Now that summer is in full swing, many trees all over the country have started to bear fruit.
Everything, from Mango to Macopa trees, has started to bring out their yellow to red fruits for everything, and I mean human and non-humans, to benefit from them.
Caimito is one of the fruits that becomes abundant in summer.
Not only is this sweet tasting fruit great as a dessert to neutralize a rich tasting food, its medicinal properties include being good for those with diabetes.
Scientifically known as Chrysophyllum Cainito, Caimito is commonly called Star Apple outside the Philippines.
Having been around the Caimito since birth, I was surprised to learn that it is not native to the Philippines, having been introduced to the country a bit over a hundred years ago from the West Indies through the United States.
It is a fast growing tree, being able to reach as high as thirty meters, with the canopy reaching the same width in its native area.
Locally, it grows very easily and fast, making it a backyard favorite of many Filipinos for its fruit, shade, and medicinal properties.
The tree seems to be quite resilient, having survived many typhoons, where as much as half of its canopy could be found damaged.
What makes the tree very different from others is that the top portion of its leaves are a shiny green, while the underside is a flat brown. This structured seems to absorb the bright sunlight, helping to enhance the shade that its wide canopy provides.
The seeds tend to bear fruit after five to ten years after planning and become extremely prolific when they start to fruit.
There are two varieties more commonly found in the Philippines. The one most likely to be found in city backyards appears to be the Purple Caimito, which is also known as Cainito Morado. The other variety also found locally is the White Caimito, which goes by the name of Cainito Blanco.
It most likely got the name Star Apple because the seeds arranged in a star-like pattern when cut.
The fruit has anti-oxidant properties, making it a very good fruit to fight against cancer and similar ailments.
The leaves of the Caimito are said to be effective against diabetes and articular rheumatism. While the bark is used as an antitussive, making it good as a natural cough suppressant.
The fruit is between two to three and a half inches in diameter and has a thick, meaty pulp inside.
The name Star Apple most likely comes from the shape of the fruits meat when cut in half. The way the pulp is shaped and colored makes it resemble a star.
The trees tend to fruit during the summer, where the purple or light green fruits can easily be spotted.
And just because the trees grow tall, doesn't mean that the fruits are unreachably high. Branches, drooping from the weight of the fruits can be as low as two meters, it easy to be picked by people under six feet tall.
The nice thing about the tree is that the fruits can be enjoyed for several months even beyond the two-month summer of April and May.
Fruits will be in different stages of ripeness, making it possible to just pick the ones that will be eaten for the day.
This ensures that the fruits will always be fresh when it is served chilled right after a hearty meal.
Just yesterday morning, my family and I were able to pick over thirty fruits, filling more than an average sixed basket. This morning, there was enough to fill two large containers.
We used a simple bamboo pole with a net at the end. Around the rim of the net, is a bent wire to snag the Caimito without damaging it.
The reason we use bamboo is because it is plentiful, easy to work with, and inexpensive. It is very light, helping to minimize the fatigue one feels when keeping their arms outstretched when picking fruits.
As I mentioned earlier, the Caimito tree has a big, thick, and wide canopy that provides very good shade.
It's width allows a wider area to be used for shade and the thick canopy makes sure that very little blinding light gets through.
And since the leaves are not thick and heavy, with the branches being light and flexible, the entire canopy sways with the wind. This makes it possible for any stale and hot air trapped by the canopy to exit in to the atmosphere, keeping the air underneath the tree at a comfortable temperature are all times.
The leaves and branches aren't sticky like those of Mango trees, so they make a great place to put a lawn chair, with matching table underneath.
It may be alright to place a sturdy Jacuzzi or small pool underneath, but they need to be covered due to falling leaves and branches.
Due to its rapid growth, the tree does shed a lot of branches and leaves, specifically those at the bottom of the canopy. These are the first ones to be discharged by the tree since they end up receiving the least amount of sunlight after a while.
If you are considering putting sturdy Jacuzzi or small pool underneath, but these need to be covered due to falling leaves and branches.
Something made of wood or hard plastic would be best as they can resist damage better. Anything that can be pierced or inflatable will definitely not last.
I would suggest regularly trimming the tree at the top to allow the tree to grow horizontally more than vertically. This will also minimize the number of branches and leaves that fall on the ground.
Not only does regular trimming this provide better shade, it will keep fruits at a reasonable height for easy picking.
Where to Find them
One way to get them is to head over to your local market or sidewalk vendor for a kilo or so.
I understand that they can be purchased between P30 to P40 per, making it quite inexpensive.
However, the do spoil easily so it is best to refrigerate and eat them as soon as possible.
To get the freshest, you might want to consider buying them on a daily basis to make sure you get the best ones.
Since the trees are a favorite for backyards, a second option would be to just ask your neighbor for some.
Most Filipinos will share their garden fruits with neighbors for free. Not only is it part of their culture, but there is a saying that is related to the fruits of trees.
As the saying goes, the fruits of trees need to be shared, as much as possible for free, so that the trees continue bearing fruit. Once a person becomes selfish with the fruit of their trees, the tree tends to make tampo, or feel bad, and stop bearing fruit.
The last way is if you have a Caimito tree in your own back yard. In which case, all you have to do is use a fruit picker to get yourself ripe ones.
In the case of picking, the best time to pick a Caimito is in the morning up to the early afternoon, say two o'clock.
Anything later than that means the sun is lower, casting more shadows around the tree. This increased amount of shade tends to make the lighter fruits look riper than they already are.
Most people like to eat Caimito after it is chilled in the refrigerator. They usually leave several fruits in for about half a day to get them nice and cool.
However, that doesn't mean that the fruits can't be eaten straight off the tree, which is how we do it.
If we pick the fruits in the morning, they undergo a quick wash any dust or ants. And since we don't use any pesticides, we don't use any special soaps to remove toxic substances.
When pick the Caimito in the afternoon, the fruits tend to be warmer so we let it cool down in the shade for an hour. We go through the same washing procedure right before serving them.
Most people will use a knife and teaspoon to enjoy their Caimito by using the knife to cut them in half then use the teaspoon to scoop up the pulp.
Though that may be a nice, clean way to eat the fruit, it's not the best way.
The ideal way to eat Caimito is to use your hands to split the fruit in two. To do this, bring both your thumbs together then press them into the skin. After piercing the skin, pry it apart with your thumbs, as if opening a small book.
This method helps to keep the rind intact, not to mention helps to minimize the spillage of the sticky paste.
People seeing the pulp for the first time may find it a bit icky, especially if they are used to oranges, apples, or pairs. But after using a teaspoon to scoop out the meat these same people find that the taste of a Caimito to be very different as it is sweet and juicy, not like the sour drink-like taste of other fruits.
The same people tend to be surprised that the pulp is very soft, somewhat like very creamy ice cream. And this is where chilling the fruit before serving helps to add to the exquisite sensation.
And since the seeds are big, I takes a lot less effort for the tongue to coax the pulp away from the seed.
Once this is done, just gracefully return the seed to your teaspoon and deposit it on a platito, or saucer.
Well, summer is not all sand, sun, and beaches. Even the plants, such as flowers and fruits, also get in on it.
Broaden your horizons by balancing out all that travelling with great tasting, and healthy, fruits for the best experience this summer.
And make sure to partake of the fruits that are in season, like the Caimito. Not only is it a great antioxidant, but some studies have shown that the fruit, leaves, and bark have very good medicinal properties as well.
Have a great summer!
The author would like to thank Rosario Santos Juat for providing assistance in preparing this article.