November 27, 2011

White Sapote: Unique and Delicious

Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical Fruit

As published in the Miami Herald

If you’re looking for a fruit tree that produces something a little different but does well here, the white sapote, unique and delicious, is a good candidate. 

White sapote (Casimiroa edulis) is a relative of citrus, sometimes called “custard apple” because of the smooth texture of its flesh. Originally from central Mexico, it is well adapted to the South Florida climate. 

The white sapote is a smooth -skinned fruit with a shape similar to a Granny Smith apple. The pulp is pleasantly flavored with hints of banana and peach. Some even say it is reminiscent of caramel. The fruit is highly nutritious, rich in vitamins A and C. 

The flesh of a white sapote.

Sapotes can be eaten alone or combined with other fresh fruits in salads. I particularly like to eat it with a spoon, since the gorgeous golden flesh is as soft and delicate as any mousse. Remove the skin before eating it, since it has a bitter flavor. 

The fruit can be dried or used for jellies, sherbets or pies. When I asked others how they use this fruit, some said that there is nothing as delicious as white sapote ice cream. 

The white sapote spreads into a beautiful medium-sized evergreen tree and makes a great addition to any South Florida landscape. The harvest season depends on the variety, but is generally during the spring and summer and may even extend through November. 

Although the white sapote can be easily grown from seed, it is not recommended as the fruit from a seedling is almost always inferior to that of a named, grafted variety. Good grafted Floridian selections are available in local nurseries and can start bearing in three to four years. 

The white sapote prefers soils that drain well but will tolerate almost any type of soil. The tree should be fertilized three times a year (March, July, and September), with an 8-3-9 or other fruit tree formulation. 

Annual pruning will produce trees at a manageable height and provide ready access to the fruit. As the branches elongate, some pruning is done to induce lateral growth. Many white sapote trees have received little or no care and yet have been long-lived. Mature and already established trees are drought-resistant; and they have been known to thrive in vacant lots. Trees will do best, however, when watered on a regular basis during dry season. A mature white sapote tree will also tolerate more cold than even an avocado tree, making it a particularly resilient choice for your backyard. 

White sapote on the tree.

White sapotes can vary in color from dark green to bright yellow at maturity, an important measure of when to harvest. When the fruit is ripe enough to eat, it will separate easily from the tree and the stem will come off very easily. If the fruit is allowed to become overripe, it quickly becomes unpleasant. It is important to keep the fruit at room temperature. Don’t leave multiple fruits in a pile; they get soft when ripe and the fruit is highly susceptible to bruising. Overripe fruit can also become bitter. 

It is best to pick white sapote a few weeks before they are fully ripe. Most of the time, they will develop good flavor even when they ripen off the tree. Not every cultivar’s fruit will though; the Pike variety doesn’t develop its flavor well when picked early. 

The white sapote is the model of efficiency for the modern homeowner. Managing the tree requires a minimum amount of work, allowing for a maximum amount of time to enjoy the fruit of one’s labors. It may take a little more time to find a good selection, but the reward is indeed substantial. Find one, plant it and enjoy!