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Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Mouthwatering Mountain Apple

I go to the Hilo orchid show each year. There's hardly any more room for orchids in my house but I can’t help myself from getting more!

Mountain apple season is here!

Mountain apple season is here!

Mountain apple (botanical name Syzygium malaccense) is a beautiful fruit tree that grows in many farms and gardens in Hawaii, particularly on the rainy east side of the Big Island. It has a Hawaiian name, Ohi’a ’ai (oh-hee AH eye), and several other common names including Malay apple, rose apple, or water apple. Despite its name, it is not related to the mainland apple varieties that you see in the supermarket! The mountain apple fruit does have a waxy and shiny red skin (perhaps that’s why it has “apple” in its name), but its bell-shaped body and unique taste have no resemblance to any apples of the Western world.

Mountain apple is not a native species of Hawaii. It originated from Malaysia and has been widely cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, India, Central America, the Caribbean, and many tropical island countries in the South Pacific. The Polynesian voyagers were credited for introducing mountain apples to Hawaii when they first discovered the islands centuries ago.

Mountain apple is a fast-growing tree and could reach 50-60 feet when mature. It can be grown easily from seeds (they germinate almost immediately in humus rich soil) and cuttings or air layering. On the Big Island, it thrives in areas that have abundant rainfall and humidity, such as Hilo and Pahoa towns or the lush Waipio valley. It can be seen growing in the wild wherever birds and animals have scattered its seeds: in the middle of a rainforest, at the bottom of a ravine, or alongside the many waterfall streams around the island. In Hilo, it is common to see a large mountain apple tree covered with hundreds of fruits in someone’s backyard. Very often, an entire branch will snap off because of the fruits’ weight!

Mountain apple flowers.

Mountain apple flowers.

Mountain Apple Blossoms

It is a magnificent sight to see a mountain apple tree in bloom. The flowers have a deep magenta-crimson color, with tiny gold specks dusting the tips of the stamens. They look like clusters of mini exploding fireworks! The lightly fragrant flowers sprout abundantly along the woody branches (or even on the main trunk). When falling, they transform the ground underneath the tree into a glorious pink carpet! After flowering, the tree bears fruits that are light green when young and turn bright to dark red when they are ripe. If left on the tree, the ripe fruits will eventually change into a dark burgundy color and then drop to the ground. This creates a messy problem as the smashed fruits ferment and attract hordes of fruit flies! There is also a less common white variety of mountain apple growing in Hawaii, in which the trees bear lovely white blossoms (with a stronger fragrance) and delicate white fruits.

Eating Mountain Apples

A ripe mountain apple fruit tastes sweet and very juicy. It also has a distinct rose flavor. The flesh is soft and slightly crunchy. Each fruit typically has one (sometimes two) small round seeds inside. You don’t have to peel the skin, just bite into the fruit as if you are eating a…well, apple!

Mountain apple is a major commercial fruit crop in many Southeast Asian countries (e.g., Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines) where farmers stack the bright red fruits into big piles and sell them at open air markets and fruit stands along the roadside, or transport them on little sampans heading to the floating markets. Visitors to Hawaii can find mountain apples at farmers' markets between August and September when the fruits are in season. They are rarely sold in supermarkets because they tend to bruise and deteriorate quickly even in refrigerated temperatures. In Hawaii, mountain apples are usually eaten fresh or made into jams and pickles. Local people also like to make a syrupy sweet wine out of the over-ripened fruits. When cooked with fresh ginger, lemon juice, cinnamon and then smoothly processed in a blender, they make a delicious mountain applesauce. The colorful mountain apple blossoms are also edible and they add a delightful touch to soups or salads when used as a garnish.

Making pickled mountain apple.

Making pickled mountain apple.

How to Make Pickled Mountain Apple

  • 10 mountain apples
  • 1-2 Thai chili peppers coarsely chopped (can substitute jalapeño peppers)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (can substitute rice vinegar)
  • 1 tps salt
  • ½ tps sugar

Wash the mountain apples and pat them dry with a paper towel. Cut each fruit into half lengthwise, discard the seeds and trim both ends. Cut across each half into thin (about 1/8” thick) slides. In a bowl, toss mountain apple slices with lemon juice, garlic, chili pepper, salt, and sugar. Spoon everything into a sterilized glass jar and close the lid tightly. Refrigerate for at least two days and enjoy! Pickled mountain apple is excellent with grilled fish or meat. It can be served by itself as a sweet and spicy appetizer or a side dish to accompany curry or sushi.

