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Apr 12, 2009 11:41 AM

Sapote as spice

I went into a local spice shop, and bought a sapote seed (whole). It is the pit of the sapote fruit. It has a very intoxicating almond-like scent, and I have been told that it can be used much like nutmeg, grated with a nutmeg grater. I will be experimenting with this in recipes calling for nutmeg, just to see the difference, but I was wondering if anyone knew anything more about this spice? I'm not very good at web searches, and all I found online was references to the fruit.

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  1. A friend of mine used to mix sapote into her horchata. Added a really nice dimension.

    2 Replies
      1. re: alkapal

        I believe it was the flesh of the black sapote fruit.

    1. "The seeds are reportedly toxic (as are peach seeds believe it or not) so take care not to eat them." ("growing white sapote in arizona").

      moh, i'm going to follow up on this claim. will post back.

      no mention of poison seed in this link:

      BUT LOOK: "Toxicity

      The seed is said to be fatally toxic if eaten raw by humans or animals."

      "Other Uses

      Seeds: In 1959, Dr. Everette Burdick, Consulting Chemist, of Coral Gables, Florida, made several extractions from the kernels [....] which [product] functioned as an attractive and lethal bait for American cockroaches, having the advantage of killing on the spot rather than at some distance after ingestion of the poison."

      "The eminent Francisco Hernandez [writing 1570-1575] noted that eating the fruit produced drowsiness [... but ] referred to the seeds as "deadly poison" but efficacious, when crushed and roasted, in healing putrid sores. [....] For many years, extracts from the leaves, bark, and especially the seeds have been employed in Mexico as sedatives, soporifics and tranquilizers.
      The narcotic property of the seeds was first identified as an alkaloid by Dr. Jesus Sanchez of Mexico in [...]1893...."

      "In 1900, a quantity of white sapote seeds was sent from Mexico to ...Germany, with an accompanying explanation that both the fruit and the seeds possessed sleep-inducing principles but without the undesirable after-effects of opium.[....] W. Bickern ... proceeded to work on the seeds, from which he obtained a substance which he called an alkaloidal glycoside, casimirin. In France, several investigators confirmed the narcotic nature of the seeds. Subsequently ...Wellcome Chemical Research Laboratories in London, declared that, ....there was "no evidence of the presence of a definite glucoside or a so-called glucoalkaloid ...and physiological tests conducted with animals ...likewise failed to confirm . . . reported hypnotic or toxic properties." Meanwhile, the seed extracts, in liquid, capsule, or tablet form, continued in use in Mexico, one product bearing the trade name "Rutelina"."

      and here is info on the mamey sapote:

      1. Let me add some depth. What you are referring to is also known as the Mamey Pit.

        In Southernmost Mexico & Central America... the fruit is referred to as Sapote... whereas in the rest of Mexico its referred to as Mamey. Whearas what in Mexico is referred to as Sapote... in Central America is referred to as Mamey =) Here is a picture of the fruit:

        The Pit is used extensively in corner bounded by Puebla, Tlaxcala, & Veracruz and is referred to as Pixtli. Diana Kennedy provides a recipe for Grated Pixtli Mole in "My Mexico"

        3 Replies
        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Awesome! Nice to see you again Eat Nopal.

          The seed I have does look like the mamey fruit pit. It is the right size, and about the right shape and colour. Thanks for the mexican name, I was just thinking of picking up a Diane Kennedy book, and will look for this recipe.

          It does not look like the pit of a white sapote, the pits are much smaller than the pit I have. But thanks to Alkapal for all this interesting links and info! I won't be putting white sapote seeds in my next batch of spinach dip...

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            as moh mentions just here, there is a white sapote, and that is the research i conducted. the mamey sapote is a different animal, so to speak -- and not just the color. the botanical names show they are from different botanical families altogether. bottom line: mamey sapote seed: ok -- white sapote seed: not ok.

            the mamey sapote ( ) :
            "Botanically, it is identified as Mammea americana L., of the family Guttiferae, and therefore related to the mangosteen, q.v. Among alternative names in English are mammee, mammee apple, St. Domingo apricot and South American apricot.

            To Spanish-speaking people, it is known as mamey de Santo Domingo, mamey amarillo, mamey de Cartagena, mata serrano, zapote mamey, or zapote de Santo Domingo. [....


            This species is often confused with the sapote, or mamey colorado, Pouteria sapota, q.v., which is commonly called mamey in Cuba; and reports of its occurring wild in Africa are due to confusion with the African mamey, M. africana Sabine (syn. Ochrocarpus africana Oliv.)."

            compare the white sapote ( ):

            The genus Casimiroa of the family Rutaceae was named in honor of Cardinal Casimiro Gomez de Ortega, a Spanish botanist of the 18th Century*.[....


