Manilkara zapota: Sapota, Chikoo

Family: Sapotaceae
Common name: Sapota, Sapodilla, Chikoo

An exotic tropical fruit like Mango or Jackfruit, Sapota is one of India’s favorite fruits. Large Sapota farms are a very common sight in South India; most of this exquisite fruit being grown in the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Sapota is a long-lived, evergreen tree that can flourish and produce fruits for over 100 years. They can grow to a height of 30 meters, though most cultivated variants only grow to about 15 meters. Sapota leaves are dark green and glossy with well-defined margins; and produce a white sap when plucked from the tree.

This white sap called Chicle is very popular and can be used for making chewing gums. One of the first chewing gums were made with chicle from trees, after adding flavoring and sweeteners way back in early 1900s.
Sapota trees also produce small, bell-like, white flowers that are inconspicuous compared to their ornamental leaves, and abundant fruits.

The fruits are large, round, about 4-8 cms in diameter with a rough brown skin. The fruit is very hard when they are young, with a distinct gummy texture from the tannins present in the skin. When they ripen, the fruits become sweet and soft, losing the astringent gummy taste.

It’s very difficult to figure out when to pluck the fruits since they ripen 3-6 days after plucking from the tree, if plucked at the right time. If the fruits are plucked too early, the skin will wrinkle and fruit will shrivel up.

There are several variants of Sapota in India like Calcutta special, Pilipatti, Bhuripatti, Dwarapudi, Bangalore, Thagarampudi and many many more, depending on the fruit season, size and shape of the fruit, color of the flesh, and color of the skin which varies from yellow to light brown to dark brown.

Most of the Sapota trees prefer warm tropical weather and might die in frost unless moved indoors or covered for protection from the cold. They are reasonably drought-tolerant once they settle into the soil, and does not need watering or frequent fertilization. The trees take around 5-8 years to start yielding fruits, but once they are mature, they can give 2500-3000 fruits per year. In India, the fruit season is from December to March.

Sapota fruits are mostly eaten raw after removing the skin. They are also used to make fruit salads, sauces, jams, custard and preserves. The fruits can be preserved for couple of months if they are dehydrated properly.

They are also used in treatment of diarrhea, cough, cold, lung ailments, bladder and kidney stones, hypertension and insect bites. The timber from Sapota tree is used for making flooring tiles, tool handles, railway crossties, furniture and cabinets.

Propagation is from seeds, though germination takes a long time. Different methods like grafting, inarching, ground-layering and air-layering is also seen to give good results in growing Sapota trees.

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