Saturday, August 25, 2012

Star Apple (Caimito)

The chrysophyllum  cainito  commonly called caimito or star apple is one of the tropical fruits that were introduced in the Philippines by the Spaniards from its former colonies in Central America during the Spanish colonial era. Today, the tree of the fruit thrives like any other fruit trees that are native to the country. Many of the trees can be seen on the roadside or at the backyards of people’s houses.

When I was little there was a large star apple tree at my family’s old ancestral house which always bore abundant fruits during its fruiting season.  Other kids in the neighborhood could help themselves with the fruits for free. Back then, star apple was a fruit that was usually for the consumption mostly for the kids. Picking up the fruits that were then not commercially sold in the public markets was some of the children’s playful activities especially when they were off from school and not doing their household chores.                                                                                                                                                                      

The Star Apple Tree can grow as high as 25 to 50 feet tall when matured. The ovate-shaped leaf that is about 7.5 to 13 centimeters long is green on top and golden brown on the underside which is probably the reason why it is also called “Golden Leaf Tree”.  The tiny clustered flowers are purplish white. The wood of the tree is not considered hard and is not generally used for furniture or building constructions.      

Although it is not as popular as other fruits in the Philippines, the star apple is delicious, sweet and nutritious. It is round in shape and of the same size as the apple. And despite the name apple with it, the star apple is very much different from the real apple in taste and in texture of its skin and flesh. The core of the fruit has a star pattern when it is cut off vertically which is probably the reason why it is called “star apple”. The fruit has a purplish or brownish green skin depending on the variety. The purple variety has a thinner rind than the green. The rind which is rich in latex comprises about 1/3 of the totality of the fruit. The flesh of the fruit has a milk-like juice. It is usually eaten out of hand as a dessert. However, it is better to spoon the flesh off so that parts of the rind which is bitter will not get into the mouth. In the flesh of the fruit are the flat black seeds that are about 1 to 1.5 centimeters long each.  The fruit is rich in calcium, phosphorus, ascorbic acid and niacin and is it is also loaded with antioxidants.                       

In the present age when people are health conscious and prefer to eat organic food, star apple is one of the fruits suitable for their consumption. Its tree is hardy and can grow under extreme tropical weather conditions such as drought and long rainy season. The tree when planted is mostly left alone. It can thrive without the use of chemical fertilizer or pesticides. The fruits when harvested is just sold in the nearby localities because they spoil quickly. For this reason consumers are assured of buying a fresh, organic fruit that is good for the health.

Unlike the highly preferred Philippine table fruits such as bananas, pineapples, mangoes, melons and the expensive fruits such as durian and mangoosteen, the trees of the star apple are not yet extensively planted in commercial scale. The reason is that the fruit has a very short shelf life and is not as popular as other fruits.  
As herbal medicine in the Philippines, the decoction of the leaves of the Star Apple Tree is used against diarrhea. In countries of South America the fruit is used to sooth inflammation of the laryngitis and of pneumonia. The leaves and the bark are also used to treat ailments such as diabetes, dysentery and even cancer.

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