27 Jul 2013 09.02 am by K. Daniel

In 2013 we welcome the year of the snake. According to ancient Chinese wisdom, the snake is well known for its cunning, wisdom, and vanity. It is common practice to eat various foods during the festivities, each symbolizing your gains for the New Year. Some examples of this: mandarins represent good fortune and prosperity, leeks signify money, and melon seeds represent fertility.


Growing up in a predominantly Asian family has exposed me to the tradition where everything that we eat, especially around important dates such as the Lunar New Year, have specific and apparently very real ramifications on the coming days. You are not simply what you eat, but your future is dependent on what passes through your lips. Perhaps then, although not very traditional, it would be reasonable to have included snakefruit into the smorgasbord we had during the season? Perhaps by eating them I would have gained more cunning and wisdom. My own substantial vanity should cancel out anymore that comes in.


The snakefruit is a brown coloured, medium sized fruit (about the size and shape of a large fig) notable for the "scales" that are on its skin surface. Under the skin surface lies another layer of "skin", which peels off to expose the cream-yellow coloured fruit lobes. Known locally as Salak, the fruit which is endemic to South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and also on Borneo comes in three main varieties, each possessing specific qualities which differentiates it from one another.


Salak pondoh, one of the most common varieties I've encountered during my childhood is notable for the strong aroma it produces, similar to sweet pineapples and a tropical aroma, not unlike coconuts, which I've come to associate with various other tropical fruits. Hailing from the Yogyakarta province of Indonesia, texture wise it is dry and crumbly, quite like an over ripe apple. The flavour is sweet, like a cross between an apple and pineapple, finishing off with a slightly tart tang in the back of the throat. I vividly remember having a slightly dry feeling on my tongue after eating one of these.


Salak Bali, as its name suggest, originates from the popular tourist destination. It is comparatively sweeter than salak pondoh, without a noticeable acidic mouth feel. The skin under the fruit has a waxier appearance, and texture is crunchier, and slightly juicier, not unlike a medium sized carrot, with a pleasant sweet tropical aroma.


Salak gula pasir is another variety which hails from Bali, and is widely prized for its sweet flesh. Gula pasir translates directly to sand sugar, which gives you an idea on sweetness levels and the fine grained texture of the fruit. The size of this variety is comparatively smaller than the other two, about the size of a good sized strawberry, but it does pack a punch when it comes to flavour. Aroma of the fruit is akin to the Salak Bali variety.


How to pick out ripe fruits is relatively straightforward. Depending on your variety (and there are about 30 total varieties including the 3 main ones here) the final ripe fruits should be the size of between a sugarplum (for smaller varietals such as salak gula pasir), or as big as a fig for standard varieties.


Skin colour is a deep, uniform brown, with the characteristic scaling. Sometimes they may develop darkening at the skin area which is completely normal. Aroma increases as the fruits mature, but on a special note for salak pondoh, peak eating quality is a small window of opportunity between just right and over ripe.


Some have described the smell to be sweaty and intense even before the fruit has matured, and so size and flavour would be the best indicator for that specific variety. Texture is another considerable factor you may want to note, as the fruits should be solid (and therefore, crunchy when eaten) instead of being soft and yielding.


One relatively new application involves fermenting the fruits, especially those that contain high sugar levels. This results with a product with approximately 13.5% alcohol level and sweet, gold coloured liquid. Other food preparations may involve pickling, making into jams, and canning the fruit, especially as it shares certain qualities reminiscent of apples and pineapples in terms of texture and flavour. Of course, wisdom would dictate these are unique fruits in their very own right, and are perfectly fine eaten as it is.



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