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Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Wondrous Wi Apple

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

Ripe (yellow) and unripe (green) wi apples.

Ripe (yellow) and unripe (green) wi apples.

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 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 are 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!

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.

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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have a dwarf Wi tree that is is only 2 ft tall and producing cluster of fruit. When is a good time to prune it?

Answer: I have a 12 year-old dwarf wi apple in my garden. I've never pruned or trimmed it! It remains the same size (about 3 feet tall) and produces fruits every year. I only trim fruit trees (mango, abiu, mountain apple, etc.) when they get too tall (for picking fruits) or too big (taking over neighbor trees). And I usually trim a fruit tree after its fruiting season.

Question: What type of fertilizer do you use for this Wi apple tree?

Answer: I planted my wi apple tree from a seed 9 years ago. When the tree was young, I used fertilizer with a 1-2-1 ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potash (K). Hint: A high phosphorus stimulates root growth and helps young tree to grow vigorously. I also added homemade organic compost (from garden & kitchen vegetable waste). Now that it is a fully mature tree (about 60 feet tall), I don't fertilize it anymore and let nature take its course!

Question: I have a huge, very prolific Wi Apple tree, and love the taste of the fruit. It just perfectly suits my tart fruit obsession. But those blasted seeds! Any suggestions for dealing with them?

Answer: I suggest you use a small knife to slice off chunks of the fruit, instead of biting directly into the fruit to eat. Personally, I don't mind the thorny seed. However, sometimes the fibrous, stringy "thorns" got stuck in my teeth and that's a little annoying!

© 2018 Viet Doan

Comments

LouIse Jones on October 21, 2019:

I read online somewhere that in the evolution of fruit trees, wi fruit trees were the first trees to produce fruit.

Louise Jones on February 16, 2019:

I have a very tall, very prolific Wi tree in my yard on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island in Hawaii. I love to eat the fruit at the tart stage, but sure don't like those pokey seeds. Anybody got a clever way to deal with those.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 17, 2018:

Aloha Linda! So glad you get introduced to a new fruit. Yes, the leaves are very tart, it is like chewing on a stalk of raw rhubarb! In Asia, people also use the leaves to flavor certain seafood soups. Cooking doesn't get rid of the strong sour taste at all!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 17, 2018:

I always enjoy learning about new fruits. I've never heard of the wi apple before. I'd love to taste one. The leaves sound interesting as well. Thanks for sharing the information and the photos, Viet.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 16, 2018:

Hi Elayne! It does make sense that this fruit in Hawaii has a similar name in Tonga. Thanks so much for sharing that! It is fascinating to see the connection between cultures and people around the world when it comes to food. Aloha!

Elayne from Rocky Mountains on September 16, 2018:

They have those in Tonga, where we lived for 13 years, but they are called Vi. Loved them! Kind looks like the Hawaiian and Tongan are related since the word is actually the same phonetically.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 15, 2018:

@Viet & Hey, Mary Norton, so I and you are in the same shoe, eh? Good to know. It is the aroma that attracted me to eat the fruit when I do not know its name. A little bite, I become crazy and go for more. although it is newly introduced into the market some years ago, there are now in season. My significant half bought some yesterday to ripen. I will include it as part of my fruit or fruit-and-vegetable salads. Thank you.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 15, 2018:

Hi Mary! So glad you have tasted this fruit before. It is called trai coc in Vietnam. It's a delicious, fun fruit to eat and like you say, quite refreshing. Supposedly it can cure an upset stomach and stop diarrhea! Next time when I got stomach problem from eating street foods in Thailand or Vietnam, I eat some wi apple. Will let you know if it works. Aloha!

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 15, 2018:

Hi Miebakagh! Thank you for telling me how this fruit is called in your country - busy mango. Very interesting name! I guess because it yields so much fruits during the season. It's hard to believe that wi apple is related to mango. By the way, I also love pickled green mango! Aloha

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 15, 2018:

I tasted this fruit in Cambodia and Vietnam and it was a refreshing fruit to eat when the weather is hot. I did not know its name then. The locals have a name for it.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 15, 2018:

Hey, Viet, Thanks for sharing. I have introduced to this fruit some eight years ago. I got crazy with the taste. n these part of my state, we called it busy mango. I have tasted the fruit both ripe and green. But I am looking for ways to lessen the sour taste of the green stuff. I think like the Indian green mango, soaking the green we apple in warm tea solution will do the trick. Thanks again.