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Bilimbi fruit

Averrhoa bilimbi, commonly known as bilimbi, bimbli, belimbing, blimbling, biling (and also bimbiri in Sinhala ), cucumber tree, tree sorrel, or khế tàu is a close relative of the carambola, of genus Averrhoa, family Oxalidaceae.

Distribution and habitat

Possibly originating on the Moluccas, Indonesia, the species is cultivated or found semi-wild throughout Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). It is common in other Southeast Asian countries. In India, where it is usually found in gardens, the bilimbi has gone wild in the warmest regions of the country.

Outside of Asia, the tree is cultivated in Zanzibar. In 1793, the bilimbi was introduced to Jamaica from Timor and after several years, was cultivated throughout Central and South America. Introduced to Queensland at the end of the 19th century, it has been grown commercially in the region since that time.

This is essentially a tropical tree, less resistant to cold than the carambola, growing best in rich and well-drained soil (but also stands limestone and sand). 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.

Flower and fruit description

Its flowers, like its fruits, are found in hairy panicles that directly emerge from the trunk as well as from the oldest, most solid branches. The yellowish or purplish flowers are tiny, fragrant and have 5 petals.

The bilimbi fruit's form ranges from ellipsoid to almost cylindrical. Its length is 4-10 cm. The bilimbi is 5-sided, but in a less marked way than the carambola. At the stem's end, the fruit is capped with a star-shape calyx. If unripe, it is bright green and crispy. It turns yellowish as it ripens. The flesh is juicy, green and extremely acidic. The fruit's skin is glossy and very thin.

Bilimbi seeds are small (6 mm) and brown. Their form is disc-like and flattened.

Culinary interest

In the rural parts of the Philippines, where it is commonly found as a backyard plant, it is eaten raw, dipped in rock salt, as a snack. It could either be curred or added as flavouring for the common Filipino dish sinigang. The uncooked bilimbi is prepared as relish and served with rice and bean in Costa Rica. In the Far East, where the tree originates, it is sometimes added to curry. Bilimbi juice (with a pH of about 4.47) is made a cooling beverage. In Indonesia, it is added in some dishes, for substituting tamarind or tomato.

Besides, the fruit can be preserved, 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 making chutney. In Malaysia, it also is made into a jam, which is rather sweet.

In Kerala India it is used for making pickles.

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