Santol Fruit- Everything You Need To Know

If you like weird exotic fruits, you may have heard of santol; a fast-growing, straight-trunked tree that gives birth to a delicious fruit that’s known under many different names, such as santol fruit, Sentul, or cotton fruit. The santol fruit looks like a giant hazelnut inside an orange or pear (depending on the color) and if you see one of these at the market cut-open, it’ll definitely catch your eye. In this post, we’ll show you everything you need to know about this exotic fruit, including its origin, its tree, varieties, facts, and even some recipes. Let’s start from the beginning!

What Is Santol?

yellow santon

Botanically classified as Sandoricum Koetjape, the santol fruit is a round fruit the size of an apple. Inside the fruit, there’s a white juicy tissue with 3-4 brown seeds and wrinkles that extend from the base and downy rind with thin, milky juice. Its tissue is sour, even when the fruit is ripe and in some places in Southeast Asia (especially the Philippines), people eat it while it’s still sour. But when the fruit ripens, it transforms into a sweet, vinous fruit. The fruit belongs to the Mahogany family and is only one of the two edible fruits that belong to this category.

Santol Tree

santol tree
by Alex Pronove CC by SA 4.0

The santol tree is a tropical tree that grows at lower altitudes. The tree is very elegant-looking, fast-growing, and it usually grows between 15 and 40 meters in height. When the tree gets older, the branches fall close to the ground. Its leaves are evergreen (or briefly deciduous), have a spiral shape, and grow between 4 and 10 inches long. The flowers come in three colors; greenish, yellowish, and pinkish, are about 1 cm long, and grow on the young branchlets in stalked panicles.

On average, these trees produce fruit after 5-6 years of age. One adult tree in its prime can produce between 19,000 and 24,000 fruits per year. The harvesting is done by clamping the ripen fruits. This tree grows better in deep organic grounds and it prefers rain to be distributed more-or-less evenly throughout the year even though it can often withstand long dry periods.

Origins

red santol

The santol fruit originates from the Malesian floristic region. From here, the fruit expanded to Indochina, Australia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, parts of India, and the Seychelles. Today, these are the main regions that account for most of the world’s santol production.

Santol Varieties

santol varieties

There are two main varieties of santol fruit- red (S. Koetjape) and yellow (S. Nervosum) with the former one being considered as more prevalent at farmer’s markets. The main differences between the two varieties lie in the leaflets, the peel, and the taste of the tissue.

Yellow santols usually have leaflets that are up to 15 centimeters long and turn yellow as they grow old while red santols have leaflets that grow up to 30 centimeters long and turn red as they grow older. The yellow variety has a thin peel and a sweet tissue while the red variety has a thicker peel and a tissue that has a slightly sour flavor. Another difference between the two is that the red santol falls from the tree when ripe while that’s rarely the case with the yellow santol.

However, these distinctions aren’t always clear-cut, and sometimes, samples of the santol fruit may not fully correspond to these classifications, especially when it comes to the thickness and flavor of the tissue.

How To Eat Santol?

santon cut into half

The ripe fruits are harvested by hand plucking or with a long stick that twists the fruits off. Its pulp is eaten raw but it can also be cooked or even turned into marmalade (more about this below). In some parts of India, the fruit is consumed with different spices. The seeds are not edible and have to be removed.

In Malaysia, young fruits are boiled in water with sugar and candied while in the Philippines the fruits are preserved in a sweet syrup/marmalade that can be found at most street markets.

Other Uses Of Santol Fruit

santol fruit

Santol tastes great when eaten raw but there are also a lot of alternative ways to use this tropical fruit. 

Medicinal

Santol leaves are known to reduce fever and when sick, a lot of people in Asia take baths with santol leaves. The fruit (especially its roots) also helps with diarrhea and is used as a tonic after childbirth. Several parts of the plant also have anti-inflammatory properties and can help in easing the symptoms of dysentery.

Cooking

As we already mentioned, the jam/marmalade made of santon fruit is absolutely delicious. The fruit can also be used for making syrup and is also great for adding some flavor to cocktails but these are not the only ways you can use it in the kitchen. In Thai cuisine, santon is used in som tam (a delicious spicy salad with shredded fruits), several different prawn curries, and is the main ingredient in santol pork. In Filipino cuisine, the fruit is the main ingredient of sinatolan, an appetizer made of grated santol fruit rinds, and is also used as a souring agent in many sour broth and milkfish dishes.

Construction

The wood of the tree is very useful for construction. The tree is thick, large, it can cast a nice shade, and is very easy to polish and shape. In some rural parts of Asia, people even use this tree to build storage facilities, house posts, light framing, or interior construction.

Insecticides

According to research, extracts of the seeds have insecticidal properties and can be used as a natural mosquito repellent or insecticide. 

Interesting Facts & Nutrition

santol fruit

If you’re curious to learn more about this tasty exotic fruit and its nutrition values, here are some interesting facts about the santol fruit.

Grows from: Seeding.

Harvest season: March-June.

Climate: Tropical or subtropical.

Temperature: It can withstand temperature above 6-7 degrees Celsius but ideally needs temperature around 20 degrees Celsius.

Maximum height: The average santol tree grows around 20 meters tall but the tallest recorded santol tree measures 45 meters. 

Do the leaves fall down? No, they’re evergreen.

Plants required to Pollinate: Self-Pollinating

Overview of the nutrition values per 100 grams

Protein 0.07 grams

Fat: 0.53 grams

Carbs 0 grams

Fiber 1.27 grams

Iron 0.88 milligrams

Calcium 5.40 milligrams

Pectin 14.9 milligrams

Ash 0.39 grams

Moisture 85 grams

Ascorbic Acid 0 grams

Health Benefits

santol fruits

Finally, here are some common health benefits of consuming santol.

  1. The leaves help with reducing fever.
  2. It can ease diarrhea.
  3. Some parts of the plant have active inflammatory properties.
  4. Research shows that extracts from santol can inhibit cancer in vitro.
  5. Santol is known to help treat skin diseases, such as eczema.
  6. In parts of Asia, the fruit is also used for its astringent properties.
  7. It can serve as an organic mosquito repellent (without any side effects).
  8. It’s a natural tonic after childbirth or heavy surgery.
  9. It’s used for treating leucorrhea and some vaginal infections.
  10. Santol consists of Bryonotic and Sandorinic acid, both of which serve as agents for treating and sometimes, preventing allergies.
  11. The high production of collagen can make one’s skin look tight and youthful.
  12. According to some studies, regular consumption of santon can prevent Alzheimer’s.
  13. Santol is rich in iron, making it perfect for anemic people.
  14. The high amount of calcium in the fruit makes it great for one’s bone health and maintaining healthy teeth.
  15. It’s great for diabetes because it’s rich in fiber and has a low glycemic index. Fiber slows down digestion, therefore decreasing the absorption of sugar into the blood, which also makes it great for weight loss.

Seriously, Do Not Eat The Seeds

Doctors in the Philippines and Thailand keep warning about the risk of intestinal obstruction that might happen when swallowing the whole seeds. Hundreds of people are diagnosed with this every year and especially the santol you find near Bangkok (that’s slightly larger than most other santol fruits) is known to cause more severe cases that often end with abdominal surgery. According to the statistics, if the intestinal obstruction culminates with septic shock (which doesn’t happen very often, but still it does), the fatality rate is 20% within 28 days. Keep this in mind when traveling in Southeast Asia.

Did you ever hear of the santol fruit? Would you like to try this exotic fruit? Let us know in the comments!

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