The Black Sapote is a delicious tropical fruit that is actually a kind of persimmon and is not related to the more commonly known White Sapote (Casimiroa edulis). Also known as the Chocolate Pudding Fruit and the Black Persimmon, the Black Sapote's scientific name is Diospyros digyna, and it belongs to the family Ebenaceae. Originally from Mexico, Central America and Colombia in South America, they have now been transplanted around the tropical world. The Spaniards may have originally taken them to the Philippines. They are now grown there, in other Pacific islands, in Australia, Florida and the Caribbean.
In their natural environment, Black Sapote trees are usually found in dry tropical forests below 600 meters. They are adapted to a range of soil types but like compost in the spring to assist with fruiting. When mature, they can tolerate short periods of flooding and light frosts. The trees grow fairly slowly for the first 3-4 years, by which time they are about a meter tall. They take off after this and can begin fruiting in their third year.
The fruits are about the size and shape of a tomato. They are light green when picked and go dark green to almost black as they ripen. This limits their marketability as they often appear rotten to the uninitiated consumer, although inside they are very tasty. The skin is not very edible but the flesh is soft, smooth and creamy. It looks and tastes roughly like dark chocolate, which makes it potentially a healthy chocolate substitute for weight watchers. The black seeds need to be removed first but the flesh can then be added to milk and ice cream to make a delicious milk shake. They are low in fat and an excellent source of vitamin C.
These beautiful trees are large and can grow to over 25 meters tall although usually they peak at about 6 meters. They are evergreens with long, glossy leaves, dark black bark and small, light green flowers. They begin bearing fruit after only three years. On some trees the sexes are separate, while others are dioecious. These trees are heavy bearers, so only a few are needed for personal use. They are frost-resistant as adults but need protection in their early years. They can be grown from seed or cuttings. One farmer has also grafted a Black Sapote onto a persimmon tree. The seeds take about 30 days to germinate. Several varieties are now available.
Black Sapotes are an excellent example of the many rare tropical fruit trees that are still relatively unknown to the consumer. In the future it is to be hoped that more of these fruits reach stores and dinner tables. There is more to the fruit world than just apples, bananas and oranges!