Health Benefits of Snake Fruit

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 08, 2022
4 min read

The word “snake” is usually used with a negative connotation whether it describes the actual reptile or the actions of a dishonest person, so it is strange to think that someone would affiliate the word with something sweet and edible like a fruit. However, snake fruit is popular in several areas of the world, and its taste and benefits are gaining recognition. 

It is also known as salak or salacca, and as its availability increases, you may want to explore the nutrition, taste, and health benefits of this odd-sounding and odd-looking fruit. 

Salacca, or snake fruit, belongs to the Palmae family or is an Arecaceae plant that is native to the Indonesian/Malaysian region. These trees are grown for their clustered fruit found at the tree base. The fruit has a scaly, red exterior and therefore received its name: snake fruit. The fruit is about the size of a fig and, once peeled, it looks like a large garlic clove. Beneath the snake-looking skin are three lobes of yellow or white pulp with flat, hard, dark brown seeds inside. 

Snake fruit, scientifically classified as Salacca zalacca, is a species of fruit traditionally farmed in Indonesia and other Southeast countries in Asia. 

There are two popular snake fruit plants harvested in Indonesia: Salak sidempuan (Salacca sumatrana Becc.) and Salak pondoh (Salacca zalacca). After it is cultivated, the snake fruit will briefly continue to undergo metabolic processes. 

In fresh fruit, an important metabolic process is respiration. Carbon dioxide and moisture are produced during this process, and when too much is given off, that can decrease fruit quality. Snake fruit, however, does not rot as rapidly.

The texture of snake fruit is like an apple. The taste is slightly acidic. 

In the available market, there are three main breeds of salak. Gula pasir is the most popular and the most expensive. 

These fruits have inedible seeds. However, the surrounding flesh can be eaten and has an astringent, sweet flavor. The unique flavor makes snake fruit a well-liked addition to various dishes in the South Pacific and neighboring islands.

Salak is a good food to add to dishes for flavor, and it also has high nutritional value. The edible parts of the fruit have beneficial amounts of phenolic, flavonoid, and monoterpenoid mixtures that make it a great source of nutrients. This fruit also has high levels of:

  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Iron 
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamins A and C

A serving of salak only has good carbs, 82 calories, and 4% fat. It has a low impact on the overall caloric rate of your meal. It has properties that help with digestion, vision health, cognition, energy increases, blood sugar regulation, and weight loss. The flesh of the fruit has increased levels of polysaccharides like dietary fiber and pectin. That makes it a potential immunostimulatory aid, but these effects have not been reported via research.  

Studies have, however, shown that snake fruit does have beneficial effects on the body through activated macrophages. Snake fruit is a source of phenolic compounds and antioxidative properties associated with health benefits.

Energy boost: Studies show that salak stimulates metabolism and increases stamina. It boosts energy levels via the carbohydrates in the fruit which maintains energy levels throughout the day. 

Weight loss: Levels of dietary fiber are high in salak. This helps you to feel full and prevents overeating. The fiber also helps with digestion and cuts down on cramping, constipation, and bloating. 

Improved memory: Due to its levels of beta-carotene, pectin, and potassium, snake fruit can improve blood flow to the brain. This helps with cognition and memory. In some areas, salak is known as the memory fruit. It eliminates some levels of oxidative stress, which helps to lower the risk of degenerative diseases of the brain.

Vision protection: The antioxidant beta-carotene is found in snake fruit, and it directly benefits vision health. The levels in your diet can reduce the risk of progressive cataracts, and macular degeneration. 

Heart health benefits: Potassium levels in salak aid in the lowering of blood pressure. It reduces tension in the arteries and other blood vessels and decreases strain on the cardiovascular system. 

Heartburn relief: Traditionally, snake fruit has been used in native populations of Asia to relieve heartburn. 

Diabetes aid: An animal study by the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine showed that snake fruit prepared in vinegar has high levels of polyphenols that decreased blood glucose levels and improved lipid profiles.

Eating a snake fruit on its own can be strange due to its look and feel, but the proper preparation and eating of snake fruit can be easier than expected:

  • Step 1: Hold a fresh snake fruit and press your finger through the outer skin in a way similar to an orange peel.
  • Step 2: Completely pull the outer skin off, then remove the inedible seed that is in each lobe of the snake fruit. 
  • Step 3: Eat the fruit raw or add it to numerous other ingredients to make drinks, meals, and desserts. 

Salak can easily be made into an alcoholic drink that closely resembles grape-based wine. Though most times it is eaten fresh, it can be pickled, juiced, candied, canned, dried, fried into chips, and made into syrup. It is easily blended in pies and jams. It is a popular street food in Thailand. In Indonesia, it is used as an ingredient in rujak, which is a spicy vegetable and fruit salad.