Snake fruit (Salak) explained – Salacca Zalacca Information & Facts

Snake fruit, Salak,Salacca Zalacca

Snake Fruit – a weird, exotic, novel tasty fruit that you probably never heard of it, but if you have “100 lists of fruits you have to eat before you die”, then this fruit definitely is one of them.

It may not be looking attractive at first sight, but delicious fruits are not always attractive. I’m pretty sure most of you haven’t tried to eat Salak before, so in this article you will find out about;

What is snake fruit (Salacca zalacca)?

Salak or commonly known as snake fruit is a fruit plant that belongs to the species of Palm tree (family Arecaceae) with edible fruit.

The genus Salacca is known as “salak” in Bahasa, “snake fruit” in English, and “sala” in Thai. The common English name is snake fruit, but people in Indonesia call it Salak, maybe because of its scientific name (salacca).

The fruit has a rough and scaly skin that visually resembles a snake’s skin. It is native to Indonesia, supposedly comes from Java.

There are mainly three species cultivated by farmers; Salacca sumatrana in Padangsidempuan, Salacca zalacca in Java, Bali, Madura, Sulawesi, and Ambon and Salacca wallichiana in Thailand.

Based on several journals, snake fruit can be classified as follows:

Scientific Classification of Snake Fruit
KingdomPlantaeSub ClassArecidae
Sub KingdomTrachebiontaOrdoArecales
Super DivisionSpermatophytaFamilyArecaceae
DivisionMagnoliophytaGenusSalacca
ClassLiliopsidaSpeciesS. zalacca
Binomial Name of Snake Fruit
Salacca zalacca
(Gaertn.) Voss
Synonym of Snake Fruit
Calamus zalacca Gaertn.Salacca rumphii Wall.Calamus salakka Willd. ex Steud.Salacca zalacca var. amboinensis (Becc.) Mogea
Salacca edulis Reinw.Salacca blumeana Mart.Salacca edulis var. amboinensis Becc.

Parts of snake fruit plant

Snake fruit tree
Snake fruit tree

Snake fruit tree grows in clusters and can reach up to 7-meter height. It is a shrub palm with many spines on its leaves and stems.

Salak tree saplings
Saplings

At one to two year, the stem can grow sideways to form a number of shoots which will become saplings or flower buds.

Most snake fruit trees are dioecious, it individually produces male or female flowers. Meanwhile, for fruit production, you’ll need to have both male and female flowers.

Male snake fruit flower
Male flower

A group of male flowers consists of 4-12 panicles. One panicle has thousands of pollen. Overall male flower length is 15-35cm and the panicle is 7-15cm.

Female flower of salak
Female flower

A group of female flowers consists of 1-3 panicles. One panicle contains 10-20 ovaries. Overall flower length is 20-30cm and the panicle is 7-10cm.

Both male and female flowers will bloom for 1-3 days, after more than 3 days without cross-pollination it will wither.

Snake fruit leaves
Leaves

The leaves are arranged in a rosette and can reach up to 6-meters long.

Ripe snake fruit on its tree
Fruit

Salak fruit has a distinctive look and taste. You’ll know the it just by looking at the rounded bottom with the pointed tip on top, covered in scaly brown, black or even yellow skin.

So, what does snake fruit taste like?

But first: A quick backstory

Indonesia is rich with a variety of fruits, among others is the mysterious snake fruit. The origin isn’t clearly known, but one thing for sure, it is cultivated in Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia and is now flourish throughout South East Asia.

For the very first time when farmers cultivating the fruit isn’t known for sure. But, in Indonesia, Salak farming has been known since the Dutch colonial era (1800 BC).

Meanwhile, Salak plants are known in Europe since Clusius brought Salak Bali to Europe under the name Baly insulae fructus aspero cortice.

Then experts such as Gaertner gave the name Calamus zalacca in 1791. Followed by Willdenow that gave the name Calamus zalakka in 1799.

Later, in 1823 Blume listed these plants in Bogor Botanical Garden as Salakka edulis.

After that, in 1826 Reinwardt made a little description and established Salacca as a surname.

Followed by Voss that published a combination of the name Zalacca zalacca (Gaertn.) Voss in 1895.

Finally, in 1982 Mogea proposed a name by adopting what had been vowed by Voss and correcting his pronunciation to what is known today as Salacca zalacca (Gaertn.) Voss.

What does snake fruit taste like?

Take a couple of bites and a brown or black seed will show up. It tastes kind of sweet and sour, dry yet juicy, and a bit starchy. Simply a taste that you might never imagine before.

