Averrhoa bilimbi is commonly known as bilimbi, cucumber tree, or tree sorrel. It is a fruit-bearing tree of the genus Averrhoa, family Oxalidaceae. It is a close relative of Carambola, though Bilimbi is quite different in its physical appearance, flavor and uses than that of carambola. This exceptional exotic fruit is highly popular in Thailand and Singapore. It is a rare plant and few growers produce them. Bilimbis are native to Moluccas but are widely seen in Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh,Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. In India also, Bilimbi trees are widely spread.
Bilimbi tree is attractive and at the same time is a long-lived tree. The tree reaches up to a height of 5-10 m. The flowers are yellowish green in color and are borne in hairy panicles.
This is essentially a tropical tree, less resistant to cold than the carambola, growing best in rich and well-drained soil. It prefers evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year, but with a 2- to 3-month dry season. Therefore the species is not found, for example, in the wettest part of Malaysia. In Florida, where it is an occasional curiosity, the tree needs protection from wind and cold.
The fruit is very crunchy when unripe and it turns from bright-green to yellowish-green, when it is ripe. Once it got ripe it falls on the ground. The outer skin is shiny, very thin and gentle, and the flesh will be greenish-white in color which will be mildly sour and juicy. It has a few flattened seeds which is brown in color. The fruits are available throughout the year. The tree bears hundreds of fruits per year.
However, there is a sweet variety in the Philippines – where the sour bilimbis are called “kamias”, while the sweet variety is called “balimbing”.
Mainly, the bilimbi is used in place of mango to make chutney, and it is much preserved. To reduce acidity, it may be first pricked and soaked in water overnight, or soaked in salted water for a shorter time; then it is boiled with much sugar to make a jam or an acid jelly. The flowers are sometimes preserved with sugar.
In the Philippines, where it is commonly found in backyards, the fruits are eaten either raw or dipped on rock salt. It can be either curried or added as a souring agent for the common Filipino dish sinigang. Additionally, the fruit can be preserved by pickling, which reduces its acidity. The flowers are also sometimes preserved in sugar.
In another part of Indonesia, Aceh, it is preserved by sun-drying, the sun-dried bilimbi is called asam sunti. Bilimbi and asam sunti are popular in Acehnese culinary. It can replace mango in makingchutney. In Malaysia, it also is made into a rather sweet jam.
In Kerala, India, it is used for making pickles, while around Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa the fruit is commonly eaten raw with salt and spice.
In Seychelles, it is often used as an ingredient to give a tangy flavor to many Seychellois creole dishes, especially fish dishes.
More about cooking with Bilimbi
Medical interest and study
Bilimibi tree as well as the fruit is full of medicinal properties.
In the Philippines, the leaves serve as a paste on itches, swelling, rheumatism, mumps or skin eruptions.A leaf infusion is used as an after-birth tonic, while the flower infusion is used for thrush, cold, andcough. Malaysians use fermented or fresh bilimbi leaves to treat venereal diseases. The paste of leaves and fruits can be applied on poisonous insect bites.
In French Guiana, syrup made from the fruit is used to treat inflammatory conditions. To date there is no scientific evidence to confirm effectiveness for such uses.
In some villages in the Thiruvananthapuram district of India, the fruit of the bilimbi was used in folk medicine to control obesity. This led to further studies on its antihyperlipidemic properties. The juice extracted from bilimbi fruit is effective in eliminating cough. It fights against cholestrol and is used as a tonic and laxative.
The juice is effective as eye drops (regarded as a magic curative).
The fruit is also known to control internal bleeding in the stomach. Syrup made from Bilimbi is a cure for fever and inflammation and also as a syrup, the vitamin C combats bowel hemorrhages, stomach problems, and internal hemorrhoids.
Medical studies show several promising insights with bilimbi as well:
- Australian researchers discovered that the fruit keeps food borne diseases like salmonella at bay, when studied as a cleansing agent applied to shrimp.
- Indian researchers found that the fruit, when tested on rats, may treat and preventhyperlipidemia or, high cholesterol.
- Researchers in Singapore discovered anti-diabetic activities of bilimbi. Six fruit starfruit crushed and boiled with a glass of water until the water is staying half. Strain and drink twice a day.
- In a collaboration of researchers from Brazil and Trinidad, studies indicate bilimbi might help control glycemic levels. The fruit also boosts muscle and liver glycogen levels.
The fruit contains high levels of oxalate. Acute renal failure due to tubular necrosis caused by oxalate has been recorded in several people who drank the concentrated juice on continuous days as treatment for hypercholesterolemia. These people were prompted into consuming this concoction by local media which played up studies done in experimental animals.
Another variety of this family is Carambola
This species of tree native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This plant has many names: Carambola, Belimbing (Malaysia), Carambolier (French), Ma Fueng (Thailand), Fuang (Laos), Khe (Vietnam), Kamrakh (Hindi), Thambaratham (Tamil).
The entire fruit is edible, including the slightly waxy skin, unlike other tropical fruits. The flesh is crunchy, firm, and extremely juicy, having a texture similar in consistency to that of grapes. Carambolas are best consumed when ripe, when they are yellow with a light shade of green. They will also have brown ridges at the five edges and feel firm. Overripe starfruit will be yellow with brown spots and can become soggier in consistency.
Ripe carambolas are sweet without being overwhelming, and have a tart, sour undertone. The taste is difficult to compare, but it has been likened to a mix of apple, pear and citrus family fruits all at once. Unripe starfruits are firmer and sour, and taste like green apples.
Carambola is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and low in sugar, sodium, and acid. It is also a potent source of both primary and secondary polyphenolic antioxidants. Carambola has both antioxidant and antimicrobial activities: Scavenging of NO by the fruit extract is dependent on concentration and stage of ripening. Extracts showed antimicrobial activity against E. coli, Klebsiella sp., Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Carambola contains oxalic acid, which can be harmful to individuals suffering from kidney failure, kidney stones, or those under kidney dialysis treatment. Consumption by those with kidney failure can produce hiccups, vomiting, nausea, and mental confusion. Fatal outcomes have been documented in some patients.
Preparations of the leaves and roots have been used to cure headaches, hangovers, sore eyes, ringworm, prickly heat and chickenpox. Given to nursing mothers it is believed to stimulate the flow of milk.
Abundant in antioxidants, Vitamin C and potassium, Carambola has no cholesterol, making it ideal diet for those who wish to have a healthy lifestyle or those who are on a weight loss diet.