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Morton, J. 1987. Black Sapote. p. 416–418. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.


Black Sapote

Diospyros digyna Jacq.

Diospyros obtusifolia Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.




The black sapote is not, as might be assumed, allied to either the sapote (Pouteria sapota H.E. Moore & Stearn) or the white sapote (Casimiroa edulis Llave & Lex.). Instead, it is closely related to the persimmon in the family Ebenaceae. For many years it has been widely misidentified as Diospyros ebenaster Retz., a name confusingly applied also to a strictly wild species of the West Indies now distinguished as D. revoluta Poir. The presently accepted binomial for the black sapote is D. digyna Jacq. (syn. D. obtusifolia Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.).

In Spanish, it is known variously as sapote, sapote negro, zapote, zapote negro, zapote prieto, zapote de mico, matasano (or matazano) de mico, or ebano. It has been called black persimmon in Hawaii.

Black Sapote
Plate LXI: BLACK SAPOTE, Diospyros digyna
Description

The tree is handsome, broad-topped, slow-growing, to 80 ft (25 m) in height, with furrowed trunk to 30 in (75 cm) in diameter, and black bark. The evergreen, alternate leaves, elliptic-oblong to oblong-lanceolate, tapered at both ends or rounded at the base and bluntly acute at the apex, are leathery, glossy, 4 to 12 in (10-30 cm) long. The flowers, borne singly or in groups of 3 to 7 in the leaf axils, are tubular, lobed, white, 3/8 to 5/8 in (1-1.6 cm) wide, with persistent green calyx. Some have both male and female organs, large calyx lobes and are faintly fragrant; others are solely male and have a pronounced gardenia-like scent and a few black specks in the throat of the corolla. The fruit is bright-green and shiny at first; oblate or nearly round; 2 to 5 in (5-12.5 cm) wide; with a prominent, 4-lobed, undulate calyx, 1 1/2 to 2 in (4-5 cm) across, clasping the base. On ripening, the smooth, thin skin becomes olive-green and then rather muddy-green. Within is a mass of glossy, brown to very dark-brown, almost black, somewhat jelly-like pulp, soft, sweet and mild in flavor. In the center, there may be 1 to 10 flat, smooth, brown seeds, 3/4 to 1 in (2-2.5 cm) long, but the fruits are often seedless.

Origin and Distribution

The black sapote is native along both coasts of Mexico from Jalisco to Chiapas, Veracruz and Yucatan and in the forested lowlands of Central America, and it is frequently cultivated throughout this range. It was apparently carried by the Spaniards to Amboina before 1692, and to the Philippines long before 1776, and eventually reached Malacca, Mauritius, Hawaii, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In 1919, seeds from Guadalajara, Mexico, were sent to the Bureau of Plant Industry of the United States Department of Agriculture; cuttings and seeds were received from the Isle of Pines, Cuba, in 1915; seeds arrived from Hawaii in 1916 and 1917; others from Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1920. Numerous seedlings have been grown in southern California but all have been killed by low temperatures. The tree does very well in southern Florida, though it has been grown mainly as a curiosity. Outside of its homeland, the fruit has not achieved any great popularity. In Mexico, the fruits are regularly marketed.

Varieties

Certain trees tend to bear very large, seedless or nearly seedless fruits maturing in summer instead of winter as most do, but no varietal names have been attached to them in Florida.

Climate

The black sapote is not strictly tropical inasmuch as it is hardy as far north as Palm Beach County, Florida, if protected from frost during the first few years. Trees that have become well established have withstood occasional brief exposures to 28º or 30º F (-2.22º or-1.11º C). In Mexico, the tree is cultivated up to elevations of 5,000 or even 6,000 ft (1,500-1,800 m).

Soil

The tree has a broad adaptability as to terrain. In Mexico it grows naturally in dry forests or on alluvial clay near streams or lagoons where it is frequently subject to flooding. Nevertheless, it thrives on moist sandy loam, on well-drained sand or oolitic limestone with very little top-soil in southern Florida. It is said to flourish on all the soils of Cuba.

Propagation

The black sapote is usually grown from seeds, which remain viable for several months in dry storage and germinate in about 30 days after planting in flats. Vegetative propagation is not commonly practiced but the tree has been successfully air-layered and also shield-budded using mature scions.