Nevertheless, in general, snake fruit has a crunchy apple-like texture with an intense aroma and sweet flavor. It has a flavor reminiscent of dilute pineapple and lemon juice. Some people even mentioning the sweetness of a ripe pear.

The following are the taste of several well-known cultivars that grow in Indonesia:

Salak Ambarawa

Salak Ambarawa is cultivated in Bejalen village, Ambarawa, Semarang, Central Java. There are two delicious varieties, Salak Nangka and Salak Petruk.

Salak Petruk has a slightly elongated shape with blackish brown pulp. It has a sweet taste and softer texture. Whereas Salak Nangka is round and contains more water. It is jackfruit-like sweet.

Salak Bali (Salacca zalacca var. amboinensis)

Salak Bali has a yellowish white pulp, so people in Bali also call it Salak Putih. The shape is round and small, it also has smaller seeds than the other cultivars. The tastes is crunchy and sweet.

Salak Bongkok

Salak Bongkok is cultivated in Bongkok village, Sumedang, West Java. When reaching maturity, the skin becomes shiny red. The fruit is thick and tastes sweet.

Salak Condet

Originating from Condet, Cililitan, Jakarta, this cultivar has become quite rare nowadays. In fact, this cultivar is almost extinct caused by the agricultural land that’s shrinking. It definitely needs to be conserved.

The size varies from small, medium to large. It has a brownish black skin and has rather large scales. The fruit isn’t juicy, and the seeds are large. It tastes sweet but sour.

Salak Hutan

This cultivar is widely cultivated in Bangkalan district, Madura. The fruit is round and has a various size, some are small and some are large.

It has a shiny reddish brown skin with large scales and a red tinge on its pulp. The taste is good, soft, and has quite a lot of water.

Salak Si Nase

This cultivar also grow in Bangkalan district, Madura. However, unlike Salak Hutan, Salak Si Nase is oval-shaped in medium size, with yellowish skin color. It has a strong aroma with a delicious taste.

Salak Padang Sidempuan (Salacca sumatrana)

First planted in 1930, the cultivar is originating from Sibakua and Hutalambung, South Tapanuli, North Sumatera.

The size varies from small to large. The pulp is thick and tastes sweet mixed with sour, runny, but almost tasteless. The skin is large and scaly with blackish brown color.

Salak Manonjaya

This cultivar is originated from Pasibatang and Cilangkap, Tasikmalaya, West Java.

It has the same size as Salak Padang Sidempuan, but different in taste. Salak Manonjaya is sweeter but isn’t dry. The pulp is quite thick and contains a lot of water.

Salak Pondoh (Salacca zalacca Gaertner Voss)

Salak Pondoh is the most preferred cultivar in Indonesia. In fact, it is stated as a superior fruit due to its advantages. Although it’s small in size, but it tastes sweet.

Salak Suwaru

As the name implies, this cultivar comes from the village of Suwaru, Gondanglegi, Malang, East Java. Some of the varieties include Salak Sari, Salak Dodi, Salak Damang, Salak S-10, Salak S-12, Salak S-II, Salak S-III, and Salak S-IV.

Among the cultivars mentioned above, Indonesia Ministry of Agriculture recommends Salak Pondoh and Salak Bali to be further developed. Since both of them has better quality than the other cultivars.

Apart from some insignificant details, I must say that snake fruit is quite diverse. In fact, it has 21 species and 30 known cultivars with various varieties.

Substantially, it creates unique characteristics that strongly relate to its geographical origin. Surprisingly, the same variety could bring up different taste or shape when planted in a different location.

Types of snake fruit – How many snake fruit cultivars, varieties and species are there?

There are many snake fruit cultivars spread throughout Indonesia but the most popular are Salak Pondoh (Salacca zalacca Gaertner Voss), Salak Padang Sidempuan (Salacca sumatrana) and Salak Bali (Salacca zalacca var. Amboinensis).

They are cultivated in a different area, not only are the species different, the fruit taste and size also varies. Nevertheless, most of them have a strong astringent and a sweet taste.

