Singapore's cannonball tree fruit seized in China: Other 'forbidden' fruits

Asam gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis)
Asam gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis)PHOTO: NPARKS

Customs officers in China seized a cannonball tree fruit - which they said could potentially explode - from a traveller who was returning from Singapore earlier this month. The fruit is among several edible but relatively unknown oddities found here. Mr Ng Cheow Kheng, group director of Horticulture and Community Gardening at the National Parks Board, highlights some others.

1. Asam gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis)

Native to the region, the asam gelugor (garcinia atroviridis) is a tall tree able to grow up to 27m. Young leaves flush red and are eaten as ulam (salad) in Malaysia. The flowers are large and showy with bright crimson petals. The tree is widely cultivated for its fruit which is orange-yellow when ripe and shaped like a pumpkin. The fruit can be used fresh or sun-dried, cooked to impart bright tart flavours to relishes, stews and curries. Due to its acidic nature, it can sometimes be used as an alternative to tamarind in recipes.

2. Island lychee (Pometia pinnata)


The island lychee (pometia pinnata) is native to Singapore, but can also be found across a wide geographical range from Sri Lanka and Southern China to the Western Pacific. It can grow up to 50m tall with spreading buttress roots reaching up to 5m in height. Its ornamental young leaves flush in an attractive red colour. Flowers are small and white to green-yellow, forming in bunches. The oval fruit is a deep purple colour when ripe. Cracking the outer shell reveals a translucent, juicy flesh that is sweet when eaten fresh, and a single hard, dark brown seed at the centre. The taste and texture of the fruit resembles that of longan (Dimorcarpus longan).

3. Noni (Morinda citrifolia)


The noni (morinda citrifolia) is found throughout the tropics and can grow in a wide range of environments. It grows into a small tree, reaching 10m in height. Flowers are small and white. The fruit is egg shaped, white to pale green and soft when ripe. Noni is used in traditional medicine and as a famine food in Polynesian cultures. The fruit contains many small seeds and the flesh tastes bitter when eaten fresh but can be blended into juices. Overripe fruit is said to taste like very sharp cheese or even vomit. Despite its off-putting taste and smell, the commercial popularity of noni has risen in recent years due to its purported health benefits, the majority of which still require further study.

4. Rukam masam (Flacourtia inermis)


The rukam masam (flacourtia inermis) is a fruit tree that can grow up to 15m tall and is found naturally across eastern Indonesia. It produces bright orange-red flushes of young leaves and the cherry-like fruit are a bright shiny red when ripe. These look very attractive and festive hanging in bunches on the tree. The ripe fruit has whitish flesh tinged with pink containing a few hard seeds. It has a strong sour and astringent taste when eaten raw, but can be more palatable when cooked to become jams, syrups and jellies. It can also be cooked with kundang (bouea macrophylla) to make a chutney.​

5. Belinjau (Gnetum gnemon)



The belinjau (gnetum gnemon) is a critically endangered species native to Singapore. This tree has a peculiar botanical feature; it produces male and female cones instead of flowers. The fruit are oval and ripen from green to yellow to orange to red. The young leaves and flowering shoots are edible when cooked, but the seeds are the most nutritious. They are pounded into flat slices, deep fried and eaten as a snack called emping or belinjau crackers. Emping has a slightly bitter taste and goes well with dips made from spicy belacan (shrimp paste). Emping industries exist in Indonesia to feed the appetite for this snack in the region. Traditionally, smoking of the belinjau wood can help to relieve the itch from the Anopheles mosquito which is common in more rural and natural environments.

Illegal to pluck or collect fruit

In Singapore, do not pluck fruit, or keep any that have fallen in parks, nature reserves and along roads in NParks-managed areas. Collecting, plucking and keeping of fruit are not permitted under the Parks and Trees Act. Animals feed on these fruit and plants also depend on animals to disperse their seeds. Some plants have evolved a thick layer to protect the seeds while other plants have toxic chemicals in their fruit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline ''Forbidden' fruit '. Print Edition | Subscribe