Ciku (Manilkara zapota), a tropical fruit tree also commonly known as sapodilla, belongs to the family Sapotaceae. Various species are grown and used worldwide for different purposes.1 Due to the fruit’s resemblance to a pear, it was also called Manilkara achras, Achras zapota or Nispero achras, a derivative of the Greek word achras for the pear tree.2
Origins and distribution
Sapodilla is believed to be native to Yucatan in Mexico, as well as northeastern Guatemala and the West Indies, where it is a tall tree found in forests. Spanish colonialists brought a variety of Manilkara to Philippines where it became widely propagated throughout the country3 and known for its fruit.4
From the Philippines, it spread throughout Southeast Asia as a popular fruit tree.5 Various species of sapodilla are now cultivated in India, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia,6 the tropics and sub-tropics of the Americas. Found in almost all tropical countries worldwide,7 sapodilla has about 75 related species across the globe.8 They are planted for various purposes such as for its fruit, wood and medicinal properties. Germination is through seeds that remain viable for a few months. Grafting and marcotting are used to obtain cloned material.9
The ciku tree is evergreen. It has a conical crown, and can grow up to 30 m in height. Its bark is light grey and becomes fissured with age. All parts of the plant have a white latex. The young twigs are covered in a woolly layer. Its leaves are spirally arranged, dark green and pointed. It has a stalk measuring between 1 and 3 cm. The 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, six stamens and six staminodes.10 The ovary is superior and it has a single style.11
Ciku fruits are brown, round or oblong, with a thin skin. The flesh is sweet, soft and reddish-brown. Each fruit contains a few seeds that are hard, black, elongated, flat and shiny.12
Some known varieties of ciku in Southeast Asia are:13
Malaysia: Jantung and Batawi
Indonesia: Sawokecik (mini Sapodilla), mixed Apple Sawo and Sawo Manila
Thailand: Kra Suay and Ma Kok
Philippines: Pineras, Ponderosa, Sawo Manila and St. Croix
In 1934, Lorong 207, a road located in East Coast in Singapore, was officially renamed Chiku Road after the fruit. Other streets in the vicinity which were also renamed after Malayan fruits include Duku Road, Langsat Road and Rambutan Road.14
During the early days of Singapore’s Tree Planting Day campaign, ciku trees were one of the fruit trees chosen to be grown around housing estates in Singapore. In February 1981, the Ministry of National Development’s Addendum to the Presidential Address announced that more fruit trees, including ciku, would be grown in estates, with specific fruits planted in estates like Ang Mo Kio, Hougang, Bedok and Jurong East.15 This came following then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s suggestion in September 1980 that sturdy fruit trees be planted in housing estates. During the 15th Tree Planting Day on 3 November 1985, Lee planted a ciku tree at Spottiswoode Park Road within his constituency of Tanjong Pagar.16
While sapodilla is usually consumed fresh, the fruit is commercialised for its flavour such as in sherbet, drinks, butter and ice-cream.17 It is also used to make syrup, sauces and jam, and fermented to produce wine or vinegar.18 While the ripe fruit is usually eaten raw, in Malaysia and Indonesia, the flesh is cooked with ginger and lime juice. In Indonesia, young shoots of the tree are also eaten as a vegetable after the latex is rinsed off with water.19
The latex of the tree Manilkara zapota coagulates into what is known as chicle, which was used to form the base for chewing gum before synthetic material came to be used.20
The seeds, flowers and bark contain tannin and saponin with medicinal properties.21 In the Philippines, the bark and cortex are used to treat a variety of ailments such as fever and diarrhoea.22 In Java, the flowers are ground together with other ingredients into powder and used as a body rub for women after child birth.23
The gum-latex of Manilkara zapota is used in dental surgeries, as well as for making transmission belts and as a substitute for trees known as gutta percha for insulating electrical cables. The dark wood of sapodilla, being durable,24 makes it suitable for making furniture. In fact, Henry Ridley noted that Manilkara kauki timber was used to make coffins in Malaya25 and is commonly used to make furniture.26 In Indonesia, Sawokecik (mini Sapodilla) is grown mainly for its durable wood, which is sold as rosewood for woodcarving purposes.27 The bark is also used in the Philippines to tan the sails of boats.28
Scientific names: Manilkara zapota; older generic names include Achras zapota and Manilkara achras.29
Common name: Sapodilla.30
Other common names: sawo manila, sawo londo (Indonesia);31 naseberry (West Indies); chico (the Philippines); sapodilla plum.32
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. I. H. Burkill, A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, vol. 2 (Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture, 2002), 1443 (Call no. RSEA 634.9095951 BUR); J. Morton, “Sapodilla,” accessed 17 May 2017.
2. Wee Yeow Chin, Tropical Trees and Shrubs: A Selection for Urban Planting (Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, 2003), 233. (Call no. RSING 582.16095957 WEE)
3. Doreen G. Fernandez, Fruits of the Philippines (Markati City: Bookmark Inc., 1997), 22. (Call no. RSEA 634.09599 FER)
4. Morton, “Sapodilla”; A.N. Rao and Wee Yeow Chin, Singapore Trees (Singapore: Singapore Institute of Biology, 1989), 221. (Call no. RSING 582.16095957 RAO)
5. Rao and Wee, Singapore Trees, 221.
6. Othman Yaacob and Suranant Subhadrabandhu, The Production of Economic Fruits in South-east Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 182. (Call no. RSING 634.0959 OTH)
7. Morton, “Sapodilla.”
8. Wee, Tropical Trees and Shrubs, 233.
9. Wee, Tropical Trees and Shrubs, 233.
10. Wee, Tropical Trees and Shrubs, 233.
11. Anne Nathan and Wong Yit Chee, A Guide to Fruits and Seeds (Singapore: Singapore Science Centre, 1987), 50. (Call no. RSING 582 NAT)
12. Nathan and Wong, Guide to Fruits and Seeds, 50.
13. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 181; Fernandez, Fruits of the Philippines, 24.
14. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 75. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
15. “Which Fruit in Your Housing Estate?” New Nation, 15 February 1981, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Bharathi Mohan, “Boulevards of Sun-Ripened Nangkas,” New Nation, 21 September 1980, 2; “PM Lee Plants a Chiku in the Rain,” Straits Times, 4 November 1985, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Michael Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia: An Illustrated Field Guide (Thailand: FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 1995), 155. (Call no. RSING 582.160959 JEN)
18. Wee, Tropical Trees and Shrubs, 233.
19. Rolf Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide (New York: Comstock Publishing Associates, 2016), 148. (Call no. RSEA 634.6 BLA)
20. Wee, Tropical Trees and Shrubs, 233.
21. Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia, 155.
22. Fernandez, Fruits of the Philippines, 24.
23. Wee, Tropical Trees and Shrubs, 233.
24. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 182.
25. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 1444.
26. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products, 1444.
27. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 182.
28. Morton, “Sapodilla.”
29. Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia, 155.
30. Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits, 179; Nathan and Wong, Guide to Fruits and Seeds, 50.
31. Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia, 155.
32. Fernandez, Fruits of the Philippines, 22.
The information in this article is valid as of March 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.