In general, there are approximately 30 known cultivars throughout Indonesia. Many are well-known and widely cultivated, including the following;

NumberCultivarsVarieties
1Salak AmbarawaSalak Nangka
Salak Petruk
2Salak Bading
3Salak BaliSalak Gula Pasir
Salak Getih
Salak Cengkeh
Salak Bingin
Salak Gondok
Salak Nanas
Salak Nangka
Salak Injin
Salak Ketan Hitam
Salak Gading
Salak Embadan
Salak Biji Putih
Salak Maong
Salak Penyalin
Salak Mesui
12Salak Bangkalan
4Salak Bongkok
5Salak Condet
6Salak Doyong
7Salak Furekang
8Salak Hadingayu
9Salak Hutan
10Salak Jawa
11Salak Kramat
13Salak Kuning
14Salak Madu
15Salak Manggada
16Salak Manonjaya
17Salak Padang Sidempuan
18Salak PondohSalak Pondoh Hitam
Salak Pondoh Kuning
Salak Pondoh Super
19Salak Sala
20Salak Saluman
21Salak Sari IntanSalak Sari Intan 295
Salak Sari Intan 48
Salak Sari Intan 541
22Salak Sari Tampan
23Salak Si Manggis
24Salak Sibakua
25Salak Sinase
26Salak Suwaru
Salak Sari
Salak Dodi
Salak Damang
Salak S-10
Salak S-12
Salak S-II
Salak S-III
Salak S-IV
27Salak Ukupeti
28Salak 454
29Salak 51
30Salak 557

The table above is the cultivars and its varieties of salak that grow in Indonesia, but as I said earlier, snake fruit is very diverse. Not only it has numerous cultivars and varieties, but it also has 21 species;

NumberSpecies namesDistribution area
1Salacca affinis Griff.
Sumatra, Malaysia, Borneo
2Salacca clemensiana Becc.
Philippines (Mindanao), Borneo
3Salacca dolicholepis Burr.
Sabah (Borneo)
4Salacca dransfieldiana Mogea
South Borneo, West Borneo
5Salacca flabellata Furt.
Malayan peninsula
6Salacca glabrescens Griff.
Thailand, Malayan peninsula
7Salacca graciliflora Mogea
Malayan peninsula (Johor)
8Salacca lophospata J. Drasf. & MogeaSabah (Borneo)
9Salacca magnifica Mogea
Sarawak (Borneo)
10Salacca minuta Mogea
Malayan paninsula (Johor)
11Salacca multiflora Mogea
Malayan paninsula (Trengganu)
12Salacca ramosiana mogea
Borneo, Philippines (Sulu island)
13Salacca rupicola J.Dransf
Sarawak (Borneo)
14Salacca sarawakensis Mogea
Sarawak (Borneo)
15Salacca secunda Griff.
Malaysia
16Salacca stolonifera Hodel
Thailand
17Salacca sumatrana Becc.
North Sumatra
18Salacca vermicularis Becc.
Borneo
19Salacca wallichiana Mart.
Myanmar, Thailnd, Malayan peninsula
20Salacca zalacca (Gaertn.) Voss
Java, Madura, Bali, North Sulawesi, Ambon
21Salacca zalacca var. amboinensis (Becc.) Mogea

Bali, North Sulawesi, Ambon

How much nutrients inside Snake fruit

Snake fruit is high in fiber content. It also packed with other nutrients as well, including protein, iron, sugar, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and various antioxidants.

The highest content inside a snake fruit is sucrose, then glucose and fructose. It has one of the highest antioxidant activities than the other types of tropical fruits, even higher than Mangosteen, Avocado, Oranges, Papaya, Mango, Kiwi, Pomelo, Lemon, Pineapple, Apple, Rambutan, Banana, Melon, and Watermelon.

Below you can see a table of nutrition content from Salak Pondoh cultivar as a sample.

The nutrient content of Salak Pondoh in every 100 grams is as follows:

NumberNutrient ContentProportion
1Calories
77 (cal)
2Protein0,40 (g)
3Carbohydrates
20,90 (g)
4Calcium28,00 (mg)
5Phosphorus18,00 (mg)
6Iron4,20 (mg)
7Vitamin B0,04 (mg)
8Vitamin C2,00 (mg)
9Water78,00 (mg)
10Edible parts50 %

Health benefits of Snake fruit

Not only delicious, but snake fruit also provides many health benefits. Therefore, many nutritionists recommend eating Salak on a daily basis or weekly basis.

However, there are certain health conditions that eating snake fruit is prohibited. Make sure to check out this article: Do not eat Snake fruit if you have these medical condition.

Below are the 7 main health benefits of Salak:

1. Maintain healthy heart and blood vessels

Fans of coffee and cigarettes? Well, I have a good news and a bad news for you.

The bad news is, you might be prone to cardiovascular disorders. The good news is, eating Salak at least once every day may help avoid cardiovascular.

The potassium content is proven to promote healthy blood vessel.

2. Improves the stamina

The content of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals is good for sustaining stamina. Eating Salak at least once every two days will help you to restore your stamina.

3. Balancing blood sugar levels

Salak contains pterostilbene which is very useful for reducing blood sugar.

4. Increase brain memory

Salak contains a lot of potassium and pectin. These substances is proven to improve memory skills, cognitive abilities, and it also helps to increase memory capacity.