Pickled mountain apple.

Pickled mountain apple.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I bought a bag of fruit at the farmer’s market on Oahu. The fruit looks just like the mountain apple I grew up with. It’s bright red, but not juicy. It’s crispy & tastes a little lemony. What could it be?

Answer: As far as I know, there are several varieties of mountain apple. Some are juicier than others. Some are white or dark purple instead of red. Here in Hawaii, I've seen mountain apples in all sizes and shapes, including tiny ones about the size of your thumb!

Question: Will mountain apples grow anywhere on the mainland of Hawaii?

Answer: Mountain apples are a tropical fruit tree. It will not grow "anywhere" in mainland, but Maybe in FL or southern CA. It needs a lot of rain, as well as hot, humid weather year round. Unless you have a greenhouse to shelter the plant in the winter months, it will not survive cold weather. It is not related to the regular apple that you have in mainland which can tolerate cold freezing temperature.

Question: I live in Oahu. My neighbor has a white mountain apple tree. My neighbor is 74, and I want to help her, but I don't know anything about this plant. The leaves are being eaten. Could you help me, please?

Answer: Some bugs like to eat mountain apple leaves. I have seen this problem on my mountain apple trees. The leaves must be quite tasty to them! However, I'm an organic gardener, and I don't use chemical poisons or insecticide in my garden. If the bugs like to eat the fruits or leaves on my trees, I let them have it. There's always plenty to share! Occasionally, if the bugs are getting out of control, like an infestation of aphids, spider mites or mealy bugs (very common in Hawaii), I would mix up a concoction of neem oil, water, and dish soap, and spray it on the plants. It works really well. Neem oil is made from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree which is originated from India. It's a natural insecticide and bug repellent. You can buy neem oil at many garden centers like Home Depot, Walmart, or local nurseries.

Question: How many years before Mountain Apple tree will start to give fruit?

Answer: It depends on how the tree was first planted, i.e., from seed or by air-layering or cutting. I planted one mountain apple tree from seed; it quickly grew into a large tree within 5 years and started flowering and producing fruits. Mountain apple is a strong and fast grower; it can reach 40-50 feet tall if you don't prune it regularly!

Question: Do you have any tips on growing mountain apple from seed? Can I just plant it into the ground? Does it require a lot of water or sun?

Answer: Depending on where you live, mountain apple seed can be planted directly into the ground or a one-gallon pot first, then transplanting the three or four-month-old seedling into the ground later. Here in Hawaii, seeds from fallen fruits usually sprout quickly and grow happily underneath the mother tree! I have to weed these young plants out every year to keep them from getting bigger! Mountain apple loves full sun and plenty of water.

Question: Can mountain apples be ripened off the tree?

Answer: Yes, you can pick fruits that are not fully ripen and let them sit on kitchen counter for a couple days, then they will be ready for eating.

Question: How do mountain apples relate to Hawaiian culture?

Answer: A mountain apple is one of those canoe plants that ancient Hawaiians or the original Polynesians brought to the islands of Hawaii centuries ago on their canoes during their many voyages across the Pacific Ocean. Other canoe plants are taro, breadfruit, banana, sugarcane, ti, kawa, etc.

Question: Do mountain apples grow better on tall or short trees?

Answer: Here on the Big Island, I have seen both tall and short mountain apple trees with tons of fruits! So, I don't think it matters, as long as the tree is happy and healthy, it will produce fruits. However, short trees will make it easier to pick the fruits.

Question: Can I order Mountain apples online and have them delivered to the U.S.?

Answer: Mountain apple fruits are highly perishable, and will not survive in shipment containers. Therefore it is impossible to ship the fruit to mainland U.S. You will have to visit Hawaii or other tropical countries like Thailand or Vietnam to try the fruit.

Question: Where can I purchase mountain apples in Southern California?

Answer: You will most likely find mountain apples for sale at any Asian market in Southern CA. I have seen them for sale in the Vietnamese supermarkets in Little Saigon in Orange County. Remember it's a seasonal fruit, so you will not find them available year round! In Hawaii, mountain apples are usually in season July-September.

Question: Our mountain apple tree leaves have holes in them. Do you know what bug would be eating the leaves?

