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Sapodilla
 
Sapodilla or the Manilkara Zapota is an ever green tree, which is long living and is native to the new world tropics. Though it is a native of Mexico, it was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish Colonists. It is known by the name of chikoo or chiku, or chickoo in India. South Asia and Pakistan. An average Sapodilla tree grows to about 30-40m in height. The bark of the tree contains a white gummy latex called the chicle.

The sapodilla trees bear fruit twice a year, thour they flower all year round. The fruit, which grows has a brown skin, resembling a potato. It grows to about 4-8 cm in diameter, and may contain 2-10 seeds. Sapodilla has a high latex content, and does not ripen until picked. It is extremely sweet to taste, and tastes very much like cotton candy or caramel and has a grainy texture.
 
Origin

Researchers trace the origin of the fruit to Yucatan and also to the southern parts of Mexico, northern Belize and north eastern Guatemala. It is believed that the sapodilla trees were cultivated throughout Central America in the ancient times. Chickoo, as it is popularly referred to was introduced long ago throughout tropical America, West Indies, the bahamas, bermuda, Florida Mainland, etc. In the colonial times, the fruit was taken to the Philippines and later spread to the old world tropics.

Sapodilla is cultivated most extensively in the coastal regions of Gujrat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chennai, Bengal states, etc. The chickoo plantations in India cover an area of about 4,942 acres, whereas in Mexico 3,733.5 acres of land is under chickoo cultivation.

Varieties of Sapodilla

As chikoos/sapodillas grow in abundance in India, therefore the maximum number of varieties can be accredited to the country. Some of the most commonly grown varieties include:
  • Brown Sugar: Introduced in the year 1948, the fruit is medium small and is 2-2.5 inches long. The tree bearing this variety is tall and bushy. The fruit is granular, sweet, juicy and extremely fragrant
  • Prolific: Introduced in 1951, it is a round conical fruit with a scruffy brown skin. The flesh has a pinkish tan and is mildly fragrant. It is sweet, juicy and extremely delicious to taste. The tree bearing this variety bears fruits early, consistently and heavily
  • Russel: The russel variety was introduced in the year 1935. It is a large, almost round fruit, which ranges from around 3 to 5 inches in diameter and length. It is a mildly fragrant variety, has a granular texture and is flavour rich and sweet
  • Tikal: This variety of sapodilla is elieptical in shape, light brown in colour and is often smaller than the prolific variety. The tikal variety ripens early and has an excellent flavour.
 

Growing Sapodilla Trees
The sapodilla plant grows extremely well in a warm and sunny location, which is frost free. These trees are extremely tolerant to wind and can withstand a salt spray. There is no particular soil, in which they grow well, as they are well adapted to almost all types of soils. Though, a good drainage is very essential for growing sapodillas. These trees can withstand dry weather and can go without water for a considerably long period of time but well watered trees are high on productivity.

The new sapling requires frequent doses of fertilizers to strongly establish itself. Fertilizers containing 6-8% nitrogen, 2-4% available phosphoric acid and 6-8% potash are ideal for the plant. In the initial years, the ferilizers need to be added every 2-4 months, whereas, in the later years, 2 to 3 applications per year prove to be sufficient. The sapodilla trees require very little pruning. It is beneficial to protect them from frost.

Due to the high latex content present in them, it is hard to tell when the fruit is ready to pick. The best way to know if the fruit is ready to harvest is to see when the fruit separates easily from the stem and when no latex flows when plucked. The latex obtained from the plant, has been used since time immemorial as a base for chewing gums.

 

Food Uses

  • A dessert fruit, ripe sapodillas can be cut into half and served chilled. The flesh can be scooped out from the skin, which is not eaten. The seeds too need to be scooped out before the fruit is consumed
  • The flesh of the fruit can also be added to fresh salads to give them a great taste and flavour
  • A wonderful dessert sauce can be made from sapodillas. The flesh is removed from the skin and the seeds removed, then the flesh is blended with orange juice to form a smooth sauce. Then whipped cream is added as a topping and served chilled
  • Flesh of spaodilla is added to the custard batter mix, before baking it, in order to give it a distinct flavour
  • It was long believed that chickoo could neither be cooked, nor could be preserved, but in many countries like Indonesia and Malaya, it is fried and sometimes stewed with lime juice and ginger. In the Bahamas, the ripe fruits are cut, strained, boiled and then preserved as a syrup
  • Sapodilla pie, was the invention of a lady in Florida, which became an instant hit. She cut the sapodilla into apple like pieces and placed them on the lower crust of the pie, she then sprinkled lime juice and sugar to prevent the chickoo pieces from becoming rubbery
  • A man in Trinidad was more adventurous and made wine out of the fruit
  • Young and leafy shoots of the sapodilla plant are eaten raw or steamed with rice in Indonesia, after getting rid of the sticky sap.
 
Effectively Storing Sapodilla
The hard and mature sapodillas ripen within 9 - 10 days and rot in two weeks, if kept at normal summer temperature and relative humidity. If stored in extremely low temperature, it seriously hampers the ripening of the fruit and results in lower quality of fruit. Low relative humidity causes the fruit to wrinkle and shrivel up and extreme humidity causes sogginess. Sapodillas can be stored for long, if they are kept under proper conditions, under controlled atmosphere. They may be kept for many days in the refrigerator. At a temperature of 35 degree F, they can be kept for as long as six weeks.

Health Benefits
  • The fruit has a high tanning content, so the raw fruit is boiled and the decoction is consumed, in order to stop diarrhea
  • A mixture of sapodilla fruit and flowers is consumed to prevent and get relief from any pulmonarycomplaints
  • A decoction made from old yellow leaves is taken to prevent cold, cough and diarrhea
  • A special tea prepared from the bark of the tree, which is beneficial to provide relief from diarrhea and dysentry
  • The latex derived from the tree is used to fill tooth cavities in the tropics