(Spondias cytherea, S.dulcis)
Other names for this fruit and close relatives are Otaheite apple,
Tahitian quince, Jamaica plum, golden apple and wi. The general
consensus is that it is indigenous to Polynesia, but it grows in Asia's
tropical zones too. Foreigners living where this fruit grows refer to it
by its local name, whatever that happens to be.
The tree grows tall, reaching almost 20 m
(60 ft). The fruit, which is popular in Asia, is plum shaped, sweet-sour
and eaten at all stages of ripeness. Its distinguishing feature is a
spiny seed. The spines toughen as the fruit matures, so that when eating
conserve made from the almost-ripe fruit the sweet flesh should be
carefully sucked from the seed to avoid an unsolicited lip-piercing or a
tough fiber stuck between the teeth.
In the unripe stages the green skin is
peeled with a knife and slices of the firm, pale flesh dipped in chili
powder and salt before being relished by street-side snackers or school
children. Unripe fruit is also cooked in chutneys. As the fruit ripens
it becomes yellow to range in color and more fragrant and sweet, though
still with a good percentage of acidity. It has been described as having
a flavor like pineapple. Ambarellas are sometimes simmered in curries,
but are more commonly cooked with sugar and a stick of cinnamon and are
popular with home cooks for jams, jellies and cordials. Being high in
pectin, it is sometimes added to other low-pectin fruit to obtain a good
set when making jams and jellies.
A member of the same botanical family, S
mombin, is referred to as hog plum or hog apple, but there are
differences. Another member of the Spondias clan is S.pinnata
which is grown in Thailand for its leaves (served raw with nam prik),
its fruit (added to green papaya salad) and its bark.
When purchasing, buy hard, greenish fruit if
you wish to make chutneys or eat them as a sour snack. Look for
yellowing skin for half-ripe fruit and a deep-yellow skin if you want
them ripe. Being a hard fruit, they keep well. Besides, it also has
medicinal uses. The bark of the tree can be used to cure diarrhea.