Salak: The Scaly Indonesian Delicacy

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Salak is a unique and exotic fruit native to Indonesia. With its scaly skin, sweet and tangy flavor, and health benefits, salak is a delicacy gaining popularity worldwide. Despite its odd appearance, it boasts a sweet and sour taste with a crunchy texture, making it a popular delicacy among locals and a must-try for adventurous foodies.

What is Salak?

Salak is a tropical fruit commonly called snake fruit due to its scaly, snake-like outer skin. The scientific name for salak is Salacca zalacca or Salacca edulis, and it belongs to the family Arecaceae.

Salak is native to Indonesia but is also grown in other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and Brunei. It is also known by other names, including “salak palm fruit,” “snakeskin fruit,” and “buah salak” in Indonesian. 

The fruit is small and oval-shaped, with rough, brownish-red skin covered in tiny scales that grant its signature snake-like appearance. Inside is a juicy, white fruit with a texture similar to a grape and a large inedible seed. The flavor of salak is often described as sweet and slightly acidic, with a crunchy texture.

It is a popular snack and ingredient in many Indonesian dishes, especially in Java and Sumatra. Still, it is exported to other countries and has recently gained popularity in the Western world.

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The salak’s signature scales have given it its nickname of “snakeskin fruit.”

The History of Salak

Salak is a native Indonesian fruit with uncertain origins, but it’s believed to have been first cultivated in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The salak plant has male and female houses and requires at least one male out of nine females for fruit to grow. 

The flowering process takes three to four years, and the fruit can be harvested for up to 50 years. In Indonesia, the harvest season is in May and December, and the ripening process takes around five to seven months.

Currently, there are over 30 salak cultivars available, but the most popular ones are:

  • Salak Pondoh – Known for its strong fragrance and sweet taste
  • Salak Bali – Which originates from Bali
  • Salak Gula Pasir – This variety of salak is most often used in wine

What Does Salak Taste Like?

Salak has a crunchy texture and a slightly sweet and sour taste when eaten raw. Some people describe the taste as a cross between an apple and pineapple, with a hint of citrus. 

When cooked, salak is typically used in sweet dishes such as desserts and jams. It is often boiled or simmered in syrup to make a sweet preserve or candy. The cooked fruit has a softer texture and a more concentrated flavor, with a caramel-like sweetness.

Salak has a robust and astringent aroma that is often described as similar to a combination of cloves and pineapple. The scent can be overpowering to some people, but it is a crucial characteristic of the fruit that sets it apart from other tropical fruits.

How to Tell When Salak is Ripe

Here are some tips to help you identify when salak is ripe and how to select the best one:

Color of the SeedIf the seed is brown, it is ready to be harvested. But if the seed is light brown or white, it needs more time to mature on the plant.
TextureA salak that reaches maturation should feel firm and have dry, scaly skin. Avoid fruits that feel soft or have wet spots, as they may be overripe or spoiled.
ScentA ripe salak should have a sweet aroma. If it smells sour or unpleasant, it may be past its prime.
FirmnessA ripe salak should have a slight give, similar to a ripe avocado. However, it should not be too soft, as this indicates over-ripeness.

Can I Eat Raw Salak?

Yes, you can eat raw salak. The flesh of the salak is edible and has a sweet and sour flavor. However, it is essential to note that the seed at the fruit’s center is not edible and should not be eaten.

Additionally, wash the fruit thoroughly before eating to remove dirt or debris.

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Always remove the salak’s seeds before eating or cooking them.

Cooking with Salak

Salak has tough, scaly skin that needs to be removed before cooking or eating. Here is how you can prepare salak for cooking:

  1. Wash the fruit thoroughly under running water.
  2. Cut off both ends of the fruit using a sharp knife.
  3. Use a paring knife to cut a slit in the fruit’s skin, careful not to cut into the flesh.
  4. Use your fingers to peel off the skin, starting from the cut you made.
  5. Once you have removed the skin, you will see a seed in the middle. Use a knife to cut around the seed and remove it.

Now that your salak is prepped, you can start cooking with it. Salak can be eaten raw or cooked and used in various traditional cuisines. 

It is commonly used in traditional Indonesian, Malaysian, and Brunei cuisine, in fruit salads, porridge, jams, pies, and other desserts. It also works wonderfully with nuts and other tropical fruits.

Here are some examples of dishes that use salak:

Salak and jackfruit dessert: This exotic salak dessert combines jackfruit, scented syrup, fried shallots, edible flowers, and mint in a mix that is a feast for both the senses and the eyes.

Candied Salak: This easy salak recipe makes the fruit the primary star of the show.

Rujak: A traditional fruit salad from Indonesia, made with a mix of fruits, including salak, pineapple, apple, and papaya, in a spicy and sweet sauce.

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Candied salak is a simple but perfect way to highlight the fruit’s natural flavors.

How to Store Salak

Store salak at room temperature if you plan to consume it within a few days. Keep it in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight.

If you want it to last longer, the best way to store salak is by removing the air around the fruit and keeping it in a cold environment. This method can help delay the fruit from ripening for a few days to stay fresh and tasty for up to 28 days.

Nutritional Benefits of Salak

Salak’s high levels of dietary fiber in snake fruit can make you feel full, prevent overeating, and improve digestion. The fruit’s beta-carotene, pectin, and potassium levels enhance blood flow to the brain, improving cognition and memory, which also helps lower the risk of degenerative brain diseases.

Snake fruit’s antioxidant beta-carotene can also reduce the risk of progressive cataracts and macular degeneration, improving vision health.

Potassium levels in snake fruit can lower blood pressure, reduce tension in the arteries and other blood vessels, and decrease the strain on the cardiovascular system, improving heart health. Snake fruit has also been traditionally used in native populations of Asia to relieve heartburn. 

A potential drawback is that too much salak is known to cause constipation.

Where to Purchase Salak

Finding salak in regular grocery stores in many parts of the world may be challenging. However, you can often find it in specialty stores specializing in exotic fruits or Asian markets. You may also be able to find it at farmers’ markets, depending on where you live.

The availability of salak varies depending on the region and season. Salak is available year-round in Indonesia, where it is grown and harvested. However, it may only be available seasonally in other countries, usually during summer.


Alexandra is a passionate writer who reveres exploring exotic fruit from far-off lands. While she’d like to one day live in a tropical paradise, she reserves that for her palate for now: from the tartness of the tamarind to the sweetness of the mangosteen. She invites others to join her on this journey of discovery, where every fruit is a new adventure.

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