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A Stellar Fruit Salad

People often think of mangoes as the quintessential fruit of the British Virgin Islands. The massive and easily identifiable trees are prevalent throughout the BVI and few fruits are more delicious than a mango at the peak of ripeness. When it comes to aesthetics, though, mangoes are no match for this month’s in-season fruit: carambola.

The gorgeous but much lesser known carambola, also called star fruit, has a three- to five-inch long elliptical shape with five ribs running lengthwise. When sliced crosswise, the ribs form the tips of a five-pointed star, hence the alternate name of star fruit.

A carambola has a waxy appearance and nearly translucent flesh. The entire fruit is edible, although occasional large seeds should be removed. Look for firm fruit with light brown ridges but no brown spots. If the fruit has a greenish tinge, allow it to ripen until fully yellow with a fruity aroma. The fruit’s simple beauty belies a surprisingly complex and hard-to-describe flavour, variously described as a combination of plum, apple, papaya and grape with hints of citrus.

I first sampled carambola during my teenage years in the States where star fruit was, and still is, an exotic fruit. That first taste was of a sweet fruit, and thereafter I assumed star fruit was always sweet. Upon moving to the BVI, I rented an apartment on a lush property with a variety of spectacular fruit trees. When September arrived, the carambola trees were filled with enticing offerings. Though they looked and felt ripe when I picked them, the fruits I sampled were so tart that they made my mouth pucker. I was disappointed by the lack of sweetness and assumed that the trees were producing inferior fruit. For the rest of the season I ignored the trees and watched as birds ate the fruit. As I’ve since learned, there are two types of carambola: sweet and tart. Distinguishing between the two can be difficult, although the sweet variety typically has ridges that are thicker and more widely spaced than the tart variety. Sweet carambola can be eaten straight out-of-hand and used as a garnish for foods and beverages. My preferred use is in fruit salads, where the stunning shape creates a beautiful and festive addition to a mélange of fruits and berries. The tart carambola are better suited to savoury salads or salsas and pair well with fish or shellfish. What a shame that I didn’t know about the sweet-tart distinction when I had tart star fruit trees in my backyard and local fish in my freezer from some good days on the water. Perhaps carambola is truly the “quint”-essential fruit of the BVI!

Tropical Fruit Salad
Serve this colourful salad with a variety of local pastries and strong coffee for an impressive but easy breakfast.

2 small carambola, sliced 1/4” thick
2 kiwis, peeled, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4" thick
1 C red grapes
1 C papaya, peeled and diced in 1/2” pieces
2 C pineapple, peeled and diced in 3/4” pieces
2 Tbl lime juice
1 1/2 Tbl honey
1 Tbl rum (optional)
1 banana, sliced
1/3 C fresh grated coconut


Combine all ingredients except for bananas and coconut in a bowl and stir gently. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add bananas immediately before serving then grate coconut on top. Serves four.

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