In the first month of every year, Agbalumo, the African star apple, graces the tropics with its bright presence. Sometimes you might get a feel of it from the last ember month but true champions of the fruit would tell you to wait until the first rains before you can get some sweet fruits to eat otherwise you are left with the slapping zing of a yellow Agbalumo that looks more promising that it taste.
It’s amazing how some people are never able to locate the sweet ones and forever scourged by the thought that Agbalumo can never bring happiness to your taste buds. I hear some Sellers shout ‘Ajase re’, this one is Ajase, informing the buyers that the sweet ones come from a place in republic of Benin. However, Southern Nigeria is home to Agbalumo or Udara as it is called in the Igbo language. In Sierra Leone it is called Bobi Wata or Breast milk fruit.
Before its April and the sights of pale yellow or yellowish brown or orange reddish balls on flat trays at the markets and road sides fade away, I thought it would be good to share a thing or two about this fruit. If the knowledge gained inspires you, you can then wait in anticipation for the next year to appreciate the fruit again.
Did you know that there are many species of the Chrysophyllum which is the genus of the Agbalumo fruit and there are at least three identified varieties of Agbalumo here in Nigeria? How the botanists at the University of Ibadan identify the different varieties I do not know because Agbalumo looks the same to me. Of course there are some that have a brighter yellow skin compared to the paler ones but I would only use that information to assume the brighter yellow with a more reddish pulp are sweeter. There is a cousin of Agbalumo called the Cainito or Purple Star Apple with an actual purple colour. It is native to the Greater Antilles and West Indies. I would love try this one day.
Agbalumo and Shea butter, though they are different fruits, belong to the same family (Sapotaceace) and the carbohydrate contents of both are similar but of course the lipid content of Agbalumo is quite low in comparison to shea butter. Protein value is low in Agbalumo but that is characteristic of many fruits. Their strengths if I may say so are found in the micronutrients such as vitamin C, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese and copper but low in iron and sodium. Well, it’s not a magical fruit containing all the essential vitamins and minerals and not many fruits are called ‘super’ in the nutrition world but what is preached often is consumption of variety in meals as opposed to looking for that one perfect fruit that you will never find.
Some people just ‘lick’ the seeds of Agbalumo and toss the pulp (flesh) away but do you know that the pulp of the fruit is a good source of dietary fiber which is important for preventing diseases related to obesity, serum cholesterol? The pulp also contains high potassium, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and copper levels. These minerals are used to balance electrolytes in the body and for strong bones and teeth also. Due to its low sodium levels, it makes it a good fruit for those who have hypertension.
Agbalumo’s major selling point is its high ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), β-carotene (Pro-Vitamin A) and α-tocopherol (Vitamin E). These are antioxidants which are health promoting in nature. Together with the dietary fiber, this micronutrients help prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity and coronary heart diseases. Please note that the vitamin C content reduces after harvest as it ripens at ambient storage. This means that the longer the Agbalumo stays in the Seller’s fruit tray or basket, the lower the vitamin C content. So, don’t wait, grab your Agbalumo now. If you ever wonder why the very sharp acidic taste, that’s the ascorbic acid talking. People with peptic ulcer should avoid this fruit though.
On the flip side, Agbalumo contains anti-nutrients; these are compounds in food that reduces the ability of the body to utilize essential nutrients and can cause malnutrition. Sometimes when you think that you are taking enough vitamins and minerals, these anti-nutrients bind them and make them unavailable to your body. It is like witchcraft things. In Agbalumo, the antinutrients present (typsin inbibitors, phytate, tannins) are very low so much that they can be quite insignificant. Interestingly, as the fruit ripens the anti-nutrients decrease further. It is nothing to worry about.
Apart from nutrients, Agbalumo also contains such chemicals or compounds that have been found to prevent growth of some bacteria and are therefore potential antimicrobial agents. Other compounds have also been found in the barks and leaves and have been used in some traditional healing treatment plans. A lot of research has been conducted on these and are still being conducted but I only focus on the fruit itself.
Instead of turning the pulp into chewing gum (as some of us did when we were younger), you can also consider other recipes. Jams and juices have been made out of it. A lot of people have tried it. Some even combine the pulp of the Agbalumo with mango pulp or pineapple and juice or make into a spread. Some food bloggers have used Agbalumo in creating interesting recipes from cakes, to jellys, fruit salads, ice cream and so on. So please be adventurous and try something new.
- Adepoju, Oladejo Thomas and Adeniji, Paulina Olufunke (2002). Nutrient composition and micronutrient potential of three wildly grown varieties of African star apple (Chrysophyllum albidum) from Nigeria. African Journal of Food Science Vol. 6(12), pp. 344-351, 29 June, 2012
- Florence Abolaji Bello and Adiaha Abigail Henry (2015). Storage effects and the postharvest quality of African star apple fruits (Chrysophyllum africanum) under ambient conditions African Journal of Food Science and Technology ((ISSN: 2141-5455) Vol. 6(1) pp. 35-43, January, 2015.
- National Research Council (2008-01-25). “Star Apples”.Lost Crops of Africa: Volume III: Fruits. Lost Crops of Africa. 3. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-10596-5
- Oloyede FM and Oloyede F.A (2014). The Antioxidant and Food value of Chrysophyllum albidium G. Don Sch J Agric Vet Sci 2014; 1(1):1-5.
- Orijajogun O. Joyce Olajide O. Olutayo and Useh U. Mercy (2014). Biological Analysis and Phytochemical Studies of The Exocarp Fruits Extracts of African Star Apple (Chrysophyllum albidum G. Don)Sch. Acad. J. Pharm., 2014; 3(5):379-382