Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Brooks Tropicals' starfruit showing good quality

Excerpts from 1/14/08 article in the Produce News by Christina DiMartino

"Brooks Tropicals has grown starfruit on its 100 acres of groves on Pine Island, near Ft. Meyers, on the west coast of Florida, since the 1960s," said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for the Homestead, FL-based company. "The soil and climate are perfect for producing the highest-quality fruit. Starfruit are tart, but some are less tart than others, and these are the sweetest grown anywhere."

Brooks' starfruit (also known as Carambola) is harvested from January through March, and again from June through December, with a slight lull in the summer. Ms. Ostlund said that the crop is currently at its peak.

"We will peak at 70,000 pounds towards the end of January and early February, she said. "To grow starfruit, we replicate the teak forests in Indonesia where the fruit is indigenous. We do that with windscreens and shade houses. The acidic soil on PIne Island is a perfect environment to accomplish this."

Ms. Ostlund said that starfruit requires picking by hand because it is too delicate to be picked by machinery. The fruit grows on trees, usually in clusters of three to four or more. It also has a beautiful flowering blossom.
Many consumers see starfruit as a sort of paradox. Sliced, it is one of the more attractive fruits in the world, but the tartness often causes confusion on how to use it. Ms. Ostlund said that retail demonstrations are a perfect way to educate people on the delicious flavor, especially of starfruit with high sugar content.
"Demos are particularly great for children," she said. "Once they taste a starfruit, they generally exclaim how surprisingly delicious it is. There is a misconception among consumers on on how to use them, and demos help to clarify this issue as well. The skin is edible, which makes it an easy-to-sample product. We suggest the edges be removed from the star with a carrot peeler, and then slice the fruit into beautiful slices."
Starfruit are great simply sliced and eaten as a snack, and they add beauty and flavor to salads, fruit platters and even fish, poultry and meat entrees. The citrus-like flavor complements all types of protein, and the fruit is also used to make jams, jellies and sauces.
"They also make great salsas," said Ms. Ostlund. "Starfruit salsa with papaya or mango is especially delicious. Starfruit are very firm, so they retain their texture and shape. They have a great shelf life of up to two weeks when refrigerated and should be consumed within a few days once they've yellowed."
Most of Brooks Tropicals' starfruit are sold to retailers across the US and Canad under the "Brooks Tropicals" label. Ms. Ostlund said that the Food Network has helped to open American consumers' minds about the product. Network chefs have used it for a number of dishes, and in the process they have demonstrated how easy starfruit is to cut and eat.
"Starfruit is extremely popular with Asians because it is also indigenous to many areas of that part of the world," said Ms. Ostlund. Because it is also a tropical fruit, it is equally popular with Latinos. But Americans of all cultures have taken to starfruit. The attraction usually begins with the fruit's appearance, but the flavor makes it a household favorite."
Brooks Tropicals' current starfruit crop has a very fragrant, flowery accent to the taste due to the good growing conditions this year. Rain levels in this area of Florida have been good, and the Florida sun has brought out the sugar content.
"We have also found the right way to grow starfruit," said Ms. Ostlund. "It takes the right soil and weather, but it also requires the right fertilizer treatment, irrigation and care. It's the combination of all these things that results in a great crop. And this year we have extremely good volume."
Brooks Tropicals' starfruit are packed in sectioned 16-,20-, 25- or 30-count boxes, and retailers typically sell the fruit in bulk form.