Pulasan: The Sweeter Relative of Rambutan

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The Pulasan may look very similar to its spiky cousin, the rambutan, but the flavors are very different. The pulasan is much sweeter than rambutans and is more fruity and less acidic than its tropical relative.

What is a Pulasan?

The pulasan fruit (Nephelium ramboutan-ake) belongs to the Sapindaceae family, along with rambutan, lychee, and Spanish limes. While its common name is the pulasan, it’s sometimes referred to as Kapulasan, Malay, bulla, or ngoh-khonsan.

It’s an ultra-tropical fruit that thrives in the steamy climates of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia. Pulasan fruit trees produce ultra-sweet fruit, making them often considered the rambutan’s sweeter, juicier cousin.

The History of Pulasan

Pulasan fruit rarely makes an appearance outside of Southeast Asia. This exotic fruit tree has a short trunk that thrives in the undergrowth of lush forests and is seldom cultivated by commercial growers.

While it’s a popular cooking ingredient in Southeast Asia in jams and desserts, it’s rare to see it used in cuisines outside of Asia. They are domesticated in the Philippines and show up in local markets, but outside of the Philippines, there are few domestic and commercial growers of pulasan.

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Within their spiky exterior, pulasans have a delicate, clear fruit.

What Does a Pulasan Taste Like?

Raw pulasan tastes like rambutan, except sweeter. It has a sharp sweetness similar to raspberries, lychee, and guava.

Overall, pulasan is much sweeter than rambutan, with more complex fruity notes. It’s also important to note that pulasans are juicier than rambutans, and the seed pulls away from the flesh much easier.

But before you throw away those pulasan seeds, many describe the flavor of the seeds as similar to almonds. When cooked, pulasan adds an intense burst of sweetness to dishes like jams, jellies, and smoothies.

How to Tell When Pulasan is Ripe

Check out this quick guide below to determine when the pulasan is perfectly ripe.

ColorWhen ripe, pulasan is a deep red rind. If the color isn’t very dark, it’s not mature enough.
FirmnessThe spikes on the rind of the pulasan should feel like leather in your hands and incredibly firm when pressed.
SmellThe thick, leathery rind conceals most of its scent and doesn’t smell much of anything when ripe.
BruisingWith such a sharp, spiky exterior, it’s difficult to tell if the pulasan is overly bruised.

The easiest way to determine if a pulasan is ripe is by color. When it reaches that perfect stage of deep red, it’s ready to eat!

Are Rambutans, Lychee and Pulasan Related?

Yes! It should be no surprise that rambutans, lychee, and pulasan are all related since they look similar.

These fruit plants all produce spikey and unusual fruits with clear, sweet fruit. They are members of the Sapindaceae or the soapberry family.

While they share a lot in common at first glance, these exotic fruits vary in flavor. Lychee is sweet and fruity with bold floral notes. Rambutans are sweet and less fruity with a hint of acidity. Pulasans are intensely sweet with bold fruity flavors and very little acidity.

Cooking with Pulasan

Before diving into pula recipes, let’s look at how to prepare this exotic fruit. Don’t let its spiky shell intimidate you – it’s really easy!

  1. Wash the fruit. You should always rinse your fruit under cool water before peeling.
  2. Remove the rind. There are no knives required! To peel, press a fingernail into the skin and then pull the skin in half. The juicy fruit inside should break away easier than peeling an orange.
  3. Get rid of the seeds. Removing a pulasan seed is much easier than a rambutan. Since the flesh is so juicy, the seed will easily pull away from the meat.

Here are our favorite recipes that incorporate the delicious pulasan:

Potato and Pulasan CutletThis recipe is worth the effort for a hearty and authentic Southeast Asia dish. The potatoes and minced meat are elegantly spiced and savory, and the sweetness from the whole pulasan adds a lovely bite of sweetness.

Pickled Pulasan Fruit: Think of this recipe as sweet and spicy Southeast Asian salsa. The pulasans deliver intense sweetness that compliments the chili powder’s spiciness and ginger’s sharp notes. Eat it alone, or serve it over rice.

How to Store Pulasan

Pulasans and Rambutans share so much in common that their storage methods are very similar. You can store fresh pulas on the countertop for a few days or place them in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator to last even longer.

When stored in an air-tight container, pulasans will stay fresh for up to two weeks when chilled. You can also place them in the freezer, where they will stay fresh for up to 12 months.

Nutritional Benefits of Pulasan

For a boost of immune health, look no further than the pulasan. Pulasans are rich in Vitamin C, which boosts your immune system and helps promote healthy, glowing skin.

The higher doses of Vitamin E and carotenoids make for a wonderful source of antioxidants. Foods rich in antioxidants reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Where to Purchase Pulasan

Pulasans rarely show up in markets outside of Southeast Asia. There are very few commercial cultivars that ship outside of Asia.

One of the only sources to score fresh pulas is through specialty fruit outside of southeast Asia, but these services come at a very steep price point. You can also try local Asian markets when pulasans are in peak season between July and November.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer with a deep love for food. She loves baking sweet treats and experimenting with different fruits and veggies for her morning smoothies. When she’s not writing, she loves powerlifting, baking, gardening, playing video games, and caring for her cats!

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