Real Food Encyclopedia | White Sapote
While its name suggests this fruit might be related to the black sapote and mamey sapote, the white sapote is actually not at all related, but a member of the citrus family. However, its unique taste — described by some as a delicate blend of peach, pear, lemon and banana — puts it in a league of its own. Southern California residents may recognize the glossy leaves of the white sapote tree as a common tree in the landscape, and foragers often find the fruit going unpicked. If you’re lucky enough to own a tree or find the fruit at the market, you’ll understand why it has such a devoted following among backyard growers and fruit lovers.
Fun Facts about White Sapote:
- The word sapote stems from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word tzapotl, which means a soft, sweet fruit.
- The seeds of the white sapote were processed into a sleep aid by the Aztecs. Scientists today have isolated compounds within the seeds that have anti-inflammatory and sleep-inducing properties.
What to Look for When Buying White Sapote
White sapote is very delicate when ripe, so it’s generally found only in grocery stores, farmers’ markets and fruit stands in areas where it’s grown, such as California. If you’re lucky enough to find it, look for fruit that is soft but holds its shape. Avoid fruits that are very bruised or mushy.
Foragers will find the plant in Southern California, where it was widely planted during the twentieth century as a landscape plant, particularly by cities and public parks. Because of its unfamiliarity to most Americans, much of the fruit goes unpicked. When foraging, check your local regulations and stay off private property. Stick to areas you know well — landscapers may use harsh chemicals that make foraged fruit on unfamiliar land less safe.
Sustainability of White Sapote
As common California landscape plants, many white sapote trees thrive on little to no attention from growers. Some growers may supplement their trees with additional fertilizer, though this isn’t common. Few pests attack the hardy trees, so pesticide use is rare.
Most white sapotes ripen over the winter, with the main season running from late fall through the spring. Some varieties will fruit at other times, and the fruit can be available year-round in areas like California.
The fruit is native to central Mexico and is very popular throughout Central America. Spanish colonists spread the fruit around the Caribbean and Asia, though it struggles in truly tropical areas where the humidity is too high. Franciscan monks began growing the fruit in California in 1810, and the tree became popular throughout California as an ornamental in the 1960s. Today, it grows in warm, subtropical climates around the world: farmers and backyard gardeners in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand all grow the fruit on a small scale.
Eating White Sapote
Ripe white sapote will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
White sapote has a delicate flavor that can be easily overshadowed by other things, so it’s at its best eaten fresh. Use a spoon to scoop the pulp away from the thin skin, or carefully peel it off as you might with a plum. Most fruit will have several large seeds, which shouldn’t be eaten since they are bitter and toxic in large amounts.
The fruit is a good source of several nutrients, including Vitamin C. While the fruit’s name in the Nahuatl language translates to “sleep-producing fruit,” people who eat it don’t need to worry about drowsiness; this name stems from medicinal compounds extracted from the seeds and leaves.
Top photo by Jacquelin/Adobe Stock.