Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Mouthwatering Mountain Apple

Updated on May 9, 2019
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet seaside community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.

Mountain apple season is here!
Mountain apple season is here! | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mountain apple tree produces great number of fruits each season.
Mountain apple tree produces great number of fruits each season.
Mountain apple tree produces great number of fruits each season. | Source

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 and very often an entire branch will snap off because of the fruits’ weight!

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Ripening fruits,Green unripe fruits.
Ripening fruits,
Ripening fruits, | Source
Green unripe fruits.
Green unripe fruits. | Source
Mountain apple flowers.
Mountain apple flowers. | Source

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) and when falling, they transform the ground underneath the tree into a glorious pink carpet! After flowering, the tree bears fruits which 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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mountain apple tree in bloom.A magic carpet under the tree!
Mountain apple tree in bloom.
Mountain apple tree in bloom. | Source
A magic carpet under the tree!
A magic carpet under the tree! | Source

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 temperature. 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. | Source

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 2 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. | Source

About This Article

The author is very grateful to have two mountain apple trees on his property. He loves eating the fruits right off the branch!

All photos were taken in the author’s garden and kitchen with a Samsung Digimax 301 3.2MP camera, an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.

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

  • Do you have a recipe for making mountain apple wine?

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

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

    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.

  • How do mountain apples relate to Hawaiian culture?

    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.

  • 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?

    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.

  • 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?

    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!

© 2011 Viet Doan


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    • profile image


      10 months ago

      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.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Nam Doan 

      16 months ago

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

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I like mountain apples and Minecraft

    • profile image

      Jack Montana 

      2 years ago

      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.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The pickled mountain apples taste great!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      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?

    • Deelan MJ profile image

      Dee Jorillo 

      4 years ago

      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!


    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      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.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

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

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      4 years ago from Australia

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

    • profile image


      4 years ago

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

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

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

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      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!

    • profile image

      Bridget P 

      4 years ago

      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 :)

    • profile image

      Lan Myers 

      5 years ago

      Can you eat mountain apples while still small & green?

    • profile image

      chris clorioso 

      6 years ago

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

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      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!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      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.

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      7 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      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 profile image


      7 years ago from Puerto Rico

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

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      7 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

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

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 

      7 years ago from Johnson County, Kansas

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

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      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 profile image


      8 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      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

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

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

    • MSantana profile image


      8 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

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

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

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

    • funmontrealgirl profile image


      8 years ago from Montreal

      Those look so yummy!

    • profile image

      Anita Casalina 

      8 years ago

      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!

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      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!

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 

      8 years ago from Connecticut

      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 profile image


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

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

    • profile image


      8 years ago

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


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