Also known as nispero or chico sapote, this member of the Sapotaceae family is native to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and Central America. Distribution of the fruit and trees began before Columbus discovered the New World, and now they can be found across the globe.
Today the plants are cultivated almost exclusively for commercial fruit production, but its sticky sap, called latex, was also coveted by indigenous Americans. In fact, the sap is the original source of chewing gum (or 'chicle', in Spanish).
Commercial fruit production is concentrated in Mexico, Southeast Asia, and on a small scale in south Florida. Improved selections in recent years by Gary Zill and Dr. Richard Campbell have enhanced public opinion of both the tree and the fruit tremendously.
The sapodilla fruit of the not so distant past were typically round, gritty, and born on very large trees. Now we have incredible cultivars that are oval- or football-shaped, that have the texture of a fine pear, and the tree size can be tailored to an individual’s particular needs.
The flavor of sapodilla appeals to almost everyone, and it can best be described as a pear that has been soaked in brown sugar. They are best served fresh and chilled, and then they can be halved or cut into wedges. It can be difficult at first to tell when the fruit should be picked, because they are still rock-hard and there is no color break like with mangos.
The fruit, however, do have their own subtle indicators. By knowing the season in which a particular variety ripens, a grower can narrow the time frame down to an eight- to ten-week period. Over time a grower will become familiar with the size of a mature fruit, and this is one of the best ways to determine ripeness. Another sign is the outer texture of the fruit.
Immature fruit are much rougher, like sandpaper, but when the fruit is ready to pick it becomes smooth and even shiny in places. The fruit typically take four to five days to ripen once picked, and they are ready to eat when soft to the touch.