            [*The genus Casimiroa was actually named after Casimiro Gomez, an Otome Indian from the town of Cardonal, Hidalgo, Mexico, a martyr of Mexico's war of independence.]

            "Of the 3 larger-growing forms, the best known is the common white sapote, called zapote blanco by Spanish-speaking people, abché or ahache by Guatemalan Indians, and Mexican apple in South Africa, and widely identified as C. edulis Llave & Lex. The matasano (or matazano), C. sapota Oerst., is often not distinguished from C. edulis in the literature and the name matasano has been applied to other species in various localities. The woolly-leaved white sapote, known to the Maya as yuy and set apart in Guatemala as matasano de mico, has been commonly considered a distinct species, C. tetrameria Millsp., but it may be only a variant of C. edulis."

            interestingly, the white sapote comes from the same botanical family -- rutaceae -- as citrus! "The family is of great economic importance under tropical climates for its numerous edible fruits of the Citrus genus, such as the orange, lime, kumquat, mandarine and grapefruit. Non-citrus fruits include the White sapote (Casimiroa edulis) and the bael (Aegle marmelos). Other plants are grown in horticulture: Murraya species, for example. Ruta, Zanthoxylum and Casimiroa species are medicinals. [....]

            1. re: alkapal

              Alkapal - hats off to you!

              Now I found your link very interesting for several reasons. First of all, there is an interesting comment about toxicity of the seeds at the bottom, again making me wonder about whether this is the seed I have. I found the discussion about the distinction between mamey sapote and mamey colorado useful. The only time I have seen a mamey fruit in real life was in Cuba, and this is likely the mamey colorado they discuss in the article. The fruit in Eat Nopal's link looks like the mamey I had in Cuba, and the seed has the same shape and size as the seed i have. The picture in your link is indeed slightly different from the one I had in Cuba, and the seed is rounder, not pointed like the one I have. So I am hoping this is yet another version of the mamey pit, an in fact the mamey colorado pit isn't as toxic as the others!

          2. Toxic....who cares when it prevents split ends!!!!

            But really, I have seen whole bags of mamey pits hanging from spice/ self-medication herbal shops in Markets of Tijuana and Guadalajara. I am always secretly wanting the owners to say - oh yeah we make Mole de Pixtli [see EN] with the grated seed when I ask - but strangely enough the always say grate it and add it to your shampoo.

            Supposedly it gives you fuller, stronger hair.....wh would have thought...

            1. There is much confusion about this fruit due to the name. Sapote is applied to many fruits that are soft when ripe, at least 4 fruits in different families that I know of (Pouteria sapota in the Chicle family, Casimiroa edulis or white sapote in the citrus family, Diospyros digyna or black sapote in the ebony/persimmon family, and Quararibea cordata in the Durian/Baobab family). mamey is used to refer to mostly orange fruit like the Pouteria sapota, mamey apple or Mammea americana mentioned here in the mangosteen family, and Syzygium malacense in the guava family.

              So it is very confusing, but Moh, I assume you have the Pouteria sapota since it is the one used mostly as a spice in Mexico, was a Mayan additive to chocolate to increase the foaming due to the saponins, contains cyanide, and therefore smells like almonds. Does it match this picture:
              with a long white smooth seed?

              I am an ethnobotanist living in Hawaii and collect these fruits and seeds regularly. Mammea americana seeds are very knobby, with a rough outer skin. White sapote or Casimiroa edulis look like giant grapefruit seeds with fine striations on the flat sides of the seed.

              None of them smell like almond except Pouteria sapota. It does contain cyanide which gives it that almond/marzipan smell, just as many wild almonds do, but the cyanide is broken down by boiling, so just do that first!

              I am giving a presentation on Mayan chocolate preparations and am experimenting with adding sapote seeds for the first time. Smelling the almond smell made me think it had cyanide in it, and doing a quick search led me to this posting, good timing! I hope I can clear something up. I definitely recommend being careful when using these seeds, but they do have a history of use, as do many foods we eat regularly that have cyanide like almonds, apple seeds, apricot pits, and bitter yucca/manioc/cassava/tapioca (all the same species Manihot esculenta).

              I wrote a book chapter in this book:
              on the pre-columbian medicinal and food uses of cacao in South and Central America, and became interested in traditional ingredients in cacao this way. You can here me talk about it more in this interview on Good Food, 44 minutes into the show,

              10 Replies
              1. re: ephramzz

                good to have you on chowhound, nat. thank you for clarifying this information. you should write this up for wikipedia, because you made the differences clear. btw, could you please explain this statement further: "Sapote is applied to many fruits that are soft when ripe"?
                ps, i love the idea of your company's tropical flavored chocolates. please do a "sampler" pack, where i can select passionfruit, and coconut/kaffir lime, and hibiscus.

