When I think of exotic fruits, I remember my first trip through Chinatown as a teenager. Shop displays encompass sidewalks giving the sea of pedestrians little room to shuffle along. Shop keepers yell out, talk, and laugh with customers in Mandarin. Elderly women pull full shopping carts, caring little for feet they run over. And the displays! Piles upon piles of unknown fruits, vegetables, backpacks, trinkets and foul smelling dried fish. I grew up in Toronto, yet I felt culture shock for the first time. Chinatown is a world of its own, a place for inspiration and discovery. When our Food Theory assignment was to become a fruit hunter, I knew exactly where to go.
There are 2 main fruit markets at Spadina and Dundas, K&K Specialty and Oriental Harvest. Although K&K is known for their exotic fruits, I found Oriental Harvest had fresher produce stocked on this particular day. There were many items to choose from, however my Filipino friend had told me of his fond memories eating atis as a child so I sought out some to try myself. Here, I found them under the name of “sugar apples” priced at 3 for $10.
The sugar apple is native to the tropical Americas and West Indies where it was brought to Asia by Spanish traders. It is now the most widely grown species from the Annona family, growing throughout tropical and warmer subtropical regions. It is unique among the Annona fruits because it is segmented and these segments separate when ripe exposing the interior. This shows the fruit is at its maximum sweetness and creaminess, making selecting the fruit visually easy. The season of the sugar apple tends to be late summer into early winter varying based on growing location.
Sugar apples are typically pale green to green blue but the ones I found had black spots across them which are caused by insecticides. They have a knobby, rough segmented rind, resembling something a dinosaur might have eaten. Despite sugar apples thick pine cone-like skin, it is a very delicate fruit that is prone to bruising. When the fruit is ripe, the segments begin to separate at the stem exposing the interior. To open the sugar apple, you simply pull it into two halves with your hands. The flesh is white, with 20-40 shiny black seeds throughout. The sugar apple has a faint pleasantly sweet smell. It tastes very sweet, with a soft and creamy texture that resembles custard yet also slightly grainy like an overripe pear.
Simply put, sugar apples are delicious. After my excursion I returned to my boyfriend’s office and shared with his colleagues. Everyone was put off by the fruits funky appearance and hesitant to try a piece. Yet after some encouragement they all loved the flavour of the sugar apple, but found the seeds annoying to spit out. It is very hearty and filling with 94 calories and 2g of protein per 100g serving while being full of vitamin C, manganese, B vitamins, and thiamin.
Since sugar apples are so soft and delicate, they do not hold up to heat and are primarily consumed fresh. The fruit is best in sweet applications, such as ice cream, sorbet, drinks, cheesecake, and served raw in salads and chutney. Sugar apples are also used in the Philippines to make wine. Complementary flavours include cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, orange, honey and vanilla.
Sugar Apple Pot
- 210g ginger biscuits (approx.. 18 biscuits)
- 70g shredded coconut
- 525g sugar apple flesh (approx. 1.5 sugar apples)
- 280ml coconut milk
- 2Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 lime, zest and juice (zest reserved)
- Process biscuits until they resemble fine breadcrumbs, divide evenly amongst 6 serving glasses.
- Toast shredded coconut in a dry pan, stirring occasionally until it turns brown. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Blend sugar apple flesh, coconut milk, brown sugar, and 2tsp lime juice until smooth. Spoon into glasses on top of biscuit crumbs, dividing the mixture evenly.
- Sprinkle toasted coconut evenly on top of custard apple mixture and garnish each glass with lime zest. Store in the refrigerator until serving.
Recipe by Australian Masterchef contestant Adam Liaw.
Recipe found on mindfood.com
Resources used researching this blog post: