Flavors of Brazil has posted an article in our long-running but sporadic series on the fruits of Brazil. If readers of the blog have been thinking that the lack of new entries meant that the blog had covered all the fruits eaten in this country, rest assured that we've only just begun to work our way through the hundreds of Brazilians fruits. There are still many that are untasted and unreported, so keep tuned.
Many of Brazil's typical fruits are as beautiful as they are delicious - fruits like carambola (star fruit) or pitaia (dragon fruit) are showy and exotic. A few are downright ugly, like the homely ata or fruita-do-conde (custard apple). But the fruit called sapoti (sa-po-TCHEE) in Portuguese and Spanish-derived sapodilla in English is a real plain Jane - not gorgeous nor hideous, it's just anonymous and rather boring. A fist-sized ball of mousy brown or light chestnut, the outside of the sapoti is unassuming and a bit dull, kind of like a smooth potato or a larger kiwi fruit - it doesn't "sell" itself like many other fruits do (for perfectly logical botanical reasons). If one of the objects of a fruit is to aid plant reproduction by encouraging animals to eat the fruit and thus spread the seeds, it's a miracle that the sapoti has survived for millions of years. But it has, very successfully.
If the outside of the fruit isn't anything special, the inside certainly is, in visual appeal, in aroma and in taste. The flesh is a lovely muted orange with a grainy texture, sort of like a pear. The flesh encloses the fruit's seeds, which number from two to five, and which have a hook at one end that can catch in the throat if one isn't careful. The fruit has a high sugar content and is exceptionally sweet. Some people claim that the taste is malty or resembles caramel or brown sugar. When the fruit is unripe, its high tannin content gives sapoti a sharp astringent quality which dries out the mouth. In Brazil, sapoti is normally eaten fresh, although it is also processed into jam, juice, ice cream and syrup.
The sapodilla tree (sapotizeiro) is native to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, although it spread throughout tropical America and the Caribbean long before the arrival of Europeans. However, its spread to other tropical zones of the world, particularly India, Malaysia and Indonesia, did come about through the agency of European colonizers. Today, the world center of sapodilla cultivation is India.
The sapodilla tree is extensively cultivated not only for the fruit that it bears, but also for the white-gummy latex found in its bark. This rubbery latex is called chicle, and it was the original base material for chewing gum, although natural chicle is now frequently replaced by manufactured substitutes.
Sapoti can grow anywhere in the tropics, but in Brazil it is associated mostly with the northeastern region of the country. Sapoti is often sold by street vendors in cities of the northeast, even at street crossings during red lights. Taken home, chilled for an hour or two, cut open and peeled, a wedge or two of sapoti is refreshing and energizing. Just one more reason why Brazil's one of the world's paradises for fruit lovers.