Mardi’s research yields sweeter rambutans

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SINTOK: Malaysians will soon be tasting two new rambutan varieties – Mutiara Merah and Mutiara Wangi which were the result of research by the Malaysian Agricultural Research Development Institute (Mardi).

The two new clones were launched here recently by Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub.

Developed by plant breeder Dr Johari Sarip, the two new clones are said to bear fruits within two years of planting. The trees from these clones are also known to bear shadier branches and leaves.

According to Mardi, the fruit pulp is thicker and is sweeter than the currently available varieties.

“These salient features of the new clones will give a lucrative income for farmers and is expected to be more competitive in the market,” the minister said after the launch.

The rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) is a medium-sized tropical tree in the family Sapindaceae.

The term “rambutan” also refers to the edible fruit produced by this tree. It is native to the Indo-Malay archipelago and is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the lychee, longan, and mamoncillo.

The name “rambutan” is derived from the Malay-Indonesian languages word for rambut or “hair”, a reference to the numerous hairy protuberances of the fruit.

In Vietnam, it is called chôm (meaning “messy hair”) due to the spines covering the fruit’s skin.

Though native to tropical Southeast Asia, rambutan is commonly grown in various countries throughout the region.

It has also spread from Southeast Asia to other parts of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Central America. However, the widest variety of cultivars, wild and cultivated, are found only in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Around the 13th to 15th centuries, Arab traders, who played a major role in Indian Ocean trade, introduced rambutan into Zanzibar and Pemba in East Africa.

There are limited rambutan plantings in some parts of India as well.

In the 19th century, the Dutch introduced the fruit from their colony in Southeast Asia to Suriname in South America.

Subsequently, the plant spread to the tropical Americas, planted in the coastal lowlands of Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad, and Cuba.

It was only introduced to neighbouring Philippines from Indonesia in 1912.
Further introductions were made in 1920 (from Indonesia) and 1930 (from Malaya), but until the 1950s its distribution was limited.

There was an attempt to introduce rambutan to the southeastern United States, with seeds imported from Java in 1906, but the species proved to be unsuccessful, except in Puerto Rico.