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What is Starfruit?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Starfruit, or carambola, is a tropical fruit grown in Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Florida and Hawaii. It is golden yellow to pale green in color and typically 3-5 inches (13.7-15.2 cm) in length, with four to six outer ribs. Its flesh is the same color as the exterior of the fruit and contains small brown seeds. The fruit gets its name because, when cut, its unusual contour creates a star shape.

The skin of the starfruit is edible and, therefore, does not have to be peeled. Its flavor ranges from sweet to tart. Usually, its tartness can be determined by the width of its ribs. The closer together the ribs are set, the more tart the flavor.

The taste of carambola is compared to plums, pineapple or lemons, as well as apples or grapes. Starfruit is also known as coromandel gooseberry, bilimbi, belimbing, Chinese starfruit, five angled fruit and star apple. It is commonly used in salads or desserts, eaten as a fruit or used as an attractive garnish. Its juice is also used to flavor commercially prepared drinks. Starfruit is very juicy and has a pleasant scent.

The season for starfruit is late summer to midwinter. The carambola tree is able to grow with less sunlight than most tropical trees. The tree requires a fair amount of space and a lot of moisture. Starfruit is rich in vitamin C. Like other fruits that are eaten with the skin intact, it is a good source of fiber.

To choose a starfruit, look for one that is firm and has a bright color. The ribs often have a brown tinge when ripe. Store a ripe starfruit in plastic in the refrigerator for up to one week or use within a few days at room temperature.

Carambola can be cooked with vinegar, sugar, ginger, pepper, anise, vanilla and saffron to create a sweet pickle. Other starfruit recipes include salsa, relish, chutney and soup. To jazz up a typical fruit salad, add starfruit, kiwi, sugar, Grand Marnier and mint leaves.

When cooked, starfruit can serve as a dessert or condiment. It also makes a nice sauce or garnish for poultry, fish, pork and beef dishes. Starfruit can be combined with chicken or other protein, avocados, and other fruits and vegetables to make a salad. It is also used in sweet bread recipes and cakes.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By gimbell — On Jun 11, 2011

Is there any specific method you have to learn about how to eat a star fruit? I mean, most pictures that I find of them show them sliced across, but that might just be to display the star shape more clearly.

Aside from just munching on them whole, is there any special way to prepare them that doesn't involve cooking them and mixing them with a bunch of other ingredients so they're hard to recognize anymore?

I wonder what grilled star fruit would taste like... My dad will try grilling anything at least once, and has had success with making grilled apple slices and grilled peach halves, so grilled star fruit could be a winner. Now I'm going to have to buy one and put this to the test.

By Malka — On Jun 10, 2011

If you have any sort of kidney condition, you should avoid eating starfruit! Starfruit contains some kind of toxin that needs to be filtered out through the kidneys. Healthy kidneys do this fine, but those with impaired kidney use, and especially those with kidney failure, simply cannot do it.

The resulting effect of eating starfruit when you have a kidney condition is called starfruit intoxication. Though it sounds like you will end up pleasantly drunk judging by the name, starfruit intoxication symptoms are actually nausea and vomiting, mental confusion and agitation, insomnia, and a persistent case of the hiccups, as well as convulsions.

Starfruit intoxication occurs anywhere from one to five hours after you eat the fruit, and if left untreated it can kill you. If you or anybody you know eats starfruit and shows the symptoms described, you need to go to the emergency room for dialysis to treat it.

It doesn't take much starfruit to cause this condition in someone with impaired kidney function; in one case, a patient died after eating just one fruit, and in other cases it only took half a fruit or 8 ounces of starfruit juice to bring the symptoms about (although thankfully, those patients did not die.)

Starfruit is delicious, and perfectly healthy for people with healthy kidneys to consume. Just be advised about starfruit intoxication so that you and your loved ones don't inadvertently hurt themselves eating it.

By yumdelish — On Jun 10, 2011

I love the way starfruit tastes, to me it's almost sour but in a good way. Plus, the fact that they only have thirty calories each means I can indulge without any guilt.

Try a starfruit smoothie and you'll not regret it. My next experiment is low fat muffins using this fruit, maybe with some organic cherries in there too.

By dfoster85 — On Jun 10, 2011

@MrsWinslow - I think you're right. When I was on my honeymoon in St. Croix years ago, we made arrangements to go horseback riding. You know how tourist farms always have other stuff, and this place had an orchard. My husband and I ate starfruit right off the fruit trees, and it was delicious.

Later, we bought a couple at the grocery store, and they didn't taste anywhere near as good as we remembered, though they were still a nice novelty. But here's the question: was that because they weren't as fresh, or because on our honeymoon, everything tasted good?

By MrsWinslow — On Jun 10, 2011

@anon11255 - I have no idea, but I bet you can. I live in the American South and we can buy fruit from Australia, so it seems like you should be able to get starfruits from the Caribbean or Hawaii! The question is, would you want to?

I don't know about starfruit--I've never picked one up--but I know that when I buy out-of-season strawberries from California, they're expensive and taste just OK. But when I buy them in season at the farmer's market--WOW! I wonder if starfruit would really be tasty after having to travel such a long way.

By anon11255 — On Apr 11, 2008

Can you buy starfruit in southern australia, and victoria?

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