Real Food Encyclopedia | Black Sapote
Though its name would suggest it’s related to the white and mamey sapote, the black sapote is actually a close cousin to persimmon. Much like some persimmon varieties, the fruit is hard and extremely bitter until it is very ripe. Once it’s ripe, however, the flesh of the black sapote is creamy and deep brown, leading some to call it the chocolate pudding fruit. But in spite of this popular name, the flavor of fruit is more similar to honey and molasses.
The fruit is native to Central America, where it was widely grown by the Aztecs and other Indigenous peoples before being spread abroad.
Fun Facts about Black Sapote:
- Like its cousin the persimmon, the black sapote can be dioecious, meaning some trees only produce male, while other trees have female flowers and fruit.
- While the ripe fruit is safe to eat and nutritious, very unripe fruit is so bitter and caustic that it is sometimes used as a fish poison in the Philippines.
What to Look for When Buying Black Sapote
Because ripe black sapote is so delicate, the fruit is almost never found in US supermarkets. Where it is available, it is often sold slightly underripe. Fruits start out green and firm and turn black and mushy as they ripen. While a perfectly ripe sapote may look a little past its prime — with soft spots and darker areas — avoid fruit with broken skin.
Much like the persimmon, black sapote is extremely astringent when unripe, leaving the mouth with a dry, “puckered” feeling.
Sustainability of Black Sapote
Some growers may lightly fertilize their trees, but because the fruit is often grown causally in backyards, this isn’t always the case. The tree suffers from few insect pests, so insecticides and other pesticides are not a concern for black sapote.
While its season depends on where it is grown, black sapote is typically available in the winter months through the early spring.
The tree is native to tropical areas of Mexico, and was spread more widely around Central America by the Maya and Aztecs. Spanish colonists took the fruit from Mexico to the Pacific, popularizing it in parts of Indonesia and the Philippines. Today black sapote is grown in these areas, as well as parts of the Caribbean. Because it needs a truly tropical climate to thrive, the fruit is only grown on a very limited scale in the US — Puerto Rico, Hawai’i and Southern Florida are the only areas where the fruit is grown and available at farmers’ markets.
Eating Black Sapote
Scoop out the flesh, avoiding the skin and seeds.
Fruits are often picked and shipped when they are still firm and will need to ripen for several days at room temperature before being eaten. The ripe fruit is extremely soft and delicate, so it should be consumed as quickly as possible, though it can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.
The black sapote is delicious eaten fresh, but because of its soft texture and mellow flavor, it also goes well in many desserts. In baked goods, it can often replace bananas, as in banana bread. It also freezes well, making a rich, deeply flavored sorbet. In Mexico, the flesh is often mixed with orange juice and enjoyed as a cold drink or popsicle.
The ripe fruit can be pureed and frozen as a pulp that will keep for several months in the freezer.
Black sapote is very high in vitamin C — it has about three times as much per serving as an orange. The fruit is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus and fiber.
Top photo by eqroy/Adobe Stock