What the food?

This month’s What’s That Food is the appropriately-named star apple. A round fruit about the size of a large apple, when ripe it is usually purple-skinned with a faint green tinge on the outside. Cut it in half and a deep, rich purple-and-white coloured pulp with a radiating star pattern is visible—voila, there’s your name!

There are other cultivars available that have greenish-white skins with yellow or white pulp, but the purple cultivars are the most common. The star apple or Chrysophyllum cainito is from the family Sapotaceae and a relative of the mamey sapote and the green sapote. They are known by a variety of different names such as golden-leaf tree, caimito maduraverde in Spain, caimite and caimitier in France, and cainito and ajara in Portugal.

The fruit grows best in tropical climates with well-drained soil, and is not very tolerant of cold and frost, particularly when the trees (which can grow to 20 metres in height) are young. A single tree can produce hundreds of fruit seasonally. After the fruit ripens on the tree, it will not drop, so hand-picking is necessary.

First documented by the Spanish explorer Cieza de Leon who discovered it growing in Peru in the 1500’s, its origins are not clearly known. Many claim it is actually native to the West Indies, and the first-known use of its name was in 1683. As with many plants it made its way across the globe and is found in places like the Philippines, Panama, Guatemala, the Caribbean, Africa, Zanzibar, and the warmer parts of India and the US.

The fruit is delicious with a lightly sweet and subtle flavour, with hints of apple, lycee, and persimmon. Cut the fruit in half, discard the brownish-black seeds and scoop out the pulp. The skin, seeds, and rind are not edible.

It is best served chilled and can be used in beverages, parfaits, sorbet, and salads. Its flavour pairs well with mango, oranges, condensed milk, coconut milk, and whipping cream. In India, street vendors often make a ‘lassi’ with star apple, yogurt, and pistachio nuts.

Ripen at room temperature until the skin is slightly wrinkly and there is a bit of give when squeezed. Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator.

The star apple is a fair source of vitamin C, calcium, and phosphorous. Its pulp has also been found to be rich in phytochemicals aka antioxidants. As with many plants, various other uses are made of its parts. Its seeds have been ground and used as a tonic and diuretic.

We found our star apple at one of Charlottetown’s newest grocery stores, Freshest Fruits and Vegetables on University Ave. They opened late last year and it’s worth a trip to check them out.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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