Food for Thought/Grow and Eat Local seeks to inform about the 149 crops that are grown in T&T (not counting the varieties within many of them). These crops are depicted on two charts with a photo of each crop in alpha order giving the local and scientific names and were sponsored by First Citizens. The model has been duplicated in Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent, and efforts are underway to do so in Jamaica and Guyana. Copies have been distributed to all schools and libraries. For information regarding their availability: email email@example.com
It is critical that we as a nation engage and support the resurrection and revival of local food production (eg, in schools) and consumption. As a country, we must place greater emphasis on food sovereignty as a matter of urgent attention.
In this the 20th instalment of the continuing series, we focus on the delicious fruit pommecythere, Spondias cytherea, a popular fruit belonging to the Anacardiaceae family which includes mango and cashew. The epithet "cytherea: is derived from the island of Cythere now known as Tahiti. This species is native to Melonesia through Polynesia and now can be found throughout tropical Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Australia and parts of Africa. Of interest is that the genus Spondias gives rise to two major groups of fruit, each with its distinct centre of origin; Pommecythere from Polynesia and the Plums (or Mombins) from Tropical America.
Pommecythere was first introduced into the Caribbean region, to Jamaica in 1782 and then again by Captain Bligh in 1791. In the Caribbean, pommecythere is grown primarily as a tree in home gardens and as an intercrop with cocoa. In Trinidad, however, small orchards of pommecythere have been established to cater for those periods when mango is out of season (during the latter part of the year).
This fruit is unusual since it is called by several names within the West Indies. In Grenada, which has a vibrant export trade for this fruit, it is called golden apple, but also referred to as June plum and Jew plum. In Guyana, it is known as golden apple. Besides T&T, the name pommecythere is used in St Lucia and Dominica. In South-East Asia it is known as ambarella.
As the fruit matures, the dark green skin colour turns bright yellow to orange when fruit is ripe. Ripe fruit fall from the tree. This attractive golden colour and crisp texture of the fruit is perhaps why it is named golden apple.
The seed is known as a stone and is characterised by numerous spines that radiate outwards, upwards and downwards. These spines protrude into the flesh. Inside this spiny receptacle is located between four-five seeds.
Pommecythere flourishes in the humid tropics and perform best where the annual rainfall exceeds 1,500mm. Although trees will grow and produce fruit in area with an annual rainfall of less than 1000mm, fruits so produced are small and inferior. Wind protection is required since branches are brittle and easily broken (snapped) especially when laden with fruit. Pommecythere trees go dormant for a short period after fruit production which coincides with the early part of the dry season. During this period, leaves turn bright yellow, senesce and fall, leaving a bare tree. Flowering is initiated within a two-month period after initial leaf fall.
Pommecythere is easily propagated via seed even though grafting and rooting of cuttings have proven successful. The pommecythere tree is medium to large-sized which can be grown in tropical and frost-free sub-tropical areas of the world. The fruit is a drupe and is borne on long stalks in dangling bunches averaging between seven and 12 fruit per cluster. Mature fruit are oval to round with a thin but tough skin.
When the bark of the tree is wounded, the tree responds with its defense mechanism and produces its yellow, viscous gum which darken and harden with time. This gummed area if large can essentially isolate this portion of the trunk or branch from the rest of the tree thus being starved of nutrients. Early removal of the gummed portion of the tree (essentially tree surgery) can save the tree from dying.
A related species of pommecythere is considered by some botanists as merely a wild form of S cythere and is known as Spondias pinnata. This dwarf pommecythere is cultivated from the Himalayas to the Andaman Islands, and now commonly cultivated throughout south-east Asia and Malaysia.
A dwarf selection of pommecythere was introduced into Trinidad from Thailand in the early 1980s by a private horticulturist and its popularity as a potted bearing plant has grown. While it is not certain whether this selection is indeed S pinnata, some similarities exist such as smooth twigs, leaves that are not toothed and the small size of the fruit.
This dwarf selection now occurs throughout the Caribbean where small orchards have been established for commercial purposes. One characteristic of this dwarf selection is that is bears fruit year-round once adequate amounts of water are available. Dwarf pommecythere fruits taste the same as the standard fruits. Fruit skins are softer in texture and therefore peeling of fruits before cooking is unnecessary.
Readily propagated from seed (emerging seedlings are true dwarfs), green fruits can be harvested six months after seedling transplant. This dwarf tree can be planted in large pots or planted in the ground; it does not require much space thus making it an attractive selection to home gardens with limited space.
Research studies conducted in Grenada (MoA and Cardi) on the effects of grafting standard pommecythere on the dwarf selection have shown that trees remained with a compact habit after three years and large fruit could be harvested after two years as compared to normal bearing habit of bearing within three years.
Fruits can be eaten in its green state (texture of flesh is crisp) or when ripe (juicy, soft and very sweet). Fruit contains high Vitamin C and ripe fruit have high sucrose content. Green fruit are peeled, chopped and cooked as a vegetable (curried), used in a chow or the flesh removed from the seed and made into pickles and fresh chutneys. Half-ripe fruit are also stewed. A pommecythere juice is one of the most delicious and refreshing there is.
Visit the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries' website at
This series is written in collaboration with Cynthra Persad, retired director of Research, Ministry of Agriculture.
Here is a quick and simple pommecythere chutney recipe you can try:
2lbs/12 medium-sized green pommecythere
4-6 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 tbsp chadon beni/cilantro finely chopped
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 medium scotch bonnet pepper finely chopped
1 tbsp white vinegar (optional).
�2 Peel and wash the fruit. Cut the flesh of the fruit off the spiny seed and chop in a food processor or grate the fruit finely on a grater.
�2 In a bowl, mix everything thoroughly.