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Koh Samui and its tropical fruits

Fruit brings to mind the succulent product of a tree or plant, most satisfying to the palate and, to an extent, associated with affluence, luxury and a touch of decadence.

Tropical fruit, especially, is reinforced with a hint of the exotic.

The word “tropical” itself is heavily laden with a sense of abundance and profusion.

The lands of the tropics girdle the earth at its widest point, forming a region spanning three continents and possessing in common, despite great differences in local conditions, a regime whose perennial heat and abundant rainfall create a luxuriant plant life and produce a wide diversity of remarkable fruits. At the same time, while temperatures are relatively even and rainfall ample, there are also the cooler hills and plateaus, isolated drier zones and contrasts between poor and fertile soils which permit considerable variation in tree and plant types.

In brief, the tropics make for a fruit aficionado’s paradise.

On the island of Koh Samui the following tropical fruits are available :

Coconut  (Thai Name : ma-phrao)

The coconuts are found throughout the whole island. Generally taken for granted, the fruit is undoubtedly Nature’s greatest gift to man – and is often referred to as the “tree of heaven”.

Coconut trees grow primarily near the sea, as they are able to tolerate the salt content along the sandy shores. The coconut is considered as a life saver. Its kernel provides food and when dried (copra) yields oil with numerous traditional and modern applications. Its husk can be used as a fuel or to make coir matting. The fibres from its leaves are woven as clothing; the leaves are used for thatching and its timber for building. The hard shell of the coconut can form a cup, a ladle, or a measure.

Banana  (Thai Name : kluay)

The name banana is taken from a local name of the plant in Guinea (Africa).

It is one of the few tropical plants to have travelled westwards to the Americas, via India, Africa and Arabia, instead of the other way around.

The Arabs called it “tree of paradise”, but it is not a tree. It is a large herb. Its trunk is a mesh of intertwinning leaves, with the stem pushing up through the middle.  Its llarge leaves often end up as primitive enbrellas. It is common practice in many Thai restaurants to serve food in a folded banana leaf which, when opened, doubles as the plate.

The food is generally eaten uncooked, but is also prepared in numerous succulent ways.

The thai Klu-ai kai which envelops the banana in a mixture of glutinous rice and flour.

In Koh samui you can find bananas in different kinds, large, small, sweet, naturel as well as  fried.

Papaya  (Thai Name : ma-la-kor)

The multipurpose is the product of a herb, not a tree.

It is a fast growing plant with a brief but very prolife productive span.

It is reckoned that one plant will produce between 30 and 150 fruits at its prime.

The elongated, club-shaped papaya has a mottled green-yellow leathery skin. The thick, sweet flesh can be yellowish or pinkish-orange. The central part of the fruit is hollow and contains numerous inedible peppercorn-sized black seeds which resemble caviar and have medicinal properties.

The fruit consist of 90% water and 10% sugar and other carbohydrates, and has a high content of vitamines A and C and is claimed to have as much calcium as the best orange.

Pineapple  (Thai Name : sup-pa-rot)

Originating from South America, the pineapple’s cultivation has become identified with Souteast Asia. Most eaten fresh, the fruit is at times laced with salt mixed with spicy chilli to bring out its sweetness and neuralize its acidity.

It is also used as a vegetable in Chinese and Thai cuisine and is a frequent ingridient in the multifarious Thai curries.

Watermelon  (Thai Name : tang-mo)

The watermelon is very juicy, its flavour varying from the insipid to the slightly acidic and markedly sweet. It is a popular and refreshing fruit during the hot season. Embedded in its deep pink or yellow flesh, which is protected by a thick green rind, are small dark brown or black edible seeds, some 200 to 900 in each fruit.

The flesh contains glucose, fructose and sucrose, while the seeds contain oil, protein and vitamin B.

The amount of oil varies from one species to another; some produce enough to make a useful cooking oil. The juice of the watermelon makes a very refreshing drink.

The fruit also serves as a popular desert by itself and in combination with others.

Mango  (Thai Name : ma-muang)

This King of fruits is widely cultivated.

The mango is one of the most nutritious fruits. With a high (16%) sugar content, it has a fair share of vitamin C and still more vitamin A and a high carbohydrate content.

Its soft, succulent fruit, housed in a thin green to yellowish skin, envelops a shell which protects the seed inside. The best varieties are excellent even when eaten fresh, with the consistency and flavour of the best peaches; while others can be tart or pungent to the palate.

The ripe mango goes well in all sorts of combinations.

The fruit also serves as a very popular desert in combination with sticky rice which is rice  with a creamy coconutmilk sauce. You will find this highly recommended desert on each Thai menu.

