The white sapote (scientific name Casimiroa edulis) is a fruit tree from the family Rutaceae that grows in tropical forests from eastern Mexico to Costa Rica in Central America. In the native Nahuatl language it is named cochitzapotl, or the "sleep-sapote".
The Casimiroa genus is named after a hero of the Mexican War of Independence, Casimiro Gómez, from the town of Cardonal in Hidalgo State, who was an Otomi native.
The white sapote tree has a medium size, reaching a height between 4.5 and 18 meters. The trunk is covered with a thick light grey bark and it has long branches that tend to hang towards the ground. It is normally an evergreen species with alternate compound leaves with a palm-like shape. They consist of 3 to 7 leaflets, sometimes hairy on the underside. White sapote flowers are located on panicles with a terminal or axillar location. They are small and either green or yellow, without any fragrance. The flowers can be hermaphrodite but also unisexual when a stigma is aborted.
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The fruit of the white sapote is a variety of tangerine but looks different. The shape is usually described as a cross between an apple and a persimmon. It has a round shape but it varies from round to ovoid and can be symmetrical or not. It consists of 5 lobes, which sometimes are hardly visible. It is about 12 cm long, with a width between 6.25 and 11.25 cm. The skin is thin, green to golden in color, covered with fine hairs. The skin is soft but otherwise inedible. The yellow or white flesh has a creamy texture and includes a large number of small yellow oil glands. It is sweet but can also be bitter, with a resin aftertaste. Inside the pulp there are between 1 and 6 hard white seeds, about 2.5-5 cm long and 1.25-2.5 cm thick. Sometimes the seeds are very small, not fully developed. The kernels have a narcotic effect and a bitter taste.
The leaves are made up of 5 separate leaflets, with a hairy underside. The flowers of white sapote also have 5 petals each. The fruit is usually symmetrical, with a diameter of 6.25 to 7.5 cm. It has a smooth skin and generally resembles the shape of an apple. The leaves of C. sapota look almost the same but only have 3 lobes each. The white sapote has larger and thicker leaves than C. edulis, with a woolly appearance because of the white color on their undersides. The oval fruits can be irregular, with rough skin and dotted flesh.
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A very promising compound identified in white sapote is named zapotin. According to the results of some in vitro studies, it can kill lone cells of colon tumours and can be an effective agent in the treatment of cancer.
Francisco Hernández de Toledo claimed in the 16th century that the fruit leads to drowsiness and his opinion was considered correct for a very long time. However, this seems to be a mistake due to the wrong translation of cochitzapotl, the name of the plant in Nahuatl. Even though the word means "sleep-sapote", the Aztecs made a poison from the seeds and leaves but not the pulp. The fruit doesn't have any compounds related to sleep.
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The white sapote fruit is a rich source of iron and folic acid, which makes it very effective against anemia, a general state of weakness that can cause serious health issues. Consuming the fruit can also prevent cough, as well as treat it.
White sapote is also a major source of minerals such as calcium, potassium and phosphorus. These are essential minerals for bone health, so eating the fruits often can strengthen their structure and decrease the risk of brittle bones and fractures.
The white sapote fruit has a rich content of various vitamins. One of the most important is vitamin E, which is needed for the maintenance and elasticity of the skin. It is also rich in vitamin A, essential for good vision.
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The white sapote fruit is often picked and eaten raw in the native range of the plant. The pulp can also be used as an ingredient in salads or consumed as a dessert after being sliced to pieces and sweetened with sugar or ice cream. It can be turned into marmalade and its creamy texture makes it good for shakes or ice creams.
The raw white sapote also pairs well with other fruits in salads. It must be peeled, with the seeds removed and then the flesh can be mixed with orange juice, milk and a bit of vanilla to create a tasty drink. Cooking the fruits takes away its taste, so it is best consumed fresh. It can also be prepared as a jelly, combined with the juice from lemons or limes. Another option is to transform it into sherbet.
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When the fruits become ripe, they are usually cut from their position on the branch including a small segment of stem. As soon as the white sapotes ripe completely, the stem will fall off by itself. The small stem can be removed only if the fruit is consumed right away. Otherwise, it develops a bruise on the stem location, which expands quickly. The entire fruit will soon start to decay. The white sapote fruits are very sensitive in general and can be bruised with ease, even before they are ripe. The bruised spot turns black and the flesh under it becomes very bitter.
It is a good idea to harvest them a few weeks before they ripe since they are easy to handle and will still keep their full taste. If they are gathered right before they become ripe, they will only last for a couple of days. In order to preserve them a bit longer, the white sapotes can be stored in a fridge, where they last for a maximum of two weeks. In commercial plantations, the white sapote fruits are packaged individually and placed in wooden boxes. With proper padding, they should be transported using refrigeration.