Real Food Encyclopedia | Star Apple
Also known as the caimito or cainito, the star apple (Chrysophyllum cainito) is a deep purple fruit named for the star-shaped pattern formed by its seeds. The fruits are very sweet, with a pulpy, jelly-like texture and a taste some compare to applesauce with hints of tropical fruits and grape. While the fruit is mainly enjoyed in Latin America, it is grown on a limited scale in South Florida and Hawai’i, where you may be lucky enough to find it on fruit stands or at farmers’ markets.
Fun facts about star apples:
- While its dramatic purple color makes it look different from most of its tan-colored cousins, the star apple is a close relative of the mamey sapote, egg fruit and sapodilla.
- The skin of the plant is inedible due to its high latex content, which is also found in the bark. The latex has been used as a substitute for other latex saps in a product called gutta-percha, a natural rubber that is used in some dental equipment.
What to look for when buying star apples
Caimitos can sometimes be found at Asian and Hispanic markets in the U.S., though you’re most likely to find them at fruit stands or farmers’ markets in areas where they are grown. Ripe star apples should look full and have slightly wrinkled skin. They are usually deep purple, although white and green varieties also exist. Avoid fruits with broken skin or obvious bruising. The fruits are sometimes sold slightly unripe, especially when they are shipped long distances. Unripe fruit can be ripened on the counter until it is soft and slightly wrinkled.
Sustainability of star apples
Because they are relatively delicate, star apples are not commonly imported from other countries, although some Hispanic and Asian markets may occasionally carry imported fruit in the U.S. Pesticide and chemical use standards vary by country; to avoid toxic residue, wash the skin before slicing into the fruit.
Star apples are only grown on a limited scale in the US. Although many growers in the U.S. fertilize their trees, they don’t suffer from many pest problems, so pesticide use is uncommon. If you’re buying the fruit locally, ask the vendor for information about how they were grown and whether pesticides were used.
The peak season for caimitos runs from the late winter through spring in most areas.
The fruit originated in the Caribbean, where it is still most popular, but likely spread across Central and South America before the arrival of European colonists. Today, the star apple is a common tree throughout South and Central America, as well as parts of tropical Asia, particularly in Singapore and the Philippines. In the U.S., it has been grown in South Florida since the early 1900s. It is also grown as a backyard tree in Hawai’i.
Eating star apples
Only the inside flesh of the star apple can be eaten because the skin is filled with white, sticky latex that irritates the mouth and throat. To prepare a star apple, slice the fruit in half and scoop out the seeds in the center. After the seeds are removed, simply scoop out the inside flesh with a spoon. Some fruits may have more latex than others; you can avoid any residual latex in the flesh by chilling the fruit before eating.
Ripe fruits can be stored whole in the refrigerator for several days, but unripe fruits should be stored on the counter — if they are refrigerated before they are fully ripe, they won’t ever ripen fully.
Star apples are sometimes used to top desserts and can be mixed into fruit salad. One Jamaican fruit salad is named matrimony for the way it marries the sweet flavors of star apple and citrus.
While the fruit can be made into a jam, home cooks sometimes encounter difficulties with the latex in the fruit, which interferes with natural pectin.
The fruit has a moderate amount of Vitamin C, along with calcium and phosphorus. The fruit’s deep color is a product of its rich antioxidants, important nutrients found in blueberries and other fruits.
Top photo by suthisak/Adobe Stock.