What Is Canistel?
Canistel is a genus of trees with edible fruits native to Central America. They are often called “eggplants” or “mango trees”. There are several species of canistels, but only two (C. acuminata and C. krusei) produce fruit. The other species (C. indica), which produces fruit, does not have the distinctive shape of its relatives.
The most common type of canistel is the one that grows in California, where it is known as “California eggplant”, although there are many varieties found throughout Mexico and Central America. The name “eggplant” comes from the Latin word “occanus”, meaning “of or pertaining to eggs”.
Eggplants are a popular tropical fruit crop, especially in temperate climates. They are eaten fresh or dried and their fleshy skin is used as a seasoning. The fruit is used to make jams, jellies, marmalades and pickles. The seeds contain high levels of vitamin B6, calcium and potassium. They can also be ground into flour for use as a bread substitute or made into tea.
They are also used medicinally to treat a variety of conditions, including skin diseases and parasitic worms.
The canistel fruit is distinct from other tropical fruits. It is very easy to recognize due to its bright coloring and rough skin. It has a pungent smell and when it ripens the top of the fruit drops off. The flesh inside is soft and white. Its shape resembles a peeled egg (which is where it gets its name).
It has one large, soft pit.
The canistel tree grows as tall as 25 feet (7.5 meters) in some areas and has small, dark green leaves that can grow up to 12 inches long. Its white flowers are bell-shaped with an orange tip. They bloom from February to July. The canistel is a relative of the mainland tropical cherimoya, custard apple and hog plum trees, all of which have edible fruits.
Canistel trees are very common in subtropical and tropical areas. They can grow in many different types of soil and prefer wet areas. Canistels are usually found near rivers, marshes or other wet places. They require a lot of water and cannot survive long periods of drought.
The fruit is harvested between March and May before it ripens.
The tree should be at least three years old before it will bear fruit. The trees do not grow well when planted near other plants, but do well near banana plants, which produce large amounts of prop roots that help nourish the canistel tree.
Canistel trees are not frost tolerant and can be severely damaged if the temperature falls below 26 degrees Fahrenheit ( -3 degrees Celsius). The trees are easy to cultivate from seed, but they take several years to bear fruit.
The trees do not grow well in areas with cold winters. They should only be planted in areas where the temperature does not routinely fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit ( 10 degrees Celsius). They grow well on beaches and sand dunes, but cannot tolerate salt.
In Australia, canistel trees are grown in areas with a Mediterranean climate. It is rarely found naturally growing and always cultivated.
Canistels require a great deal of water and cannot survive long periods without it. They are also shallow rooted trees and cannot survive in areas that are not well-drained.
Canistel trees prefer wet, sandy soils near rivers or marshes. They are found in abundance in the wetter areas of Southern Florida, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Traditionally, throughout its growing region, canistel fruit has been used as a food source for many centuries. The Aztecs and Mayans used the fruit for human consumption; they also used the seeds to make a type of flour, which was often consumed by slaves and poor people. The Mayans and Aztecs also used the tough, outer skin of the fruit as a sort of “glue” or adhesive.
After the conquest and colonization of Latin America by the Spaniards, canistel or “Quince” was brought back to Europe. There it became a very popular dessert fruit, even more so than the apple or the pear.
Canistel trees are commercially cultivated in many parts of Asia, the Caribbean islands, the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia for its fruit, which is smaller than the better-known cherimoya. The canistel flesh has a creamy consistency with a unique flavor described as a blend of vanilla, pineapple and banana. The fruit has large, easy-to-remove seeds. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the ripe fruit is eaten with salt, pepper, and lemon or lime juice.
The mature green fruit is approximately 2 to 3 inches in diameter and has a tough, leathery skin.
There are two types of canistel: smooth skinned (like the one pictured above) and hairy skinned. The size and shape of the fruit can vary, but it is usually pear or egg-shaped. It can weigh up to 1 pound.
The skin color of the smooth-skinned canistel is green, but the skin of the hairy canistel is fuzzy or hairy.
A mature canistel tree is very attractive. It has dark green, glossy leaves that are ovular (like an oval) and almost as long as the fruit. The sturdy branches of the tree droop slightly toward the ground. Canistel trees can grow up to 30 feet in height and 15 feet in width.
The canistel tree (Chrysophylum auritum) is native to Mexico. It belongs to the soapberry family (Sapindaceae) and is related to the lychee and the rambutan.
The flesh of the canistel has a creamy consistency with a unique flavor described as a blend of vanilla, pineapple and banana.
The outside or “shell” of the canistel is a greenish-yellow in color. The fruit is covered with a thick, leathery skin that is difficult to peel.
Canistel is also known as “Quince”, “Custard Apple”, “Golden Sweet”, “Vania Cyanda”, “Vinegar Apple” and “Zanzibar Apple”.
The canistel is a short, evergreen tree with drooping branches. It has shiny, dark green leaves that are oval (almost as long as the fruit).
This is an ornamental fruit tree that can reach up to 15 feet in height and 25 feet in width.
Origin: Canistel originated in Mexico and Central America. It is now found throughout the tropics.