                1. re: ephramzz

                  Ephramzz, thank you so much for your post! I have been a little chicken about using this spice, after all this talk of toxicity.

                  " Does it match this picture:
                  with a long white smooth seed?"

                  I took a look at this link, and the first picture of the long dark smooth seed looks very much like what i have, but I was confused by your description of a white seed, was that just a typo?

                  I should have done this along time ago. I will take a picture of the seed tonight when I get back home and post it.

                  Thanks again for your help!

                  1. re: moh

                    Ah, sorry, the seed case of Pouteria sapota is dark brown, smooth, and shiny, with a lighter part that makes it look almost like a cat's eye. Just inside, the meat of the seed (endosperm) that smells like anise is off-white. That's the part you use.

                    I just chopped it coarsely, boiled it for 30 min, strained it, dry roasted it till dry, ground it in a coffee grinder, and toasted it till brown. I haven't tasted much of it, but it's pretty good. I'll look into the chemistry of how cyanide is broken down and get back to you.

                    Hasn't had a negative effect on me yet, but that was just a 1/8 tsp.

                    1. re: ephramzz

                      Ok! Here is the picture: This is the dried seed I bought. It has a faint whiff of almond, but the smell also has a note of curry - odd.

                      The weird thing is that when I asked how to use it, they told me to grate it like nutmeg, and use it as if it were nutmeg. No mention of toxicity...

                  2. re: ephramzz

                    Great to have you on Chowhound... and Hawaii no less!

                    1) Where are you giving this presetnation on Mayan chocolate... i would love to attend.

                    2) I have tried to forage for Hoja Santa (Piper Auritum) in O'ahu but I haven't successfully identified any (except for a plant at the big arboretum in Kaneohe... but I couldn't bring myself to cut some)... do you have any tips?

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      Moh, that photo looks pretty much like Pouteria sapota (sorry to keep using latin names, but that's why we have them- to avoid this confusion of many plant species having the same common name). A bit hard to tell since it looks toasted, but it's the right shape. If it smells almondy I can't think of any other of the sapotes it could be.

                      There's even one sapote I forgot, the green sapote! Pouteria viride

                      Eat Nopal, I've been on Chowhound for a while, back when I lived in NY up to last year, where I was on an endless search for Khao soi, my favorite northern Thai curry noodle dish, which I have a whole blog about. Are you in Hawaii too? Know anywhere to get Khao soi here besides Spices which does a pretty good rendition?

                      My presentation on Mayan chocolate use is at the Society for Economic Botany annual meeting in Charleston, SC June 1-4, but I will also do a chocolate making class in New York in June some time where I'll incorporate some discussion of the Mayan ingredients. Email me if you're interested nbletter -aht- yahoo -doht- com.

                      AH, I'd love to find Hoja Santa, it makes a pretty damn good Patarashca, the delicious Peruvian Amazon dish of fish barbequed in leaves like Hoja Santa or Bihao, a large leafed Calathea lutea in the prayer plant/paintbrush plant/Marantaceae family. I haven't seen any Piper auritum here yet, but Lyon arboretum might have some, and I think many Mexican grocery stores (like La Raza here in Honolulu) have it. Makes a killer fish bake that blows banana leaves out of the water!

                      I see you bemoan the lack of good Mexican food in the US. Know anything passable in O'ahu? Seems like there's lots of mexican restaurants here, but so far I'm unimpressed. Contact me and we can go foraging for sapote seeds (and the delicious fruit too) and maybe some nopales!

                      Here's an interesting article about cyanide (or cyanide-producing "cyanogenic") plants:

                      1. re: ephramzz

                        Actually, I'm pleased you are using and sharing the latin name, I agree that this is the best way to avoid confusion!

                        I was intrigued to see your comment about the seed looking toasted. If it has been processed, is it possible that they detoxified the cyanide, and that is why I did not receive any warnings form the spice store? The spice store is one of the best spice stores in the city, and I'd be surprised if they weren't aware about possible toxic effects of this spice.

                        Again, thanks so much for your help Ephramzz!

                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Can you cut the seed in half and take a picture of the insides? That would give me a better idea of what it is.

                        Can you ask the spice store in Montreal where you got it more about its origins?

                        1. re: ephramzz

                          I am almost sure this is the spice store it came from, as I got some sapote and tonka beans from there yesterday. Here's the link to the page. Unfortunately it doesn't say if it's roasted or not.


                          1. re: pavlova

                            Sorry for late reply. Pavlova is right, this is where I got the sapote.