Carambola (Averrhoa carambola) is originally from Ceylon and the Molucca Islands (also known as the Spice Islands in Indonesia) and is grown in various countries throughout Southeast Asia and to a lesser extent in the United States. The unusually shaped fruit, with its distinctive ridges or wings, has become better known by its more descriptive name—star fruit, an obvious choice once sliced in half vertically—but it is also known by many other names such as balimbing, five-finger, kamaranga, kamruk, khe, nak fuang, ma fueang, yang-táo, and zibline.
Although star fruit was introduced to Florida in 1887, the fruit was very tart and used for mostly ornamental purposes until more recent, sweeter cultivars arrived from Asia. Domestically, carambola is grown commercially in Florida and Hawaii, along with smaller producers in California. International growing regions include Australia, Guyana, India, Israel, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan.
Star fruit is usually consumed fresh but can also be used as seasoning or processed into sauces, relishes, jellies, and wines. Due to high oxalic acid content, those with kidney disease should not consume carambola without consulting a medical professional. Alternatively, in India, carambola is lauded and sought out for its many medicinal purposes.
References: California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products, University of California Cooperative Extension, University of Florida Extension.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Star fruit gets its name from its unique shape when cut, producing five or sometimes six longitudinal ribs or ridges that resemble a star. Carambola flowers are pinkish or lavender with five petals and can be either long or short.
There are two primary types of star fruit, one that is smaller and sour and its larger and sweeter sibling. The fruit can vary in color from a golden or light yellow to brighter yellows and oranges.
Some varieties, B-10 and B-17, require cross pollination for desirable yields. Arkin, Fwang Tung, and Golden Star do not need cross pollination and are often planted in blocks. Other popular varietals include Hew-1, Hoku, Kajang, Kary, Kwang Tung, Lara, Maha, Newcombe, Sri Kembangan, Thayer, and Wheeler.
References: Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products, University of California Cooperative Extension, University of Florida Extension.