Thursday, February 23, 2012

Alien Ingredient #16: Spondias/Mombin

I'm very weak on the subject of tropical fruits for the simple reasons that I run a local and seasonal restaurant in North America and I have never traveled much in the tropics, save the islands in the Caribbean, whose markets sell more or less the same fruits we do in our grocery stores here. So, I just don't have a clue about most tropical fruits. Grandilla? Sapodilla? Morinda? Safou? Yeah, heard of them, but never seen one live and in color. So I'm always on the lookout to increase my knowledge of such fruit.

With that in mind, I've had my eye on the jar of pickled makok—you know there's a joke in here somewhere—at the market for a while now and finally decided that it needed to come home with me, anticipating that it is similar pickled green mango or green papaya pickles. The fruits are lime-sized and are peeled before being pickled.

Before leaving the store, I googled makok to see what I was buying and found that makok is the Thai word for the fruit of Spondias dulcis. That reminded me that I had also previously seen other Spondias in the freezer case. These fruits are labeled jocote, both types of which are labeled as being S. purpurea or purple (or red) mombin. The red-purple type is called jocote indio and the green-yellow type is called jocote de corona.

In reading further on the subject, it appears that the green-yellow ones are color variants of purple mombins, and not yellow mombins, S. mombin, but our taste tests do not bear this out. The green ones taste and appear nothing like the red ones. Here they are side by side for comparison.

Each of these fruits appears to be a drupe, that is, it has fleshy fruit surrounding a central pit. The pits are more at mango pits than any of our domesticated drupes. The central pit is connected by masses of fibers to the flesh, a real clingstone if I ever saw one.

The pickled makok flesh is light green and mildly sweet, with sort of the texture of a mushy watermelon rind pickle. On chewing the pickle, the good parts disappear quickly and after a few moments, you're left chewing on a sort of flavorless, pasty, fibrous mass. To quote me during our tasting, "This is not a good pickle."

The red mombins on the other hand had a leathery skin yielding to a grapey, plummy red flesh. They are sweet and pretty tasty. I think we'll use the rest of these to flavor a flan or sorbet. By contrast, the yellow mombins had the same leathery skin yielding to a broken custard-looking baby puke flesh. The flavor was a touch medicinal and the skin quite astringent. These quickly went into the trash.

Vote: Pickled makok—not a good pickle. Red mombin—a delicious fruit, if quite low on the flesh to pit ratio. Yellow mombin—baby puke flesh says it all.

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