Culture

Seedlings are best transplanted to pots when about 3 in (7.5 cm) high and they are set in the field when 1 to 2 years old, at which time they are 1 to 2 ft (30-60 cm) in height. They should be spaced at least 40 ft (12 m) apart. Most begin to bear in 5 to 6 years but some trees may take somewhat longer. The tree is naturally vigorous and receives little or no cultural attention in Florida though it has been noted that it benefits from fertilization.

Season

In Mexico, the fruits are common in the markets from August to January. Most black sapotes in Florida ripen in December, January or February. Certain trees, especially the large-fruited types, regularly come into season in June, others in July and August.

Harvesting

It is difficult to detect the slight color change of mature fruits amid the dense foliage of the black sapote tree. Many black sapotes ripen, fall and smash on the ground before one has the chance to pick them, and this is one reason why .the tree is not favored for landscaping in urban areas. An experienced picker can harvest the fruits at the green-mature or olive-green stage with a cutting pole equipped with a cloth sack.

Yield

No yield figures are available but the tree is noted for bearing well. In 1899, the annual crop in Mexico was valued at $27,000, a considerable sum at that time.

Keeping Quality

Fruits picked when full-grown but unripe (bright-green) have ripened in 10 days at room temperature. Therefore it is at this stage that they must be picked for marketing and shipping. Firm, olive-green fruits will ripen in 2 to 6 days. Fruits displayed on markets in Mexico are somewhat shriveled and wrinkled. The black sapote is very soft when fully ripe. Though it may remain fit for eating if held for a few days in cold storage, it is too soft to stand handling.

Food Uses

Unkind writers have employed unflattering phrases in describing the flesh of the black sapote and have probably hindered its acceptance. This seems quite unreasonable because the color and texture of the pulp closely match stewed prunes, to which there seems to be no aesthetic objection. In the Philippines, the seeded pulp is served as dessert with a little milk or orange juice poured over it. The addition of lemon or lime juice makes the pulp desirable as a filling for pies and other pastry. It is also made into ice cream. In Mexico, the pulp may be mashed, beaten or passed through a colander and mixed with orange juice or brandy, and then served with or without whipped cream. Also, they sometimes mix the pulp with wine, cinnamon and sugar and serve as dessert. Some Floridians use an eggbeater to blend the pulp with milk and ground nutmeg. A foamy, delicious beverage is made by mixing the pulp with canned pineapple juice in an electric blender. In Central America, the fermented fruits are made into a liqueur somewhat like brandy.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*  
Moisture 79.46-83.1 g
Protein 0.62-0.69 g
Carbohydrates 12.85-15.11 g
Fat 0.01 g
Ash 0.37-0.6 g
Calcium 22.0 mg
Phosphorus 23.0 mg
Iron 0.36 mg
Carotene 0.19 mg
Thiamine  
Riboflavin 0.03 mg
Niacin 0.20 mg
Ascorbic Acid** 191.7 mg

*According to analyses in Mexico and Guatemala.

**The ascorbic acid content is said to be about twice that of the average orange.

Toxicity

Unripe black sapotes are very astringent, irritant, caustic and bitter, and have been used as fish poison in the Philippines.

Other Uses

Wood: The wood is yellowish to deep-yellow with black markings near the heart of old trunks; compact and suitable for cabinetwork but little used. Reports of dark wood utilized for furniture are probably the result of confusion with other species of Diospyros.

Medicinal Uses: The crushed bark and leaves are applied as a blistering poultice in the Philippines. In Yucatan, the leaf decoction is employed as an astringent and is taken internally as a febrifuge. Various preparations are used against leprosy, ringworm and itching skin conditions.

Note: The rare, wild relative D. revoluta Poir., mentioned at the beginning, has not only been included with the black sapote under the erroneous D. ebanaster, but has also been dealt with as D. nigra Perr. and under at least 8 other binomials. In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Montserrat, Dominica and Guadeloupe it is variously called black apple, barbara, bambarat, barbequois, bois noir, bois negresse, ebene, guayabota, plaqueminier, and zapote negro. It has smaller, thicker leaves and smaller fruits than the black sapote and the calyx is square. Little, Woodbury and Wadsworth say the fruits are poisonous and, with the bark, used as fish poison.