There are over 100 fruit species in Malaysia and approximately 70 that are considered more rare traditional fruits. These are fruits that were once more prevalent in gardens, villages and jungles in the 20th century but have since become more difficult to find.
Consequently, these fruits are likely to be far more familiar to the older generation who might have grown up with some of them than they are to the younger generation, who probably have not had the opportunity to see or savour most of them.
(Also read: Traditional Malaysian fruits are going extinct)
Here is a brief list of some of them:
Originally from the Philippines, the mentega tree (also known by names like mabolo and selarat) is very rarely planted in Malaysia, except as a shade-providing tree. There are two varieties of the fruit – a tawny brown one and a red one; the former is favoured more as it has a sweeter, more aromatic quality and can be eaten fresh. One of the defining characteristics of the fruit is its velvet-like exterior.
Growing wild in Malaysia, the fruit is most widely available in the east coast of Malaysia, especially Terengganu. The tiny pellet shaped fruit initially starts out green, then becomes orange before ripening into a dark red shade. According to author of Buah-Buahan Nadir Semenanjung Malaysia, Ruqayah Aman, it is a very starchy fruit and is typically eaten after being boiled. The seeds and the fruit can be turned into melinjau kerepek, a delicacy apparently popular in Indonesia.
Originally from central America, kuning telur (also known as kanistel) is also rarely planted in Peninsula Malaysia and doesn’t generally grow wild. The fruit has a fibrous texture akin to sweet potato and is reputedly quite pleasant and sweet.
Bacang is from the manggo family and is a proudly Malaysian fruit. It is mostly found in the southern states of Peninsula Malaysia. When ripe, bacang can be consumed as is (although it is said to be fibrous) whereas the unripe fruit can be used to make pickles or curries.
This small fruit tree hails from Borneo and was introduced to Betawi in Indonesia before making its way to Melaka and Penang. It apparently can grow wild in home gardens, but is rarely planted and quite difficult to find. In the east coast, it is called buah katak puru (toad fruit) because of its withered exterior that bears some resemblance to the amphibian. The ripe fruit can be both mildly sweet and slightly sour, and is sometimes complemented by kuah rojak.
Found in the Malay archipelago, sentul is either planted or grows wild in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. According to retired Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (now known as Universiti Putra Malaysia) lecturer Dr Abdul Aziz Zakaria, the Sentul market in Kuala Lumpur was named after this fruit because there was a sentul tree growing there. In Kelantan, the flesh and seeds are typically used for pickles.
Also called snakefruit, salak is an original Malaysian fruit. Interestingly, the Salak Selatan area in KL is named after the fruit. Salak has long grown wild in local jungles and is often used by Orang Asli communities, especially in Terengganu where it is most widely grown. Once ripe, it is sweet and can be eaten fresh.
From the garcinia family, mundu is very, very sour and has to be modified with salt and sugar to turn it into a juice. It is similar to asam jawa and according to Rukayah, has the potential to be converted into something similar to tamarind paste. It is also considered a nice tree for landscaping purposes.
As its name implies, ceri Terengganu is largely found in the state. The fruit originates from central Asia and is typically green when unripe and a bright, cheerful red once ripe. Although sweet, it isn’t as sweet as traditional iterations of red cherries. The tree fruits all year long and is typically grown for ornamental reasons and for its ability to attract birds.
Also known as kerkup, rokam manis can be found in the Himalayas and Malaysia. Animals or birds that eat the fruits often spread it everywhere, so it typically grows in the wild or around homes. The fruit can be eaten fresh when ripe, but to ensure the flavour profile is as sweet as possible, the fruit has be to rolled around the fingers before consumption to enhance the taste.
Believed to have originated from India, China and Malaysia, bidara is one of the oldest fruit trees in China and India. In Malaysia, it is rarely planted but is more well-known in northern Peninsula Malaysia states like Kedah, Perlis and the east coast of the country, and can sometimes be found in the local markets in these states. It is typically eaten fresh but in China and India, it is processed into candy or pickles.
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