. Burkill, A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula (Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture, 2002), 273. (Call no. RSING 634.909595 BUR)
3. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 171.
4. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 273.
5. Hansraj Manda, et al., “A Complete Review on Averrhoa Carambola,” World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 1, no.1 (June 2012): 17–33.
6. “Averrhoa Carambola,” Bioweb, University of Wisconsin, accessed 10 April 2016.
7. The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Technical Document for Market Access on Star Fruit (Carambola) (Kuala Lumpur: Crop Protection and Plant Quarantine Services Division, Department of Agriculture, October 2004), i–64.
8. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 273.
9. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 171.
10. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 171.
11. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 274.
12. The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Technical Document for Market Access on Star Fruit.
13. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 274.
14. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 274.
15. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 273.
The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.