Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Amazing Abiu
Abiu (botanical name Pouteria caimito) is an exotic fruit tree that grows in Hawaii. A native of the Amazon region of South America, abiu (pronounced Aa-be-you) belongs to the Sapotaceae family and is commonly found in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. It has been widely cultivated in other parts of the world including the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Abiu was first introduced into the U.S. in Florida, but it didn’t do well there due to the frequent winter frost or summer drought which severely damage the plant. Abiu needs a year-round warm, wet and humid tropical climate to thrive, that’s why it grows better in Hawaii. Farmers on the Big Island recently started to plant more abiu on their farms as the fruit becomes more popular and in demand, especially with the local hotel and restaurant industry.
An abiu fruit has a roundish oval shape, about the size of a peach, with a pointy end. In some varieties, the pointy end is larger and protrudes like a nipple! The skin of the abiu fruit is smooth and shiny, dark green when it is immature and turns into a brilliant golden yellow color when the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked. Visitors to Hawaii sometimes misidentify the abiu fruits as mangoes because of the similar bight yellow skin. However, the abiu has its own amazing taste, unlike any other fruits.
Abiu is usually eaten fresh. You just cut the fruit in half length-wise and use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh inside. A ripe abiu has a very unique taste. The creamy white flesh is extremely delicate, lightly sweet, with a strong hint of caramel and vanilla. Some people describe the flavor as similar to a crème caramel flan! Each fruit typically has one or two black oblong-shaped seeds. The peel of the fruit is not edible. It contains a gummy latex sap that could make your lips stick together! Don’t worry; it only happens if you bite directly into the fruit. The peel (where it is cut) also turns brown immediately when it is exposed to air.
Abiu is best enjoyed when it’s chilled. It’s delicious when added to yogurt or mixed in a fruit salad. In Hawaii, creative chefs at fine restaurants make a delightful abiu sorbet by combining the fruit with coconut milk and pure cane sugar. In Latin America, people make ice cream, as well as other delectable desserts, like fruit tarts and cakes, with abiu. But eating it fresh is the most preferred way. Some vacation resorts in Hawaii serve abiu to their guests at the breakfast buffet, along with other usual tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple.
As with the mountain apple (another wonderful tropical fruit grown in Hawaii), abiu is rarely seen for sale at supermarkets. You have more luck finding the fruits at local farmers markets (like the Maku’u farmers market in Puna) or sometimes in the organic fruit/vegetable section at local health food stores. Abiu is gaining more popularity as more locals and visitors experience this exotic fruit and enjoy eating it.
Abiu can be propagated easily from seed in a pot, and then you can transplant the young plant into the ground later. In Hawaii, if you plant the seed directly in the ground, wild pigs or mongooses might dig it up and devour it before it has a chance to sprout! Fill a three-gallon pot with a mixture of good potting soil and compost, add some fertilizer, and bury the seed in the center of the pot (about 2 inches under the soil). Water thoroughly and set the pot in a warm sunny spot. After two weeks, the seed will germinate.
Abiu is a fast grower; it can get as tall as 3-4 feet in the pot within six months with regular watering and proper fertilizing. Transfer the healthy seedling into the ground as soon as possible to avoid root-bound problems. Abiu trees should be planted in full sun for best growth and fruit production. Mulching is highly recommended to keep the soil moist. After three years, the tree should be about 12-15 feet tall and will start to bear fruit. In the wild, abiu can get as tall as 120 feet! In the garden, it must be pruned regularly to keep it at the desired height and width (much easier to harvest the fruits).
In Hawaii, abiu is known for its prolific year-round fruit-bearing cycle. It is not uncommon to see an abiu tree covered with both immature and ripening fruits, as well as new flower buds along the branches! The small greenish abiu flowers usually appear in small clusters at the leaf axils or on the main trunk of the tree. The flowers have no scent, but they do attract many flying insects as pollinators. Each flower lasts for about two days then drops to the ground, and almost immediately a tiny immature fruit forms. It quickly balloons into a marble-size fruit within a few days and continues to grow into its full size in about three weeks, then changes from dark green to light green to bright yellow. You can pick the fruit right after it turns yellow, but let it sit on the kitchen counter for a day or two to allow it to become fully ripen, then chill it in the refrigerator and enjoy!
About This Article
The author loves his abiu tree, although he has to prune it regularly to keep it from crowding out other fruit trees. Oh yes, he got his lips stuck together a few times from seeping abiu juice from the peel!
All photos were taken with a Samsung Digimax 301 3.2MP Digital Camera.
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
Can abiu grow in Houston, TX?
Since Houston, TX has hot humid weather, I think abiu may do well there. However, during the winter months, you must protect the tree from occasional cold/freezing temperature.Helpful 2
Do you know where can I buy a 1-year-old Abiu plant?
If you live in Hawaii, you will most likely find young abiu trees for sale at many farmers markets around the islands. Also, check with the University of Hawaii Cooperative Agriculture Extension office - it's a great resource for gardening and farming, including where to buy plants and seeds. Local nurseries and fruit farms may sell abiu plants. I bought my abiu tree at Hilo Farmers Market some 9 years ago and planted 3 others from the seeds of that first tree.
I'm trying to identify a fruit tree in Honaunau. The fruit looks like Abiu, but this tree has a distinctly natural pyramidal shape. Is it an Abui?
Without a picture of your tree or fruit, it's impossible to tell if it is an abiu! Many fruit trees in Hawaii has pyramid shape: mountain apple, eggfruit, jackfruit and even some avocado. Abiu fruit has a gelatinous texture and unique taste (strong vanilla flavor).
I am encouraged by its precocious and prolific growth and am planning to grow abiu in California, have you ever had a rotten fruit?
I think mountain apple will grow well in CA. I never had a bad fresh fruit. Eat the fruits when they are ripe and red in color. Overrippen fruits are mushy and fermenty.
I'd like to get in contact with a local Hawaii farmer of this fruit. Do you have a contact information to share?
Sorry, I do not have any contact info. If you live in Hawaii, go to a local farmers market and ask around to see if anyone is selling abiu tree. If you're on the Big Island, Maku'u Market (opens on Sundays) in Puna is a good place to buy young tropical fruit trees, you will find several vendors selling a great variety of potted plants, flowers, and herbs. Otherwise, contact the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension office, they're a great resource for gardening and farming.
© 2011 Viet Doan