Ciku (Manilkara sp.), a tropical fruit also known as sapodilla, belongs to the family Sapotaceae. Various species of Manilkara are grown and used worldwide for different purposes. The species most popular for its fruit in Singapore and Southeast Asia is the Manilkara zapota. This was also called Manilkara achras, Achras zapota or Nispero achras, a derivative of the Greek word achras for the Pear tree, because of the fruit's semblance to a pear.
Origins and distribution
Sapodilla is a Tucatan native of Central America, Mexico, Northeastern Guatemala and the West Indies, where it is a tall tree found in forests. Spanish colonialists brought a variety of Manilkara to Manila where it became known for its fruit. From the Philippines, it spread throughout Southeast Asia as a popular fruit tree. Various species of sapodilla are now cultivated in Africa, India, East Indies, Philippines, Malaysia, the tropics and sub-tropics of the Americas and they are found in almost all tropical countries worldwide. Ciku has around 75 related species across the globe although this tropical version is much shorter than its counterparts in Central America. They are used for various purposes such as for its fruit, wood or medicinal properties. Manilkara duplicata, also known as Mimosops globosa was introduced into the Singapore botanical gardens for its fruit and timber. In Malaysia, sapodilla is grown mainly in Terengganu, Pahang, Perak, Johor and Melaka. Germination is through seeds that remain viable for a few months. Grafting and marcotting is used to obtain cloned material.
The ciku tree is evergreen, has a conical crown and can grow up to 30 m in height. Its bark is light-grey and becomes fissured with age. The plant with all its parts has a white latex. Young twigs of the plant are covered in a woolly layer. Its leaves are spirally arranged, dark green and pointed. It has a stalk measuring between one to three cm. Ciku flowers are white, fragrant, solitary and bisexual. They have six free sepals in two whorls on the outside. The petals are joined in a corolla tube with six lobes and six stamens and six staminodes. The ovary is superior and it has a single style. The flowers remain open even at night. The major flowering period for sapodilla in Singapore is in the month of May. Ciku fruits are brown, round or oblong, with a thin skin. The flesh is sweet, soft and reddish-brown. The fruits have very few seeds in them that are hard, black, elongated, flattened and shiny.
Usage and potential
Sapodilla is usually consumed fresh. The fruit is commercialised for its flavour in sherbets, drinks, butter and ice-creams. It is also cooked to make pies, syrups, sauces, jams and is fermented to get wine or vinegar. In Indonesia, the young shoots are eaten either raw or after steaming with rice. The latex of the tree M.balata, that coagulates into what is known as chicle, formed the base for chewing gums before synthetic materials came to be used.
In Java, sapodilla flowers are used in a powder with other ingredients that is rubbed on the stomach of women after child birth. The seeds, flowers and bark contain tannin and saponin with medicinal properties. The Malaya use the seeds in treating fever. Seeds are also diuretic. Unripe fruits are eaten to stop purging and to treat mild diarrhoea. The Chinese use the bark to treat diarrhoea.
The gum-latex of the plant Manilkara balata is used in dental surgeries, in making transmission belts and as a substitute for gutta percha from Palaquium spp. for insulating electrical cables. The wood of Manilkara kauki and Manilkara duplicata is used to make furniture. Henry Ridley noted that Manilkara kauki timber was used in coffin making in Malaya.
Common name: Ciku, sapodilla.
Scientific name: Manilkara zapota (older generic names: Achras zapota, Manilkara achras).
Malay names: Ciku, chiku (Malaysia), sawo manila, sawo londo (Indonesia).
Other common names: Naseberry, Chicle, sapodilla plum, chico, chiku, chico sapote.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.