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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sapodilla - One of a Kind!!!

The sapodilla tree is found in tropical rain forests of southern Mexico, Belize and northeastern Guatemala. It also grows in the West Indies and the Old World tropics, where it was introduced for cultivation centuries ago.

Significance to Humans:

The sapodilla tree supplies the building blocks for a number of products utilized by humans. Long ago, the Mayas and Aztecs would boil its ‘chicle’ sap, mold it into thick blocks and cut them into small pieces to chew. They were making the first chewing gum!

 In 1866, former Mexican president General Santa Anna brought a sample of chicle sap to a New York businessman named Thomas Adams. Adams decided to mix sugar with the chicle, creating a new kind of chewing gum. Producing chicle is a labor-intensive process. 

A worker, called a chiclero, must hand harvest the sap from individual trees by climbing up to 50 feet in order to make zigzag cuts down the tree, which releases the sap that is then collected in containers. The sapodilla is also prized for its fruit, considered one of the best fruits in Central America. It can be eaten raw or made into jam, custard, ice cream and sherbet. The fruit and leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhea, coughs and colds. The sapodilla wood is a deep red color, strong and durable -- it was used for lintels and beams in Maya temples, which remain intact among the ruins of the Maya buildings. Today, the timber is used for railway crossties, floorings, tool handles, furniture and cabinets.

Did You Know?

Natural chicle chewing gum represents a very small portion of the chewing gum market, because of its labor intensive collection. Instead, most chewing gums are derived from other natural latex, or are made with petroleum-based synthetic gum. In Mexico, it is illegal to harvest the sapodilla tree because of its value as a chicle source. In 1999, the Rainforest Alliance certified chicle production in the Yucatán as its first non-timber forest product, helping to relieve pressure on forests while still allowing the local people to earn a living.

The tree grows very fast and is wind and drought resistant suitable for dry arid regions with scanty rains. However, irrigation during summer season results in good fruit yield.
Each fruit is a berry, round or oval, measures about 10 cm in diameter, and weigh about 150 g. A tree bears as many as 2000 fruits/year.

Sapota fruit is brown in color with sandy “potato like” outer surface. Internally, the pulp is white with sticky latex called as saponin in unripe fruits. Latex disappears once the fruit ripens and the pulp turns to brown color. Pulp is deliciously sweet with smooth or grainy texture and contains 3-10 black colored smooth, shiny “bean” shaped inedible seeds in the center.

Sapodillas are available all around the season in the markets. Harvesting is usually done by plucking each fruit gently as in mango. It is often difficult to tell when a sapodilla is ready to harvest. Mature fruit appears brown and easily separates from the stem without leaking of the latex. Scratch the fruit to make sure the skin is not green beneath the scurf.

Health benefits of sapodilla

Sapodilla is rich in dietary fiber (5.6 g/100g), which makes it a good bulk laxative. The fiber content helps relieve constipation episodes and helps protect the mucous membrane of the colon from cancer causing toxins by firmly binding to them.

The fruit is rich in antioxidant poly-phenolic compound tannin. Tannins are a complex family of naturally occurring polyphenols that neutralize acids by precipitating proteins. Research studies found that tannins have shown to have potential anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-bacterial, and anti-parasitic effects. Hence, these compounds have many useful medicinal applications such as anti-diarrheal, hemostatic (stops bleeding) and as a remedy for hemorrhoids.

Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory effect of tannins help limit conditions like erosive gastritis, reflux-esophagitis, enteritis, and irritating bowel disorders. Some other fruits that are rich in tannins include pomegranate, persimmon, grapes..etc.

Sapote contains good amount of antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C (24.5% of recommended daily intake per 100 g of fruit) and vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin A has been known to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers. So also, consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful free radicals.

Fresh ripen sapodilla are good source of minerals like potassium, copper, iron and vitamins like folate, niacin and pantothenic acid. These compounds are essential for optimal health as they involve in various metabolic processes in the body as cofactors for the enzymes.

This is how I eat sapodilla when it turns soft or ripe. I would cut the fruit into two equal halves, then scoop the flesh using a spoon and discard the seeds. This fruit should be enjoyed without any additions in order to experience its unique flavor.

Here are some serving tips:
  • Fresh fruit sections are a great addition to fruit salads.

  • Sapodilla-milk shake is a favorite drink in Asia.

  • It is also used in ice creams, cakes, pies...etc
Pictures on making chewing gums on this post are from the 

For more information on sapodilla:

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