Rambutan  (Thai Name : ngaw)

The rambutan, a cousin of the Chinese Lychee, owes its name to its hairy skin.

It is a delicious and very popular fruit in Souteast Asia.

The fruit hangs together in clusters on the evergreen trees. The tough, parchment-like skin with its soft, fleshy spikes (yet the skin is not prickly) turns a bright red, or in some cases has a yellowish hue, when ripe. Inside is the pearl-white, succulent pulp which has a sweet-sour taste.

It enclose a long, hard, inedible seed. The seedcase is normally found sticking to the flesh, the ease with which the flesh is seperated from the seed distinguishes the superior rambutan from the interior ones, for after decades of cross cultivation there is now a wide variety.

The fruit is also nutricious, with a high vitamin C content.

In Thailand many ladies are well trained in the art of removing, with a curved knife, all traces of the seed from the pulp and replacing the fruit in its skin, as though untouched.

Mangosteen  (Thai Name : mung-kood)

By popular acclaim, the mangosteen is held to be the most delectable of all tropical fruit, and has been proclaimed their Queen.

The mangosteen is beaurtiful evergreen fruit tree with its compact conical shape and shiny green leaves, but takes between 8 to 15 years to mature.

The fruit has a thick, purplish-brown, leathery shell-like exterior with the inner surface being pinkish-brown. There are four large, green sepals around the stem.

Contained inside the rind is the juicy, soft, snow white pulp divided into five, six or more segments. The flavour is deliciously sweet.

Pomelo  (Thai Name : som-o)

The pomelo ressembles, on a large scale, all the characteristics of the grapefruit to which it is closely related. The yellow or reddish segments into which the former is divided are similar to those of the grapefruit but are more tightly packed together; likewise, the membrane which envelops them is tougher, and also the skin is thicker. In taste is the sweet-sourness of the yellow grapefruit more tart. The fruit is low in calories and very high in vitamin C and potassium.

The pomelo’s prime function is as a fruit or in a salad.

Longan   (Thai Name : lam-yai)

A profile bearer, the longan is also known as “dragon’s eye” to distinguish it from its cousin, the mata kuching or “cats eye”. It has also been described as the little brother of the lychee, to which it is closely related.

The evrgreen longan tree has heavily foliaged branches with leathery leaves which have a glossy surface, and underneath are covered with minute hair.

The yellowish-brown, globular fruit drops in clusters. The juicy pulp, which is easily separated from its parchment-coloured shell, is white and translucent. Embedded in it is a large, shiny jet black seed. The fruit is sweet to taste and has a musky aroma.

Though most frequently it is eaten fresh.

Durian   (Thai Name : tu-rian)

Cultivators and connaisseurs will swear that the durian is a fruit without compare.

Outsiders are divided on the issue. Some are immediately turned off by its strong odeur, while for the more intrepid, who manage to taste the fruit itself, the offensiveness of the smell quickly wanes.

Durians are not plucked but allowed to fall, which is when they are best for eating.

The enable pulp enveloping its seeds is thick, yellowish and of a custard-like consistency.

Rich in vitamin B, C and E and with a high iron content, the fruit is extremely nutricious; hence its reputation as an aphrodisiac.

The high price of durian does not inhibit sales of this well-known fruit and a good crop can bring lucrative returns to orchard owners.

Tamarind   (ma-kharm)

The tamarind, which is of very ancient lineage among cultivated fruits,  belongs to the vegetable order, with its long bean-like pods and seeds. However, it is treated like a fruit.

The pod is green at the immature stage. As it matures, it becomes fatter and changes colour to a sandy brown. The flesh of the fruit consists of dry, sticky, dark brown pulp covering and between, the shiny black seeds in its pod which seemingly enclose the pulp. Its high tartaric acid content, together with an even greater amount of sugar, accounts for the relative sourness and sweetness of different varieties according to the balance between them. But the preferred type is the sour tamarind which provides the favourite flavouring for a host of fish and curry dishes.

Jackfruit  (kha-noon)

The jackfruit has the distinction of being the largest fruit on earth and is borne on the main barnches and trunk of the tree. It can grow to an enourmous 40 kilograms, one fruit being sufficient to feed an entire family. The thick, pale to deep green rind is dotted with hexagonal spines and is fed to livestock. Inside the rind is a layer of thick white pith. Within the fruit is a fibrous material called “rags”. Embedded in the rags is the yellow flesh, in the form of capsules.

This in turn envelops the seeds, which are edible and highlky nutritious with a carbohydrate content of almost 40%, 6% protein and 0,4% fat.

When ripe the jackfruit is eaten fresh, while unripe fruit serves as a vegetable in many local dishes.