Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Wondrous Wi Apple
Wi apple (pronounced wee or vee apple) is a tall tropical fruit tree often seen growing in gardens and parks in Hawaii. Originating from Polynesia (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands), wi apple has been widely cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.
Depending on where it is grown, wi apple has numerous common names: ambarella, pomme de cynthère, golden apple, hog plum, Polynesian plum, jobo de Indio, makok farang, trái cóc, mangotin, kedongdong, cajá-manga, and many more!
The plant's botanical name is Spondias dulcis. It’s in the Anacardiaceae family and related to the mango. Each fruit is about the size of a large egg, with smooth skin on the outside and a thorny fibrous seed inside. The flesh has a distinct mango-pineapple smell and flavor.
Wi apple is easy to grow and requires low maintenance. It is a fast grower and can reach maturity and start producing fruits within 3–4 years of planting. I planted a wi apple tree from seed seven years ago. It is now the tallest tree in my garden and produces a prolific amount of fruits each season.
How to Eat Wi Apples
Wi apples can be eaten fresh, both as an unripe and ripe fruit. Peel the skin off with your fingers (or a knife), then bite into the fruit like eating an apple! However, be careful of the seed, as some of the spiny fibers are quite sharp!
Unripe, the fruit has a bright green color, and its flesh is crunchy and sour. In many Southeast Asia countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, unripe wi apples are wildly popular! People enjoy eating them with chili salt or shrimp paste. The combination of the salty, spicy, and sour flavors and crunchy texture of the unripe fruit is irresistible!
Wi apples turn golden-yellow as they ripen, and the flesh becomes soft, very juicy, and tastes pleasantly sweet with just a hint of tartness.
In Hawaii, wi apples are usually eaten as a fruit snack, and used to make smoothies, ice cream, or sherbet. They are somewhat a novelty and not as popular as their famous cousin, the mango.
In Jamaica, Trinidad, and Tobago, ripe wi apples are juiced and made into delicious chutneys, jams, and preserves.
In Indonesia, young wi apple leaves are eaten raw as a side dish to accompany a meat stew or fish curry. Be warned, though: the leaves have an intense, mouth-puckering sour taste!
A Tasty Street Food
Green wi apples are a favorite snack among school-aged children in Vietnam. Street vendors are often seen selling pickled wi apples (marinated in fish sauce, sugar, chili, and stuck on bamboo skewers) near schools and city parks.
Where to Find Wi Apples in Hawaii
You will most likely find them for sale at farmers markets around the islands. The fruits are highly susceptible to cold temperatures, so supermarkets do not stock or sell them.
In Hawaii, wi apple is in season between November and April.
The Benefits of Wi Apples
Wi apple is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and is rich in calcium and iron as well. It is also high in fiber and acts as an antioxidant.
How to Grow Wi Apples
You may plant wi apple from seeds or cuttings or by air-layering.
To plant from seed, bury the seed in a 1-gallon plastic pot filled with good-quality potting soil. The seed will germinate in about two weeks. Shield the young seedling from direct sunlight, and keep the soil moist with regular watering.
Within six months, the seedling will grow to 4–5 feet tall. Select a sunny location with well-drained soil in the garden to transplant the seedling. Make sure there is plenty of room for it to grow!
It is indeed a vigorous grower! In about three years, the tree will reach 15–20 feet tall and start producing fruits. Shortly after that, it will grow into a towering 30–40 feet tree! Some taller branches must be trimmed or cut off to keep the tree at a desirable height for easy fruit picking.
Pick the fruits when they are still green. Leave them on the kitchen counter, and they will ripen in a few days. Eat the ripe fruits as soon as possible, as they will become mushy and attract hordes of fruit flies!
Note: Wi apples do not tolerate cold or freezing weather. In the continental US, southern California and Florida are the only two regions suitable for growing the plant.
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