Carambola or Five-finger as its known locally, perhaps got its name from its five distinct ridges which resemble appendages or fingers. Across the globe In Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia where it is native, most people know it as Star fruit, and fairly obviously, because of its star shape when sliced.
Five-finger can be used to make a variety of juice drinks, smoothies, jams and preserves, pastry fillings, relishes, chutneys, salads… and in cooking it adds a tasty zing to meat and seafood dishes.
While five-finger may be popular in the making homemade wines and as the quintessential Trinidadian snack, Chow where it is sliced up and tossed with herbs like chadon beni, garlic, salt and pepper, I once heard a funny story of a UK couple on Tobago who cooked it up and fooled people into thinking it was some stew of minced meat!
In the video below, we travelled to La Vega estate to source and find out a little local history behind the fruit before moving into the experimentation phase. And earlier in the week, I met up with 8 Pennies who introduced some very interesting health facts about this local fruit.
Carambola contains small amounts of potassium, phosphorous, zinc and iron which are essential to the proper functioning our cells but a significant health benefit comes its high dietary-fiber content. Not only is this fruit good for when you’re backed up, but it can also help to lower cholesterol levels in the blood by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol that is absorbed in the intestines. It has been grouped among weight-loss foods and people tend to include it in their diets because fiber keeps you fuller, longer.
Five-finger is also an excellent detoxifier, immunity booster and contains both anti-microbial and anti-oxidant properties. It is a good source of vitamins A, B’s and C (up to about 51% of vitamin C in every 100g) which is important for general health as well as for anti-aging as it helps to keep skin fresh and glowing and youthful. For the men in Southeast Asia, it has been famed for its aphrodisiac properties.
But in case you’re still not convinced, five-finger has been found to help with anything from irritated eyes to insomnia and can even relieve headaches and hangovers (great news for all you fete goers). In Fact, there are 4 very special compounds that are found in five-finger: quercitin, epicataechin, polyphenols and gallic acid and together, these provide inflammatory, angiogenic, carcinogenic and mutagenic defense. That means, five-finger can be helpful for conditions like diabetes, cancer, and microbial infections. It may also help guard against osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases, even against neurodegenerative diseases.
People with kidney problems should exercise caution because five-finger contains oxalic acid (which gives the fruit its tart sourness) as well as caramboxin. And though their concentrations are relatively low in the fruit, it can be potentially problematic for kidney patients. There are also some drug interaction concerns because it may lower the effectiveness of statins, opiods and benxodiazepines. So just be careful and chat with your doctor before eating too many five-fingers if you are on any of these medications.
While thinking up drinks, I got a little wild and came up with something I was very proud of at the time: the Forty to Five. It is a mix of white rum, coconut ice-cream, fresh carambola juice, spice and for munch (garnish): cotton candy, colored carambola stars, every piece of rainbow or sour candy I could get my hands on, and some edible glitter to top it off.
It has a taste similar to that of a Piña colada but with the unique starfruit flavor coming through. I’m going to continue working on this one…
Next, I created The Macintosh which is a much more “sensible drink” that is just as refreshing as it good for you. Having just returned from my Asia trip a few months ago, I was inspired by their widespread use of lemongrass for cocktail making. The Macintosh is a sobering blend of fresh carambola juice, a spiced lemongrass brew, fresh sugar-cane juice and a splash of Angostura bitters.
For the not so sensible version, add tequila.
Lastly, the Blu Flounder, which was probably an ode to The Little Mermaid more than anything else, because that’s what it reminded me of once I got done with it. It is a great-tasting combination of Vodka, Blue Curacao, Malibu, fresh carambola juice with some sorrel flowers and carambola slices for garnish. This one’s my favourite!
Check out the episode on YouTube: