Saturday, January 3, 2009

Just Because It's Brown...

I complain a lot about living in South Florida. I miss the grizzled slush of Northern winters, hearing the snowplow come down the street at 3 in the morning and I miss fireplaces and ticking radiators. One thing though, that I definitely don’t miss is the winter produce, which generally consists of some shriveled, bruised apples, leather colored grapes and a glut of rutabagas. In January while Northerners make due with pale, hard tomatoes I’m enjoying BLTs with bloody beefsteaks and trying to decide what to do with all the strawberries that are in season, but in addition to these well known crops, South Florida’s winters also bring some more bizarre harvests. The tropics are home to all sorts of unusual and intriguing fruits, some of which look like grenades and others that will literally kill you if you eat them a second before they’re perfectly ripe. Many tropical fruits flourish in people’s yards and I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t at least have an orange or a mango tree nearby. I couldn’t find anyone, however, who had a black sapote.

The black sapote is a bit elusive. I can’t recall where I first heard of this fruit, but since I learned of its existence I had been on a mission to find one and try it. I had to. The black sapote is rumored to taste exactly like chocolate pudding and if there was a fruit that in any way resembled chocolate, I decided I had to find it. A species of persimmon native to Mexico, Central America and South Florida, the black sapote is nicknamed the “chocolate pudding fruit” and in Mexico it is popular in desserts. If it really tasted like chocolate pudding I could certainly see why. You wouldn’t have to put it in a dessert. It could be the dessert.

Being a skeptic, this sounded way too good to be true. I mean seriously, if there is a fruit that looks and tastes like chocolate, the most wonderful substance that there is, why then is it so difficult to find? One would imagine that such a miraculous specimen would easily be the most popular fruit on the entire planet. Think about it – it’s a fruit, which means it’s healthy and has very few calories and it supposedly tastes like something that, when mixed with shovels of sugar and gobs of butterfat, is pure heaven but decidedly not so healthy and most assuredly laden with calories. The sapote has no fat at all, or if it does it’s some miniscule amount of fruit fat which doesn’t count and is probably good for your heart anyway. According to a University of Florida website, the black sapote contains about 130 calories per fruit, which average about a five inch diameter, meaning they’re pretty big and you might not even be able to eat a whole one, unless they really did taste like chocolate and then I could probably eat about sixteen of them in one sitting. The sapote also boasts high amounts of Vitamin A, more Vitamin C than an orange and lots of fiber. Chocolate? Not so much.

Given these astounding properties I hatched a plan to locate a black sapote and eat it. Then, if these rumors of chocolaty goodness were indeed true I decided I was going into business and starting a black sapote farm (I have no idea on what land, but I supposed I’d figure that out) and then I would become the chocolate fruit messiah, spreading the good news around the globe, which would then make me a billionaire. I started to have elaborate fantasies of whippet-thin celebrities carrying sapotes around looking very glamorous. Then I imagined a world in which children would come in from playing in the snow to sip steaming mugs of hot sapote, and it would be all because of me, but before I launched my revolution I had to get my hands on one of these things and it was proving impossible.

They don’t sell them in the grocery store. I didn’t know anyone who had a tree and local farmer’s markets were bereft. Then, fate intervened and not one, but two black sapotes found their way to my doorstep. Last winter I was part of a Miami CSA group (Community Supported Agriculture). In my efforts to eat locally and to support the area’s organic farms I signed up with Redland Organics and every Saturday I received a box of fruits, vegetables and eggs straight from the farm. I loved that I never knew what I was going to get and I confess that a lot of the times when I picked up my box and looked inside, I still didn’t know what I got. Like I said, the tropics are home to some very unusual species of edible plant life. Who knew I’d ever be such a fan of callaloo?

One time my box contained two black sapotes. I had no idea what they were because they weren’t black, but instead a rather unattractive matte green, the shade of cheap institutional paint from the 70s, and they were dusted with an even more unpleasant black film which brought mildew to mind. Perhaps I had pictured something a bit more ripe and succulent.

The instructions which came with the new fruit told me to let them sit out at room temperature for several days until they were black, looked “ready for the compost heap” and were too soft to hold without falling apart. I set them on a plate and waited. The next day they hadn’t changed. I moved them around and came back the next day to find that they were a little softer. By the third day they felt like a barely ripe avocado. Tentatively I sniffed and the sapotes had no scent, which was a bit disappointing because I had hoped to breathe in the aroma of brownie.

That weekend the black sapotes caved in upon themselves and their skin now resembled the stained, vinyl interior of my grandmother’s 1973, olive-green Chevrolet, complete with cigarette burns. They had split in several places and leaked a root beer colored syrup onto the plate, which I hoped would taste like Hershey’s. I opened one black sapote with my hand, expecting to reveal the filling of a chocolate cream pie, and finding instead a slick, jammy mass that, once freed from the confines of the fruit’s skin, oozed all over the plate in much the same way that chocolate pudding might. It didn’t look like chocolate pudding though. The pulp was stringy and filled with big seeds the size and shape of Brazil nuts. Still, there was hope. It might not look exactly like chocolate pudding, but surely it could taste like it. Right? I grabbed a spoon with great anticipation.

Once, I remember ordering a Sprite in a restaurant. The server mistakenly brought me a Club Soda and I took a sip expecting Sprite. When I tasted the Club Soda’s bitter fizz, it was jarring because my taste buds were already prepared for sweetness. Such was the case when I tasted the black sapote. Having planned (hoped and prayed even) for chocolate pudding, my mouth instead encountered stewed prunes. It’s not that I have anything against stewed prunes, but they just aren’t even in the same league as chocolate and the black sapote was runny, ropey and bland on top of it all.

The black sapote wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t chocolate. If I were stranded on a desert isle and found a black sapote tree, I would be thrilled, albeit not nearly as thrilled as if I found a hidden stash filled with hundreds of bittersweet truffles, but still. My fantasies about being a black sapote magnate were destroyed and I realize why the fruit isn’t popular. It’s messy and difficult to transport when ripe, is tragically unattractive and doesn’t taste all that great unless of course you are a passionate fan of stewed prunes and I don’t know anyone who is. I suspect someone who pitied the black sapote started that whole chocolate rumor to get people to try it because it’s good for you. It also could have been someone who hadn’t actually eaten chocolate in years and who thinks that carob tastes like chocolate too. There are people like that, you know. It could just be that “chocolate pudding fruit” sounds a whole lot more appealing than “stewed prune fruit.”

The black sapote is rare and unique, sticky, ugly and strange, but it’s not unpleasant unless you’re expecting something else. If you visit Miami in the winter or if you are lucky enough to live here, be adventurous and see if you can find one to try. Just keep in mind that just because something is brown doesn’t mean it tastes like chocolate. It could taste more like stewed prunes or God forbid, something worse.


  1. Black Sapote is really good with orange or tangerine juice, maybe even better than chocolate!
    Chocolate, on the other hand, is not at all bad for you, what is bad for you is the sugar they put in it. Chocolate os actually one of the strongest anti-oxidants on earth, and butter fat is another superfood everyone should eat more of.
    Dont be afraid of fat, be afraid of sugar (fructose especially!)

  2. Having just moved into a house that has a Black Sapote tree in the back yard, and never ever hearing of it before, I was as excited as you to learn of its nutritional values and its taste of chocolate; being the chocolaholic that I am, I couldn't wait for one to ripen! However, after reading your hilarious commentary, I have decided to forego it! I am not really a fan of, or in need of, stewed prunes!!!