5. Good for eyes health

The vitamin A and beta-carotene helps to maintain eye health. If you don’t like carrots or tomato, this fruit might be an alternative.

6. Good for intestines

Other beta-carotene substances available in salak are tannins, saponins, and flavonoids. These substances are good for our digestive system.

7. Good for a diet program

Salak contains a lot of antioxidants, fiber, calcium, and carbohydrates. These substances are highly recommended in a diet program.

Calcium and carbohydrate inside the fruit will give us enough energy to balance our food.

If you are interested to find out about how to lose weight with snake fruit you can check out my article here.

How to peel and eat Salak

Peeling snake fruit is not that simple, you might hurt your hand if you are doing it wrong.

Peeling one or two salak is easy and you can do it any way you want, but this fruit is quite addictive and you will abseloutly want more.

The scaly skin is spiky and sometimes sharp, moreover if you peel the younger fruit. There are basically several ways to peel salak, but the safest ways to peel is by pressing it with your fingers on both sides of the fruit.

You can eat salak straight off the tree, dried, pickled, fried, candied, made into syrup or made into coffee. We also ferment Salak gula pasir into a smooth salacca wine.

How to keep your Snake fruit fresh

To get the most out of it, you want the freshest snake fruit to enjoy. Buying snake fruit are one thing, but keeping them fresh is another thing. You surely don’t want to peel your fruit and find it rotten, do you?

Not all fruits can be stored in refrigerator. If you store it at the wrong temperature it can cause damage due to the coolness.

This tropical fruit is actually not too difficult to store. Room temperature is enough to store a snake fruit, you don’t need to put it on refrigerator.

Low temperature can actually lower its quality. Don’t store it in the freezer because it may reduce the quality.

Unlike Apples, Mangoes, or Watermelons, you don’t need to wrap it in plastic. Simply put them in a bowl or a container. But, to make it safer from being rotten, you can wrap it in a paper bag, then put it in a container.

How to grow a snake fruit tree

So now that you know what a snake fruit is, you might be wondering “how to grow snake fruit trees?”. Well, first thing first you need to have warm weather in your area.

The temperatures needs to average between 20°-30° Celcius. This plants also need an annual rainfall range of around 200-400 millimeters per month.

Snake fruit can adapt to various types of soil as long as it has a suitable structure.

Generally, the best soil pH necessary to plant snake fruit trees is around 6.0-7.0. However, it is still tolerant to a moderate acidity on the pH scale of 4.5-5.5 and at a soil pH of 7.5 – 8.5 or rather alkaline.

Altitudes over 2952.76 feet above sea level are detrimental, as the tree will not produce fruit in such height.

If you feel you meet the requirements above, then you may choose to grow snake fruit trees by using seed germination (generative) or grafting (vegetative) method.

Once the growing snake fruit trees gain leaves, they may be transplanted.

References & further reading

  1. Sitti Aralas, (2010) Antioxidant activity and nutritional composition of snake fruit [Salacca zalacca (Gaert.)Voss]. Masters thesis, Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
  2. Puspitasari et al, Characterizing quality of snake fruit (Salacca zalacca var. zalacca) based on Geographical Origin. Department of Agro-industrial Technology Fac. of Agricultural Technology Universitas Gadjah Mada
  3. Gari, Ni Made (2005) Studies on Bali salak cultivars (Salacca zalacca var. amboinensis)(Arecaceae). Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.
  4. Supriyadi et al, (2002). Changes in the Volatile Compounds and in the Chemical and Physical Properties of Snake Fruit (Salacca edulis Reinw) Cv. Pondoh during Maturation. J. Agric. Food Chem.
  5. Suica-Bunghez et al, (2006) Antioxidant activity and phytochemical compounds of snake fruit (Salacca Zalacca). National R&D Institute for Chemistry and Petrochemistry.
  6. Wijanarti et al, (2017) Immunostimulatory activity of snake fruit (Salacca edulis Reinw.) cultivar Pondoh Hitam extract on the activation of macrophages in vitro. Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
  7. Elok Zubaidah et al, (2017) The Effectiveness of Various Salacca Vinegars as Therapeutic Agent for Management of Hyperglycemia and Dyslipidemia on Diabetic Rats. Department of Food Science and Technology, Brawijaya University, Malang, Indonesia.
  8. Haruenkit R et al, (2007) Comparative study of health properties and nutritional value of durian, mangosteen, and snake fruit: experiments in vitro and in vivo. Faculty of Agricultural Industry and Department of Soil Science, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Ladkrabang, Bangkok, Thailand.