Snake fruit, or as it’s known in Thai “salak”, like durian, and many other tropical fruits, is a naturally-occurring specialty of Southeast Asia. Salak is also known as snake fruit because of its reddish-brown scaly rough skin, which bears much resemblance to reptilian skin. It’s extremely well-known in the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. The fruit is around
the shape and size of a fig, along with a distinctive tip.
Salak (Salacca zalacca) is a species of palm tree (family Arecaceae) native to Java and Sumatra, and today is populated all over in Southern Thailand. The salak palm tree is a very short-stemmed palm with leaves up to six metres long; each leaf has a two-metre long stalk with spines up to 15 centimetres long, and numerous leaflets.
The fruit sprouts off at the base of the palm in little clusters. Most varieties of snake fruit have dark brown skin when mature and have a bulbous appearance that tapers to a point at one end. It can be easily peeled off by breaking the tip, and beneath the skin lies off-white to cream-coloured juicy lobes. Visually, it is somewhat identical to large peeled cloves of garlic with dark brown, hard, inedible seeds. Some varieties are drier and have a flaky consistency while some snake fruit are moist and juicy.
Although the outside of the fruit is scaly like a snake and prickly like a cactus, but the inside is sweeter than honey, sour like a pineapple and incredibly juicy when it ripe. The taste is usually sweet with a slightly acidic and interestingly with an apple-like texture – crunchy, juicy and dry.
Salak can be either sweet or sour, depending on the various species. Some species of salak would taste better than others so try them all if you have a chance.
Thais enjoy salak dipped in a mixture of sugar and salt, but you get more out of it without the extra seasoning. Snake fruit contains numerous nutrients such as vitamin C, proteins, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, calcium, phosphorus, iron, beta-carotene, and thiamine that are healthy supplements. You probably don’t find it at typical fruit trucks but a fruit stand along the road, supermarkets or local fresh markets are stock it in plenty when it is in season.