Canistel (botanical name Pouteria campechiana) belongs to the family Sapotaceae and grows to a height of up to 33 feet (10 meters) and bears orange-yellow fruit, which is also known as the yellow sapote. The edible canistel fruits measure about 2.8 inches (7 cm) in length. The flesh of canistel fruit is sweet flavoured, while the texture of the fruit is often compared to the shell of a hard-boiled egg. Owing to this attribute of the fruit, it is also known as the "egg fruit". Mamey sapote and abiu are close cousins of canistel.
The form as well as the size of canistel fruits differs greatly, subject to the cultivar. Those considered to be superior selections always produce large, oval-shaped fruits having a smooth, polished skin. Usually, each such fruit weigh over 14 ounces. The flesh of canistel fruit is rather pale. However, the flesh of best quality fruits has a cream-hued mousey texture. It has a rich flavour and reminds one of egg-custard. Each fruit may enclose anything between one and six large dark brown or black seeds. In fact, canistel fruits are not crispy, but soft. Moreover, the fruit is also not very succulent. According to some people, canistel fruits are somewhat similar to persimmons.
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Canistel fruit exhibits climacteric changes when it ripens. When the fruit is completely ripe its skin color changes to deep yellow. Eventually, the fruit will become soft and drop on the ground. It has been found that insects as well as birds keep away from the flesh of canistel fruit, possibly because of its astringent attributes, which reduce as the fruits become very mature, but can be still fit for human palate. However, it seems that when mature hard fruits are picked from the trees, they usually do not develop climacteric changes, such a lesser astringency and the hard texture that is akin to that of an egg yolk. In addition, it has been found that climacteric fruits usually start decaying even in normal environmental temperatures and this may be one reason why this fruit does not have great commercial value.
Canistel fruits are seldom found in North America and this is because it is not easy to grow this plant in this continent. In fact, canistel fruits do not possess the aptitude to endure cold temperatures. While it is possible to grow these trees in some areas of Florida, people have been totally unsuccessful in cultivating them in California. Since very few people are familiar with canistel fruits, traders also do not import them for distributing them in the local markets, especially in the northern states.
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Similar to many other fruits, canistel fruits are also packed with several nutrients, including many vitamins. Canistel fruits especially contain rich amounts of niacin and carotene. In addition, these fruits also contain substantial quantity of ascorbic acid. While canistel fruits are rarely found in most regions of North America, several nutritionists and food scientists are of the view that these fruits are an extremely healthy food and suggest that people should preferably include them in their diet.
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This fruit is an excellent resource of niacin, a nutrient that facilitates in converting ingested carbohydrates into energy. On the other hand, carotene present in canistel fruits is good for the health of our eyes and helps in improving our eye sight. Moreover, carotene also helps to lessen the chances of developing cardio-vascular diseases. Ascorbic acid present in canistel fruits is excellent for perking up the body's immune system.
Canistel fruits also contain iron, which is beneficial for forming hemoglobin in our body. Iron also helps an individual to put off developing insomnia. Canistel fruits also enclose dietary fiber, which aids in digestive metabolism. In addition, fiber also works to regulate the levels of blood sugar and reduces LDL cholesterol (also called "bad cholesterol") levels.
In Mexico, which is home for this species, people use the bark of canistel to prepare a decoction and drink it to cure fevers. People in Cuba use the canistel bark to treat skin eruptions, while the seeds are used for treating ulcers. They also use the canistel fruits to treat anemia.
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Even the wood of canistel trees is useful. Sometimes, it is used in construction, especially for making rafters and planks. In places where this species is common, people also use the trees as a latex source and the substance that is collected from the trees is mixed with chicle to adulterate the latter.
Apart from its therapeutic uses, fresh canistel fruit is also used for culinary purposes. Ripened canistel fruit can be consumed out of hand, in addition to using it to make jams, pancakes, marmalade and even flour. Some people also blend the flesh of the ripened fruit with milk and added substances to prepare a shake. The ripened fruit is also pureed and occasionally included in custards or used for making ice cream.
While the canistel fruit can be consumed fresh, you will need to wait till the fruit ripens completely and its texture becomes soft to peel off its thin intense yellow skin.
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Although one will not readily find canistel fruit in majority of the North American markets, it is available in some areas of Florida. Chefs in Florida occasionally use the flesh of ripened canistel fruit in desserts like puddings and ice cream. People also enjoy this fruit by tossing it with salt, mayonnaise, pepper and few drops of any citrus juice like lime or lemon. You can enjoy this recipe raw or after baking it slightly.
In fact, people in Florida also enjoy canistel fruit milkshakes, which is sometimes locally called "egg-fruit nog". It is interesting to note that some people have substituted pumpkin filling with the pulp of canistel fruit in pumpkin pie recipes. It is said that the pulp of the ripened canistel fruit is reasonably delectable. Where the fruit is found in abundance, people also use it in pancakes, muffins as well as spreads for bread toasts.
Pouteria campechiana or canistel trees are evergreen in nature and have their origin in Central America and the southern regions of Mexico. Now, this herb is widely cultivated in other places like Brazil, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan for its reasonably flavourful fruit. The binomial name of this species has is origin in its native town Campeche in Mexico. On some occasions, people wrongly refer to the plants of this species as Lucuma campechiana. People in the Philippines refer to canistel as chesa.
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Canistel trees require tropic or sub-tropical climatic conditions. In Guatemala, these trees are found growing at altitudes of 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) or less. In Florida, canistel trees growing in the north as far as Punta Gorda and Palm Beach as well as those growing in sheltered regions of St. Petersburg possess the aptitude to survive cold winter months. However, canistel plants grown in California have never reached the stage where they can bear fruits. Although these plants need a moderate rainfall, they grow well in places having prolonged dry seasons.
Canistel plants can endure a variety of soil types - lateritic, calcareous, heavy clay and even acid sandy soil. The plants, however, grow best in deep, rich soils having a good drainage. Nevertheless, they are also known to bear good fruits when grown on shallow soils. In fact, canistel trees can even be grown on soils that are considered to be very thin and infertile for growing majority of other fruit trees.
As canistel seeds become unfeasible very soon, they need to be sown immediately after being removed from the fruit. Canistel seeds will germinate quickly - within a fortnight of sowing, provided they are decorticated (removing the outer coating). On the other hand, the seeds may take very long - about three to five months, to sprout. However, the growth of the seedlings is very rapid and they start producing fruits in three to six years' time. The fruiting varies in yield considerably, in addition to a great variation in the quality and size of the fruits. Therefore, most growers prefer to propagate the plants through vegetative reproduction to facilitate fruiting as well as ensure that best quality fruits. The best means to propagate plants of this species include patch budding, cleft grafting, side-veneer grafting and air-layering. Usually, these methods are very successful. Growing new plants from cuttings is a lengthy issue, as the cuttings take much time to develop roots.
Canistel fruit also contains: