It is the showiest fruit of the family Sapotaceae but generally underevaluated in horticultural literature and by those who have only a casual acquaintance with it.
Colloquial names applied to this species include: egg-fruit, canistel, ti-es, yellow sapote (Cuba, Hawaii, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Florida); canistel, siguapa, zapotillo (Costa Rica); costiczapotl, custiczapotl fruta de huevo, zapote amarillo (Colombia); cakixo, canizte, kanis, kaniste, hantzé, kantez, limoncillo, mamee ciruela, zapotillo de montana (Guatemala); huevo vegetal (Puerto Rico, Venezuela); mammee sapota, eggfruit, ti-es (Bahamas); mamey cerera, mamey cerilla, mamee ciruela, kanizte (Belize); atzapotl (the fruit), atzapolquahuitl (the tree), caca de niño, cozticzapotl, cucumu, mamey de Campechi, mamey de Cartagena, huicumo, huicon, kan 'iste', kanixte, kanizte, palo huicon, zapote amarillo, zapote de niño, zapote borracho (drunken sapote, perhaps because the fallen fruits ferment on the ground); zapote mante, zubul (Mexico); guaicume, guicume, zapotillo, zapotillo amarillo (El Salvador); zapote amarillo (Nicaragua); boracho, canistel, toesa (Philippines).
|Fig. 108: Glossy, yellow, long-keeping, highly nutritious, the canistel (Pouteria campechiana) deserves wider recognition as a good food.|
The canistel tree is erect and generally no more than 25 ft (8 m) tall, but it may, in favorable situations, reach height of 90 to 100 ft (27-30 m) and the trunk may attain diameter of 3 ft (1 m). Slender in habit or with a spreading crown, it has brown, furrowed bark and abundant white, gummy latex. Young branches are velvety brown. The evergreen leaves, alternate but mostly grouped at the branch tips, are relatively thin, glossy, short- to long-stemmed, oblanceolate, lanceolate-oblong, or obovate, bluntly pointed at the apex, more sharply tapered at the base; 4 1/2 to 11 in (11.25-28 cm) long, 1 1/2 to 3 in (4-7.5 cm) wide. Fragrant, bisexual flowers, solitary or in small clusters, are borne in the leaf axils or at leafless nodes on slender pedicels. They are 5- or 6-lobed, cream-colored, silky-hairy, about 5/16 to 7/16 in (8-11 mm) long.
The fruit, extremely variable in form and size, may be nearly round, with or without a pointed apex or curved beak, or may be somewhat oval, ovoid, or spindle-shaped. It is often bulged on one side and there is a 5-pointed calyx at the base which may be rounded or with a distinct depression. Length varies from 3 to 5 in (7.5-12.5 cm) and width from 2 to 3 in (5-7.5 cm), except in the shrubby form, var. palmeri, called huicon4 to 9 ft (1.5-3 m) highwhich has nearly round fruits only 1 in (2.5 cm) long. When unripe the fruit is green-skinned, hard and gummy internally. On ripening, the skin turns lemon-yellow, golden-yellow or pale orange-yellow, is very smooth and glossy except where occasionally coated with light-brown or reddish-brown russetting.
Immediately beneath the skin the yellow flesh is relatively firm and mealy with a few fine fibers. Toward the center of the fruit it is softer and more pasty. It has been often likened in texture to the yolk of a hard-boiled egg. The flavor is sweet, more or less musky, and somewhat like that of a baked sweet potato. There may be 1 to 4 hard, freestone seeds, 1/4 to 2 1/8 in (2-5.3 cm) long and 1/2 to 1 1/4 in (1.25-3.2 cm) wide, near-oval or oblong-oval, glossy and chestnut-brown except for the straight or curved ventral side which is dull light-brown, tan or grayish-white. Both ends are sharp-tipped.
|Plate LVI: CANISTEL, Pouteria campechiana|
The canistel is sometimes erroneously recorded as native to northern South America where related, somewhat similar species are indigenous. Apparently, it occurs wild only in southern Mexico (including Yucatan), Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador. It is cultivated in these countries and in Costa Rica (where it has never been found wild), Nicaragua and Panama, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba (where it is most popular and commercialized in Pinar del Rio), the Bahamas, southern Florida and the Florida Keys. Some writers have reported the canistel as naturalized on the Florida Keys, in the Bahamas and Cuba, but specimens that appear to be growing in the wild are probably on the sites of former homesteads. Oris Russell, who has explored hundreds of acres of coppices in the Bahamas, has never seen the canistel or its close relative, P. domingensis Baehni, in a wild state. He says that abandoned plantings can be completely overgrown by coppice in 3 to 4 years. Also, it is possible that a seedling might arise from the seed of a fruit carried into the woods by an animal or tossed away by a human. Mango trees are sometimes unintentionally planted in this way in southern Florida, especially if the seed lands in a hedge which provides a moist and shady site and physical protection.
Seeds from Cuba were planted at the Lancetilla Experimental Garden, La Lima, Honduras, in 1927. Dr. Victor M. Patiflo bought fruits in a Cuban market in 1957 and had the seeds planted at the Estacion Agricola Experimental de Palmira, Colombia. He reported that several trees were growing well there in 1963. The canistel is included in experimental collections in Venezuela. The tree was introduced at low and medium elevations in the Philippines before 1924 and it reached Hawaii probably around the same time. Attempts to grow it in Singapore were not successful. In 1949 there were a few canistel trees growing in East Africa.
There are apparently no named cultivars but certain types are so distinct as to have been recorded as different species in the past. The spindle-shaped form (called mammee sapota or eggfruit) was the common strain in the Bahamas for many years, at least as far back as the 1920's. The rounded, broader form began to appear in special gardens in the 1940's, and the larger types were introduced from Florida in the 1950's
In 1945, large, handsome, symmetrical fruits were being grown under the names Lucuma salicifolia and yellow sapote at the Agricultural Research and Education Center and at Palm Lodge Tropical Grove, Homestead, Florida, but these were soon classified as superior strains of canistel. Some fruits are muskier in odor and flavor than others, some are undesirably dry and mealy, some excessively sweet. An excellent, non-musky, fine-textured, rounded type of medium size has been selected and grown by Mr. John G. DuPuis, Jr., at his Bar-D Ranch in Martin County. It is well worthy of dissemination. There is considerable variation as to time of flowering and fruiting among seedling trees.
The canistel needs a tropical or subtropical climate. In Guatemala, it is found at or below 4,600 ft (1,400 in) elevation. In Florida, it survives winter cold as far north as Palm Beach and Punta Gorda and in protected areas of St. Petersburg. It has never reached fruiting age in California. It requires no more than moderate precipitation; does well in regions with a long dry season.
The canistel is tolerant of a diversity of soilscalcareous, lateritic, acid-sandy, heavy clay. It makes best vegetative growth in deep, fertile, well-drained soil but is said to be more fruitful on shallow soil. It can be cultivated on soil considered too thin and poor for most other fruit trees.
Canistel seeds lose viability quickly and should be planted within a few days after removal from the fruit. If decorticated, seeds will germinate within 2 weeks; otherwise there may be a delay of 3 to 5 months before they sprout. The seedlings grow rapidly and begin to bear in 3 to 6 years. There is considerable variation in yield and in size and quality of fruits. Vegetative propagation is preferred in order to hasten bearing and to reproduce the best selections. Side-veneer grafting, cleft grafting, patch budding and air-layering are usually successful. Cuttings take a long time to root.
Mulching is beneficial in the early years. A balanced fertilizer applied at time of planting and during periods of rapid growth is advisable though the tree does not demand special care. Outstanding branches should be pruned back to avoid wind damage and shape the crown.
