Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Star Apple
Star apple (botanical name Chrysophyllum cainito) is an exotic fruit with a delightful taste that you should try when visiting Hawaii. It’s about the size of an apple and has smooth, shiny green or purple skin. Star apple is not a native fruit tree of Hawaii. Originated from Central America, it has been widely cultivated throughout tropical West Indies, Pacific and Southeast Asia. Star apple gets its name from the interesting “starburst” core pattern that can be seen when the fruit is cut in half.
Star apple is found growing in farms, gardens, parks, as well as in the wild, on all the islands of Hawaii. It is a tall fruit tree, up to 50-60 feet, and easily recognized by its unique foliage: the leaves are dark glossy green on top and golden brown on the underside.
EATING STAR APPLE
Star apple is usually eaten fresh. Cut the fruit in half and use a spoon to scoop out the white pulp around the “starburst” core. The delicate jelly-like pulp is sweet and very juicy. The Vietnamese call star apple qua vu sua (means breast milk fruit) and French Polynesians name it pomme de lait (milk apple) because of the abundance of a rich creamy juice oozing from the pulp. You can drink the juice by spooning it out, just never sip it directly from the fruit! The rind and the skin contain a sap that is astringent and will make your lips feel “sandpapery”! Also, don’t eat the hard-as-a-rock black seeds!
Star apple is best enjoyed when it has been chilled in the refrigerator. It’s absolutely delicious with yogurt or cottage cheese! You can also make a fruit salad with star apple and other tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and papaya. In India, street vendors make a refreshing star apple lassi (smoothie) by blending the ripe fruit with yogurt and pistachio nuts. In Hawaii, people simply eat fresh star apple as a snack or dessert.
As with the mountain apple or abiu, star apple is rarely seen for sale at supermarkets in Hawaii. You have better luck finding it at farmers markets (like the Maku’u farmers market or Kalapana night market in Puna) and also try the organic fruit/vegetable section at local heath food stores.
GROWING STAR APPLE
Star apple only grows in tropical or subtropical climate. It can be propagated easily from seed, but it would take 10 years or more for the young seedling to mature and produce fruits. Grafted trees from local nursery or air-layered cuttings are better option, as they may bear fruits 1-2 years after planting in the ground. Star apple is known to be a prolific fruit bearer, a single tree can produce hundreds of fruit in one season (March to June).
Star apple has small, pretty pale yellow flowers. However, they have a strong unpleasant smell, especially at night - probably to attract certain type of pollinators. When unripe, the fruits are bright green in color, when ripe they become slightly purple and soft to the touch. There’s another variety of star apple in Hawaii that both the skin and the pulp turn brilliant deep purple when ripe.
If not harvested, the fruits will remain on the tree and eventually dry up into hard little black balls. However, when it’s windy, some over ripen fruits may drop and they make a terrible mushy mess on the ground! In Hawaii, birds and rats love star apples, they will devour the fruits on the tree faster than you could pick!