Answer: I've seen holes on the leaves and missing chunks (along the edge of the leaves) of my mountain apple trees. Never seen what chomping on them, at least during daylight! I suspect some sort of nocturnal beetles or crickets. One of these days I will come out at night with a flash light to spy on them. The holes on the leaves didn't seem to bother the trees or affect its fruit production. I don't use chemical insecticide in my garden, just let nature take its course.

Question: Can mountain apple grow in Florida? Where can I purchase a plant?

Answer: Mountain apple may grow well in Florida, but it will not survive those occasional freezing spells that Florida has in the winter months. Check your local nursery for how to get a plant.

Question: Where, besides Hawaii, do mountain apples grow well? Can you get seeds or young trees in the mainland?

Answer: Mountain apple prefers year-round hot, humid tropical climate. It needs a lot of water to grow and produce fruits. It may do well in southern California or Florida. Check the local nurseries in those places for young plants or research online to get seeds.

Question: I am 9 degrees north of the equator. Lots of rain in the wet season, very hot and dry in summer. Should I plant a 5' Mountain Apple tree in sun or shade?

Answer: Like many tropical fruit trees, mountain apple prefers full sun. It also likes plenty of water! If your area is hot and dry in the summer, then you must water the plant frequently to keep it happy and healthy.

Question: Have you come across white mountain apple or even a tree in Hawaii?

Answer: Yes, I have seen a few white mountain apple trees on the Big Island where I live. There are two trees in Pahoa town that are loaded with fruits right now! I see them every day on my way to work. It's mountain apple season!

Question: I read that mountain apple is very good for people with diabetes. How can I get mountain apples shipped to Ohio?

Answer: How interesting, I'm not aware of the diabetic benefit of mountain apple! But I know it cannot be shipped from Hawaii. You might be able to find fresh mountain apples for sale at Asian markets in southern California or Florida. Or take a trip to Hawaii!

Question: Are there different varieties of the Mountain Apple?

Answer: Yes, like most tropical fruits, there are several varieties of mountain apple. They come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and tastes.

Question: Do you have a recipe for making mountain apple wine?

Answer: No, I don’t have a recipe for making mountain apple wine.

© 2011 Viet Doan


Steve, on August 20, 2019:

I remember picking mountain apples on the trail along the Na Pali coast. I also remember a smaller white or yellowish tree fruit near the trail that also smelled like roses and had a different taste. I now suspect that it was a different variety of mountain apple.

Fred on July 10, 2019:

Hello, can I buy mountain apple fruit? I live in Oregon

Nam Doan on February 24, 2019:

Can I buy a mountain apple plant? I live in Honolulu

Kuu on February 22, 2018:

I like mountain apples and Minecraft

Jack Montana on January 05, 2018:

I used to eat these mountain apples on the island of Kauai. We had a secret place (back in the 1960's) along the main highway where we'd stop and have a treat before going home. I haven't had them since leaving the islands. I make homemade wine with the local fruits and veggies so I was wondering if anyone in the state of Hawaii has made any homemade with these mountain apples. Your web page looks mighty inviting and it reminds me off how juicy and sweet these ohi'a 'ai are. Thank you for sharing your apples.

Tiffany on May 16, 2017:

The pickled mountain apples taste great!

Sonya on April 15, 2016:

I love your article! I have so many questions, as our tree is starting to have blossoms! Is it normal for the blossoms to fall off? Or does that mean they are dying? How much should I be watering the tree?

Dee Jorillo on March 16, 2016:

Hello, congratulations on being the HOTD! :)

What caught my attention was the appearance of the fruit. We have the same (if not similar) kind of mountain apple here in the Philippines, which we refer to as "makopa". I initially thought that it can only be found in our country; thanks to this hub I now know that I can find them in Hawaii. Amazing! I learned something new today. ;)

Thank you for writing this!


Katharine L Sparrow from Massachusetts, USA on March 16, 2016:

Beautiful hub! I had never heard of this fruit. I like how you explain its properties from blossoms to ripened fruit. I hope I get to try one someday! Thanks for this interesting piece.

swilliams on March 16, 2016:

What beautiful and colorful pictures! I also enjoyed the unique topic! Another amazing reason to visit Hawaii! Congrats!

