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 dessert treats 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 heath 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 center of the pot (about 2 inches under the soil). Water thoroughly and set the pot in a warm sunny spot. After 2 weeks, the seed will germinate.
Abiu is a fast grower, it can get as tall as 3-4 feet in the pot within 6 months with regular watering and proper fertilizing. Transfer the healthy seedling into the ground as soon as possible to avoid root bound problem. Abiu trees should be planted in full sun for best growth and fruit production. Mulching is highly recommended to keep the soil moist. After 3 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 desirable 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 2 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 3 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!