Pests and Diseases
Few pests and diseases attack the canistel. In Florida only scale insects and the fungi, Acrotelium lucumae (rust); Colletotrichum gloeosporioides (fruit spot); Elsinoë lepagei (leaf spot and scab); and Gloeosporium (leaf necrosis) have been recorded for this species. The tree is nearly always vigorous and healthy.
Fruiting Season and Harvesting
Blooming extends from January to June in Mexico (26). In Cuba, flowers are borne mostly in April and May though some trees flower all year. The canistel. has the advantage of coming into season in late fall and winter, when few other tropical fruits are available. The fruits generally mature from September to January or February in the Bahamas, from November or December to February or March in Florida. In Cuba, the main fruiting season is from October to February but some trees produce more or less continuously throughout the year. The mature but still firm fruits should be clipped to avoid tearing the skin. When left to ripen on the tree, the fruits split at the stem end and fall. A severe drop in temperature will cause firm-mature fruits to split and drop to the ground.
Storage and Shipment
If kept at room temperature, the fruits will soften to eating-ripe in 3 to 10 days. They should not be allowed to become too soft and mushy before eating. Ripe fruits can be kept in good condition in the vegetable tray of a home refrigerator for several days.
Freshly picked, hard fruits have been successfully shipped from Florida to fruiterers and other special customers in New York City and Philadelphia by Palm Lodge Tropical Grove, Homestead.
Unfortunately, no studies have been made to determine optimum temperature and humidity levels for long-term storage and long-distant shipment. This is an ideal fruit for export to European markets where its bright color, smoothness and appealing form would be especially welcome in the winter season.
The fact that the canistel is not crisp and juicy like so many other fruits seems to dismay many who sample it casually. Some take to it immediately. During World War II when RAF pilots and crewmen were under training in the Bahamas, they showed great fondness for the canistel and bought all they could, find in the Nassau market.
Some Floridians enjoy the fruit with salt, pepper and lime or lemon juice or mayonnaise, either fresh or after light baking. The pureed flesh may be used in custards or added to ice cream mix just before freezing. A rich milkshake, or "eggfruit nog", is made by combining ripe canistel pulp, milk, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg or other seasoning in an electric blender.
The late Mrs. Phyllis Storey of Homestead made superb 'mock-pumpkin" pie with 1 1/2 cups mashed canistel pulp, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 2 beaten eggs, 2 cups evaporated milk or light cream. The mixture is poured into one crust and baked for 1 hr at 250º F (121º C).
Others have prepared canistel pancakes, cupcakes, jam, and marmalade. Mrs. Gladys Wilbur made canistel "butter" by beating the ripe pulp in an electric blender, adding sugar, and cooking to a paste, with or without lemon juice. She used it as a spread on toast. The fruit could also be dehydrated and reduced to a nutritious powder as is being done with the lucmo (q.v.) and this might well have commercial use in pudding mixes.
Canistels are rich in niacin and carotene (provitamin A) and have a fair level of ascorbic acid. The following analyses show that the canistel excels the glamorized carambola (Averrhoa carambola L.) in every respect except in moisture and fiber content, and riboflavin.
|Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*|
|Ascorbic Acid||58.1 mg|
*According to analyses made at the Laboratorio FIM de Nutricion in Havana.
Latex extracted from the tree in Central America has been used to adulterate chicle. The timber is fine-grained, compact, strong, moderately to very heavy and hard, and valued especially for planks and rafters in construction. The heartwood is grayish-brown to reddish-brown and blends into the sapwood which is somewhat lighter in color. The darker the color, the more resistant to decay.
Medicinal Uses: A decoction of the astringent bark is taken as a febrifuge in Mexico and applied on skin eruptions in Cuba. A preparation of the seeds has been employed as a remedy for ulcers.
In 1971, a pharmaceutical company in California was exploring a derivative of the seed of Pouteria sapota (mamey, q.v.) which seemed to be active against seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp. Since they were having difficulty in procuring sufficient seeds for study, I suggested that they test the more readily available seeds of the canistel. They found these acceptable and were pursuing the investigation when last heard from.