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Caribbean Market: Five Finger (carambola/star fruit)

Updated: Jun 5

Five finger is a low-calorie, high-fiber fruit with many health benefits, but may pose risks to persons with kidney disease or those taking certain medications.


October 17, 2023



SLiced five finger on a cutting board
Five finger, sliced

One of my fondest memories is walking home from primary school, picking five fingers from nearby trees and having this fruit as a snack on the way. Typically, most of it would be finished by the time my brother and I made it home.

 

Back then, all we knew was that it was a tasty fruit that was in-season, got its name from its 5 spines or finger-like projections and it was free-99 (who else misses the days of free fruits?!)

 

Now, it's known to be high in vitamin C, a good source of dietary fiber and is low in calories...but should be avoided if you have kidney disease.


Background (five finger/star fruit carambola)

Alternate names: carambola, star fruit, star apple


Star fruit (A. carambola) is believed to have originated in Asia — specifically Malaysia — but is now grown in many tropical regions including Central and South America.


Here in Trinidad & Tobago, it is fondly called "five finger" fruit due to its 5-point star shape or finger-like projections when sliced vertically.


The tree can bloom up to four times a year, but is most notably 'in-season' between September and October.


Food uses

There are two main varieties of five finger that dictate how the fruit is used — the smaller tart variety, and the larger sweet variety — and may be green or yellow in colour.


Five finger can be eaten raw, sliced and added to salads, or used as a garnish. In some cultures, it may be added as a preservative to meat-based dishes.


The fruit can be squeezed and enjoyed as a beverage, or fermented into a delicious wine. It is also used in jellies, dried preserves, or ice creams. Its skin is edible.


Nutrition

Five finger is a low calorie, high-fiber fruit that makes a great addition to your seasonal nutrition.


Just one cup (132 grams) of cubed five finger fruit provides half of the daily needs for the vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant nutrient.


It also provides small amounts of potassium, folate and magnesium, and an array of health promoting phytochemicals like terpenes and flavonoids.


TCD five finger nutrition at a glance
Five finger nutrition at a glance

Health benefits

The fruits and leaves of five finger have been used for many years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat several ailments ranging from hangovers, to nerve pain (neuralgia).


Within recent times, research has shown that the five finger fruit itself and its extracts have medicinal-like benefits due to its high fiber content and other plant compounds.


Keep in mind, however, that most of this research were performed either in animals or in test tubes, and that human research is lacking.


Here are some of its potential benefits:

  • Lower blood sugar

  • Lower blood cholesterol

  • Lower inflammation

  • May protect against cancerous tumors

  • May protect heart- and liver-health


Risks

Although five finger is a budding functional food, it poses risks to persons living with kidney disease, the elderly or persons who are dehydrated.


A literature review of 123 participants — 94 of which already had kidney disease — found that consuming "excessive" amounts of five finger led to further kidney damage and nerve damage.


This is because five finger contains oxalate which, in large amounts, compromises kidney health, as well as the toxin caramboxin which can damage the nerves.


It was not clear in this and other studies how much five finger or its juice has to be consumed to cause these effects, but it is safer for persons with kidney disease to avoid this fruit altogether.


Also, check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine if this fruit is safe to eat while taking some prescription medications.


Purchasing & Storage

When purchasing, inspect that the surroundings of the vendor are clean and well-lit, and that the fruit is free of holes and other damage that may pose a health risk.


Wash the fruit only when you're ready to eat it, to remove any loose dirt or insects.


To store, you can leave the five finger on your counter-top for several days, or sealed in a plastic bag and refrigerated for 1-2 weeks.


You can slice the fruit, freeze the slices on a tray and then store in a sealed container in the freezer for easy use later on (hint: add to a smoothie).


Takeaway

Five finger (carambola or star fruit) is a nutritious, low calorie and high fiber fruit with many potential health benefits for humans. It's a functional food in its own rights.


However, please avoid this fruit (juices and extracts/supplements included) if you have kidney disease or are taking some prescription medications.



 

The Caribbean Market is a blog that highlights the nutritional facts and health benefits of fruits and vegetables commonly found in the Caribbean, with the goals of improving knowledge, promoting local eating and instilling pride and ownership among the diaspora.


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