Russell Fransham tempts us to grow and eat this chocolate delight.
Despite its sweet, creamy taste, the black sapote is low in fats and sugars, and high in vitamin C and A, making it a perfect dessert fruit.
A beautiful, tropical fruit tree from Mexico and Central America, the black sapote is really a persimmon and is also known as the chocolate pudding fruit and the black apple. Its many relatives include the ebony tree, famous for its beautiful timber.
The word ‘sapote’ stems from ‘tzapotl’, a word in the Nahuatl language that describes a soft, edible fruit. It appears in the names of several trees in Central and South America and it applies to various unrelated edible fruits, the way we use the word ‘apple’ for custard apples, monkey apples, pineapples, etc.
The black sapote (Diospyros digyna) is no relation to the white sapote (Casimiroa edulis) nor the mamey sapote (Pouteria sapote) and the yellow sapote (Pouteria campechiana). Most confusing.
The chocolate pudding fruit is a strange khaki green, with brownish hints, and the flesh is dark-brown to black, with creamy texture and mildly sweet flavour. It looks a bit like chocolate mousse, although our cool climate doesn’t really bring out the chocolate flavour that has made them famous in the tropics. But they are very pleasant-tasting nonetheless. I like to sharpen up the flavour with a squeeze of orange juice or a dash of brandy, and fold a bit of whipped cream into the almost-black pureed goo, so it is streaked white. It is grown commercially in many countries, including Australia, as an ingredient in ice creams, yoghurt and popular desserts.
The good news is that the black sapote grows here in the north of the country and will fruit quite well if kept warm and sheltered. It is a very handsome, small evergreen tree in New Zealand, with glossy dark-green leaves (although in the tropics it is a much larger tree that looks like a mature avocado). They seem to be tolerant of light frosts and not fussy about soils, so are well worth a try out in Northland, Auckland and Bay of Plenty.
My own 15-year-old specimen came from seed I collected in a black sapote orchard near Kuranda above Cairns. It fruits off and on all year; there seems to be no clear cut season here. The fruits, which ripen in winter, are disappointingly flavourless, but the long, warm days of summer and autumn bring the flavour out much more.
It needs light, loamy soil, the same conditions as citrus, with steady moisture all year and regular feeding and mulching. My tree produces only female flowers, and without pollination it still produces lots of fruit, which are seedless. The black sapote can produce male and female flowers on the same tree and many produce perfect flowers that have male and female parts. Where pollen is available, the fruit contain typical flat, glossy persimmon seeds, between 2 and 10 per fruit, though these seeded fruit are often larger than the seedless ones.
For those of us in the north, creating our own food forests at home or at our local schools, this unusual tree can be another intriguing addition to the collection.