Anne Harrison from Australia on March 16, 2016:

Congratulations on HOTD! I've seen these fruit for sale in Asia, never known what they are - now I do. thank you.

RTalloni on March 16, 2016:

Back to say congrats on your Hub of the Day award!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 16, 2016:

Viet, lovely photos for this hub. Those mountain apples are beautiful, too. I always wanted to go to Hawaii someday. Congrats on HOTD!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 16, 2016:

Congratulations for the HOTD!

I was not aware of the mountain apple before reading your hub. They are indeed mouth watering and you are fortunate to have it around your home. Thanks for sharing this interesting information and the beautiful pictures!

Bridget P on August 30, 2015:

I.grew up in Panama, and ate them there!!! Luv them!! And actually found a farmer's market here in san Gabriel valley in Cali, that sells them. Found it mayb last year, but have yet to go buy some, but i need too :) its only 15/20 mins away :) wish they could ship em from Hawaii or other countries :)

Lan Myers on May 02, 2015:

Can you eat mountain apples while still small & green?

chris clorioso on January 10, 2014:

Where can i order some mountain apples at? I live in ky, and i miss the taste

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on July 17, 2013:

My mountain apple trees are fruiting right now, the fruits will be fully ripen in the next few weeks. In Hawaii, mountain apple season is June-August. US Dept of Agriculture does not permit fruits/plants from Hawaii to be shipped to mainland. You just have to plan a trip to Hawaii to taste the mountain apples and other tropical fruits that you mentioned. Aloha!

anonymous on July 15, 2013:

Some sources say that Mountain Apple and Rose Apple are two different fruits. Others say that its one and the same fruit. How long does Mountain Apple ripen in the wild state in the Hawaiian Islands? What months or what seasons is Mountain Apple ripe in Hawaii? I have not found this fruit in grocery stores where I live. Can I order Mountain Apple through the mail and have it shipped to my house? I live on the mainland United States. I would like to order Mountain Apple Java Plum Strawberry-Guava Rambutan and Custard Apples such as Sweetsop and Guanabana. Banana poka sounds delicious too.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on April 25, 2013:

Thanks for stopping by IslandBites! I hope to visit Puerto Rico some day. Sounds like we share a lot of common tropical fruits, very cool!

IslandBites from Puerto Rico on April 25, 2013:

In Puerto Rico, we call it pomarrosa. I remember that my grandma used to have a tree, but I never like them.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on February 23, 2013:

Thanks Gail! Glad you get to know about this fruit...Aloha!

Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on February 22, 2013:

I have never seen these before. Voted up and shared.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on February 10, 2012:

It's amazing that you have this same wonderful (very juicy watery indeed!) fruit in Bangladesh. Thanks for telling me its name, I will remember it. Aloha!

travel-O-grapher from Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 10, 2012:

Love the pictures! we actually have a variation the "apple" here in bangladesh as well.. but its totally while usually and its commonly known as the "pani-faul" which literally means "the water fruit" :p

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on October 13, 2011:

Yes it's a wonderful fruit. Great as a snack too! Glad you enjoyed the hub. Aloha!

MSantana from Madison Wisconsin on October 12, 2011:

That is one of my favorite fruits. It has a sweet aroma too. Thanks for stopping by to read my hubs too.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 06, 2011:

Thanks funmontrealgirl. Working in the garden yesterday, I saw one of my mountain apple trees is fruiting again. Yeah!

funmontrealgirl from Montreal on September 05, 2011:

Those look so yummy!

Anita Casalina on August 12, 2011:

Hi Viet!

Stephen shared your writing with me - very nice! I was just there on the Big Island with my son Evan. We drove through Puna and as usual, it was gorgeous. Hope to see you someday when I'm visiting again. Aloha!

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on August 01, 2011:

Thanks RTalloni and rainmist. Thanks for the vote BWD316. Glad you guys enjoy the hub. Wish I could send you each a box of mountain apples. Aloha!

Brian Dooling from Connecticut on August 01, 2011:

great hub! very cool tree, nature is filled with such useful and beautiful beings. Im craving a mountain apple now, after reading your post, too bad im no where near a tropical island! voted up!

rainmist from Las Vegas on August 01, 2011:

i'll taste Mountain Apple when i get chance,thank you for this article

RTalloni on August 01, 2011:

This tree and its fruit are amazing. Thanks for sharing info about the Ohi’a ’ai.