Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Manilkara zapota

By Jeremy Trombley

Also known by the names sapotilla, sopota, zapote, chico sapote, chiku, naseberry and tree potato, this fruit is popular throughout Central America and northern South America. Many of the names given to it are variations of the Aztec name zapotl, which is used to identify many different plants and causes much confusion.

The sapodilla fruit is about the size and shape of an apple or pear with a rough brown skin. The flesh is brown or yellow containing large, black seeds, and has been likened to that of a pear. Usually they are eaten raw, though in some places they are boiled down to make a syrup. They must be eaten when ripe as latex and tannin give the unripe fruit a strongly astringent flavor. The tree also produces a latex called chicle which is used to make chewing gum.

The tree is thought to have originated in the region of the Yucatan peninsula, and has been cultivated for several centuries. Lintels made from the timber have been found in Mayan ruins. Spanish travelers introduced the plant to the Philippines where it spread into South East Asia. The seeds contain a small amount of the toxin saponin, ingestion of which can cause abdominal pain and vomiting. However, parts of the plant and fruit have been used medicinially. The young fruits are used to cure diarrhea, and a decoction of older leaves is used to treat coughs and colds.


Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

Morton, Julia. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: Julia F. Morton, 1987.

Fruit Facts – Sapodilla

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