Uses: The canistel tree is grown for its attractive, oval leaves and edible fruit. Its hard, wooden branches are sometimes used in construction.
The fruit is eaten fresh, cooked in desserts and preserves, or made into wine.
Leaves are used as fodder for livestock.
The seed is often used as a substitute for coffee. In fact, it contains less caffeine than coffee. It is also roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
The hard, black seeds have a high fat content and are sometimes used as a substitute for cocoa butter.
The seed also has medicinal uses and is sometimes used as a laxative.
The oil in the seed is often used in paints and varnishes.
Special features: In tropical areas, canistel trees are often planted near houses. This is because the fruit has natural insecticide properties and the leaves are effective as a mosquito repellent.
The hard, black seeds can be used for jewelry and decorative inlay.
NOTE: The canistel tree has poisonous relatives that look similar (especially the Malay Apple or Snake Apple). Be careful not to confuse the two when picking fruit from a wild tree.
Paper-mache artists sometimes use the fibrous pulp inside the seed shell as a substitute for glue.
The name “canistel” may come from the Latin word “cannotus”, which means “melancholy.”
In some parts of the Caribbean, the ripe fruit is eaten with salt, pepper and lime juice.
The fruit is also cooked into a jam in the West Indies and used as a spread on bread.
Canistel leaves are sometimes used in place of jimaca (sisal) leaves to make sandals or woven into rope.
The wood from the canistel tree is sometimes used to make furniture.
NOTE: The fruit has a powerful, strange smell that can be detected several feet away. Don’t wear your best clothes when handling the fruit because the smell tends to stick to fabric.
If you suffer from latex allergies, you might want to avoid the fruit because it contains latex proteins.
Because of the fruit’s strange odor, some people say it is an aphrodisiac.
Canistel is not to be confused with the “Common Persimmon”.
The fruit can be dried and ground into a powder. This “chocolate powder” has a sweet, nutty flavor and can be used in cooking just like cocoa powder.
The seeds can be used to make a coffee-flavor syrup for desserts.
How to eat: – Wash the fruit and remove the peel and pulp. – Make a small hole at the top of the fruit with your thumbs and squeeze the now-exposed fleshy interior out like toothpaste. – Enjoy the sweet, mild taste as it slides down your throat. – The empty peel can be cut into strips and used to pick teeth. – The inedible core can also be dried and made into dice.
Yield: Depends on the size of the canistel, but you should get about one cup of fruit.
Storage: Canistel is best eaten fresh, immediately after picking. If you must store it, place in a sealed container in your refrigerator and use it within one day. Do not freeze.
Canistel trees produce large seeds that resemble coconuts. The shells are very hard and difficult to cut open without the proper equipment. Once you’ve managed to break open one of these massive shells, you will find a fibrous mass of seeds packed tightly together in a light brown, jelly-like pulp. The jelly is there to help the seed float and can be washed away before you eat them.
How to eat: – If you’re brave, you can bite right into one of the hard shells. The nut is surrounded by a thick, fibrous matter that should be chewed along with the nut itself. – The easiest way to open a seed is to warm it over a fire until it is hot all the way through. Then hit it firmly with a hammer or another heavy object. Wear safety goggles!
The shell may splinter and pieces could go flying off in different directions. Once it is open, you can break it apart with your hands. – Before eating the nut, take a moment to appreciate the beautiful, intricate patterns found on its surface. – The inside of the shell is very hard and inedible, but the nut itself is soft and sweet. Before eating it, you should remove the fibrous layer that surrounds it. To do this, simply cut it lengthwise and peel away the layer. – Once you’ve peeled it, you can enjoy the sweet nut inside. – The hard shells can be used as dishes or as small reservoirs for water. They make great vessels for storing other items, like nuts and berries.
Yield: Between 5 and 10 seeds, depending on their size.
Storage: The seeds can be kept in a cool, dry place for a couple of months.
Canistel seeds can be turned into delicious seed butter! Try different flavors by adding honey, cinnamon, or other spices.
How to make: – Boil the seeds in water for about 15 minutes. – Using a potato masher or fork, crush the seeds to a pulp. – Strain out the liquid (this is your seed butter!). – Put the mush in a pot and place over medium heat.
– Stir the mush and keep heating until it reaches a liquid state. – Add honey, cinnamon, or other spices of your choosing.
Yield: Depends on how many canistels you’ve started out with!
Storage: Store in a sealed container in your refrigerator for up to three days.
Sources & references used in this article:
Cultivation of neglected tropical fruits with promise. Part 5, The canistel and its relatives by FW Martin, SE Malo – 1978 – evols.library.manoa.hawaii.edu
Pouteria campechiana by C Barlow – 2008 – Basic Books
Preparation for and recovery from hurricanes and windstorms for tropical fruit trees in the South Florida home landscape by TK Lim – Edible Medicinal And Non-Medicinal Plants, 2013 – Springer
Flowering trees in subtropical gardens by JH Crane, CF Balerdi – … of the Florida State Horticultural Society, 2006 – journals.flvc.org