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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Carambola: The Star of Southwest Florida’s Fruit Trees

Feb 28, 2011 04:21PM ● By Beth Davis

Florida is known for producing a plethora of tropical fruits, but the star of its lineup may be the carambola, commonly referred to as starfruit. Golden yellow in color, with a bit of green along the edges when ripe, the carambola is oblong, up to six inches in length and deeply lobed. When cut in cross sections, the ribbed fruit resembles a yellow star; hence the name.

Believed to have originated in Sri Lanka and the Moluccas, the carambola has been cultivated in Southeast Asia and Malaysia for several hundred years. It flourishes in South Florida and Hawaii because the tree thrives in warm environments.

Local master gardener and nursery owner Frank DeNardis says that local trees produce fruit from around July through February. Thin, smooth and slightly waxy, the carambola’s skin is green at first, but turns yellow, orange or greenish-white as the fruit ripens. Its flesh is very juicy and ranges from tart and flavorful to mildly sweet in taste.

Charles R. Boning, author of Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants, notes that a mature, well-irrigated tree may produce more than 50 pounds of fruit yearly. Carambolas should be harvested when at least three-quarters of their skin is colored; if picked prematurely, they will not develop their full flavor. Unripe fruits can be ripened at room temperature until they become “glowing gold.”

When ripe, carambolas can be picked and eaten right out of hand, like an apple. “The entire fruit is completely edible and can be enjoyed fresh, but it’s also great for juicing, smoothies, jams and jellies, desserts and salads,” states DeNardis.

He says the carambola is an excellent choice for a residential area, especially one with limited space. It is a medium-sized, slow-growing tree with a multi-branched, bushy canopy that is broad and rounded. Mature trees seldom exceed 25 to 30 feet in height and 20 to 25 feet in spread. DeNardis recommends pruning to keep the tree from getting too large, while still allowing it to bear abundant fruit for much of the year.

The tree is relatively low-maintenance, requiring about the same amount of care as citrus. It prefers full sun, but can tolerate some shade and still produce fruit. However, Boning says the carambola is moderately demanding when it comes to irrigation. “Although it can survive short-term drought, productivity may suffer,” he explains. “Severe drought will cause the leaves to wilt and drop, and will cause immature fruit to drop prematurely.” He recommends regular irrigation for a newly planted tree, but warns that it will not tolerate constantly damp soil.

Perhaps the best part of having a carambola tree is the health benefits of the fruit. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, one cup of raw star fruit contains only 41 calories, but provides four grams of fiber, a gram of protein, potassium, large amounts of vitamin C and is sodium- and cholesterol-free.

With its modest size, low-maintenance needs and delectable fruit, it’s no wonder that the carambola is becoming a favorite tropical tree in Southwest Florida. DeNardis and his wife, Mary, can attest to its attractions—they enjoy the fruit almost daily at its peak.

For more info or to make an appointment to visit DeNardis’ nursery, located in Palm River Estates at 108 Viking Way, in Naples, call 239-597-8359.

Carambolas in the Kitchen
Versatile, tasty and attractive, starfruit can be used as a garnish, in juices or salsas, and in salads. The sweet variety is best.

Create a decorative garnish. Slice a ripe carambola and garnish a smoothie or juice drink with a beautiful “star” on the side of the glass or within the drink. Freeze any leftover slices for later use. Carambolas are delicious in fruit salads, too.

Juice the fruit. Choose ripe carambolas that are yellow with a bit of brown along the sides, and remove any green parts, which are bitter. Process the fruit through a juicer or blend in a blender, then strain through a nut milk bag (available at health food stores). For a delicious variation, combine starfruit and passionfruit juice.

2 cups chopped lettuce
1 starfruit
1 apple
1 pear
Juice from 1 orange
Juice from 1 lemon
Cut the carambola and pour lemon juice on it to prevent oxidation/browning. Cut the other fruits into bite-sized pieces, and combine all the fruit with chopped lettuce and orange juice. Decorate with “stars” on top of the salad.

Ideas and recipes submitted by local raw foodist Marianne Luch.
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