by Alex Norelli—
Sapote are an exceptionally imaginative group of fruit, especially since their complex sweet and colorful interiors are often hidden behind a deceptive epidermis. Like weather-beaten treasure chests holding pirate’s booty, sapote promise a treat for those who dig inside. While all sapote are not directly related, they do share the overarching characteristic of having delicious flesh hidden beneath a callous exterior, and have their origins in Central America. When I first encountered them at a farmer’s market in southern Florida they were seriously upstaged by bundles of fiery orange carrots, heady plumes of crisp emerald lettuces, and celestial mounds of golden star fruit. But next to such visible palates of color, they came to stand out for not immediately catching my eye.
When it comes to an apple, peach, or pear I feel like they look as good as they taste—though sometimes they do taste better, i.e. Bosc pears. However, it is only once sapote are halved to expose a ripe custardy flesh that they exemplify the saying: “Its what’s inside that counts.” Their flavors are evocative and expansive, to the point where each new tasting evokes new descriptors for the flavor. And while the fruit of this group are most often eaten as desserts, they are not merely chosen as a healthy alternative to ice cream or flan—They are good enough on their own, with just the right level of sweetness that serving them for dessert will not be met with a shrug of lost indulgence.
What follows are four sapote that happen to be available now in Southern Florida, Central America, though rarely, if ever, in a store near you.
Black Sapote, the dark delicacy
The Black Sapote is an intriguing fruit, on the tree it looks like a very under-ripe persimmon, green and hard as a melon to touch. That is, before it has been picked green and allowed to cure, ripening until it looks a couple days from outright rotten. It’s then that it’s at its edible zenith: before then, just as with the related persimmons, the flavor is a tongue-puckering astringent.
Maybe it’s this over-ripened appearance that keeps it from being more well known outside of Florida and Central America. Once you do eventually try one, tasting the dark buttery flesh—a malty sweetness not far from molasses, not far from chocolate—will expand into an ethereal realm where you try and grasp for other ways to explain this bewitching fruit (note: to me all fruits are bewitching, but this one especially). Coincidentally it is also know as ‘the chocolate pudding fruit’ and from the first bite you will taste the reasoning. The pulp of this fruit, if blended and presented as chocolate pudding, would fool more than a handful of people.
Additionally, for locavores this fruit may satisfy your urge for chocolate without coming from another continent. Vegans should take note of black sapote because it is a chocolate pudding alternative with very little processing needed. While most of the recipes I’ve uncovered for it have revolved around milkshakes and desserts, I have begun thinking of other applications. It could be spread on toast, like an apple butter, or made into muffins or bread. Now that I think of it, this fruit tastes a lot like Shoe-Fly Pie, and I’m tempted to make a black sapote pie using my pumpkin pie recipe and see how the maltiness interacts with the nutmeg, clove and ginger. And I bet with the addition of certain spices you could have a delicious molé of sorts.
Of the four sapote here described, this one is by far the most outwardly appealing. Its yellow is as familiar as that of a New York City Taxi cab, however its texture is far more foreign—when it comes to fruit anyway. The first bite is floral, almost like a zucchini flower while the texture is like that of a hardboiled egg yolk.
But where as you might ditch a yolk to avoid the cholesterol, this yellow you savor. Its dry sweetness spirals through the senses, and of all the sapote here described, this is by far the most indescribable in flavor. Reminiscent of acorn squash or pumpkin pie, similarly loaded with vitamin A, this fruit is as much a dessert for its flavor as its color. This would be a great substitute for pumpkin in a pie recipe and because of its natural sweetness you could cut back on any added sugar.
Originally this little fruit, similar looking, though less fuzzy than a kiwi, was harvested for a different thing, its sap. If you scratch the unripened fruit it will ooze driblets of gummy white that becomes increasingly tacky when exposed to air. The name of this is chiclé and it was used in the first chewing gums, like Chiclets. Even now some chewing gums still use this natural latex, as opposed to the vinyl of manufactured gum.
The fruit itself is the smallest of this sapote quartet, looking something like a russeted goose egg. Its flavor is of a pear steeped in the maltiness of sugar-cane, with a roasted nut aftertaste.
This one is quite something, and if you are a fan of sweet potato, pumpkin or papaya you will find this insatiable. Though if it were a beauty contest, mamey would certainly have only its hidden talents going for it. About as rough looking as elephant skin, anywhere from oval to oblong, this fruit is about as visually unfruitlike as they come. It looks more like a stone pestle or muddy potato.
Yet if you cut it longwise and carefully ply the two halves, you will see a large glossy almond-shaped seed of sculptural elegance surrounded by blushing glossy flesh the color of clouds burnt orange by the setting sun. This color tells you it is rich in vitamins and flavor, and its flavor tells you you’ve made the right choice. This fruit has enough firmness that it can be cubed and add it to a fruit salad, and similar to papaya, it tastes awesome when doused in lime.
These fruit truly are reminders to not judge a fruit by its cover. Similarly, how many fruit—from cantaloupes to figs, avocados to squashes in general—prove that digging deeper is sweeter than mulling about the outside?
Feel free to post sapote recipes for this quartet of curious fruit.