Real Food Encyclopedia | Mamey Sapote
Although it originated in Southern Mexico, the mamey sapote is beloved in tropical areas across the world, especially in the Caribbean. Eaten fresh, the orange-fleshed fruit has a taste that some compare to a brown sugar-covered sweet potato, with notes of pumpkin, caramel and cantaloupe. The fruit is equally delicious in juices, smoothies and milkshakes. Creative cooks can find a place for the fruit in tarts, pies and puddings as well.
While the fresh fruit is uncommon in most US supermarkets, its frozen pulp is usually available anywhere with a large Caribbean population. The fresh fruit is grown and readily available in South Florida thanks to its popularity with Cuban and Dominican immigrants.
Fun Facts about Mamey Sapote:
- The mamey sapote goes by many names across the world: mamey, zapote and zapote grande are common across Latin America, while it is called chico-mamey in the Philippines.
- An individual mamey fruit takes a year or more to mature on the tree.
What to Look for When Buying Mamey Sapote
It can be difficult to find fresh mamey fruits outside of areas where they’re grown, but the frozen pulp is more widely available in supermarkets. If you do find the fresh fruit, it can be a challenge to tell if it’s ripe. Some recommend the scratch test: a light scratch with a fingernail should show orange flesh underneath the skin rather than green. Vendors may not like you scratching their fruit before buying, so you should ask the vendor to help you select a ripe fruit. Some varieties are firmer than others, but the fruit should be somewhat soft underneath a firmer skin — both the tip and stem ends should be slightly squishy. Avoid fruit that has obvious breaks in the skin or bruises.
Slightly underripe fruit will ripen after a few days at room temperature, but very firm fruit that has been picked too early may never fully ripen.
Sustainability of Mamey Sapote
While some organic mamey sapote products are available, most are seed oils used in cosmetics. However, mamey trees can be grown as a backyard tree with minimal chemical usage. Some growers may supplement their trees with synthetic fertilizers, however, which can be damaging to soil and water in excessive amounts. Because it suffers from few damaging insect pests, pesticides are not a serious concern with mamey. If you’re buying fresh mamey and are concerned about the use of synthetic chemicals, ask the vendor about their practices.
As a tropical fruit, the mamey sapote is available throughout much of the year. Depending on the area, however, the peak season runs from late winter through early fall.
While it is most associated with the Caribbean, the mamey sapote actually originated in Central America, in an area spanning present-day Nicaragua and Southern Mexico. The fruit had already spread around the Caribbean long before the arrival of Spanish colonists, however. As they did with many other Mexican fruits, Spanish colonists took the mamey to the Pacific, including the Philippines and Vietnam, where it is still enjoyed today.
In the US, the fruit is limited to strictly tropical areas: South Florida, Hawai’i, and Puerto Rico. The United States Department of Agriculture introduced the fruit to Florida several times in the early 20th century, but it was the arrival of Cuban immigrants to Florida in the last few decades that spurred the fruit to be much more widely grown.
Eating Mamey Sapote
Fruit that isn’t perfectly ripe should be kept at room temperature until it is soft and the flesh is deep orange underneath the skin. Ripe mamey sapote should be eaten as soon as possible for best texture and flavor, but a ripe fruit can be kept in the refrigerator for several days.
If you’re lucky enough to find fresh mamey, eat it fresh by cutting it in half, removing the large seed, and scooping out the flesh with a spoon. The fresh fruit can also be added in chunks to smoothies, or juiced along with other fruit.
Caribbean cuisines, especially Cuban, make extensive use of mamey fruit. The batido de mamey, a traditional Cuban milkshake, is especially popular and can be made with fresh or frozen mamey fruit. In baked goods, the mamey can replace bananas for a different flavor in muffins and quick breads. Mamey also lends itself well to flans and other custardy desserts like this bread pudding. The fruit’s richness and creamy texture also makes it a great candidate for raw desserts, like this refreshing raw custard.
Mamey sapote can be used in savory foods as well: it brings a sweet element to creamy salad dressings and sauces for roasted and grilled food. It can even make an unconventional, substantial meat substitute in vegan cooking.
Mamey sapote can be scooped out, pulped, and frozen for several months. Mamey can also be combined with other fruits and made into a jam.
Mamey fruit is an excellent source of many nutrients, especially fiber: a one-cup serving of the fruit provides about nine grams, a third of the daily recommendation. It is also very rich in Vitamin C, B-6, and potassium, all of which are important for healthy immune and nervous systems. Because it is both nutrient-rich and easy to grow, some governments and nonprofits have investigated the idea of spreading seedlings for people to grow themselves in poor areas where nutrient deficiencies are common.
Top photo by Fotoluminate LLC/Adobe Stock.