Mabolo, also known as the velvet apple, is related to persimmons and date plums. However, mabolo’s stench and unusual flavor inhibits many from devouring this fruit with the same gusto as its close cousins. In the Philippines, mabolos are endangered because people value its hardy timber far more than the fruit itself. Indeed, mabolo wood is the base of beautiful handicrafts and expensive combs. Ask about the fruit, however, and one is met with an indifferent shrug.
Origin of Mabolo
Mabolo originates in the Philippines, specifically from Luzon to the Sibu Islands off of Malaysia’s eastern coast. Locals there know the fruit as buah mentega, and its Filipino name of mabolo means “hairy” on account of its fine-fuzzed skin. Only a handful of rural vendors sell the fruit. In Malaysia, one local described the fruit as “nearly extinct.” To protect the endangered tree, Filipino authorities place stringent regulations on the outflow of mabolo wood.
Today, mabolos pepper the low altitude forests in Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sumatra and Java. They are also hobby crops in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Honduras, and Cuba.
According to the book, “Fruits of Warm Climates,” mabolos first appeared in Kolkata in 1881. Though not a popular tree, the fruit is a minor crop in India.
Availability of Mabolo in India
Velvet apples grow plentiful in Assam and Bihar, and it’s also possible to find them on a limited scale in Kolkata and the south of India. The fruits flower in March and April, then ripen from June through September. Some varieties are available year-round.
Where to find Mabolo in India
Velvet apples are not commercially grown in India, and are thus hard to find. The best bet of finding the cream cheese-like fruit is on roadside stalls in Northeast India during the summer months. A few trees also grow in Mumbai’s Jijamata Udyaan gardens.
Checking for Ripeness in Velvet Apple
Velvet apples are green on the tree and turn gold upon ripening. When ready to be plucked from the tree, mabolos display a rust color or a deep crimson hue on its powdery, velvety skin. Another giveaway of the fruit’s ripeness is its musky, pungent smell. As is true of several fruits, the stronger the aroma, the riper the fruit.
Taste of Velvet Apple
The fruit’s cheese-like stench deters many from trying the fruit, but it’s worth trying a bite or two of the white flesh if available. Mabolo pulp’s texture is sandy and creamy, almost melting in the mouth. Its mealy consistency is similar to a pear’s, but drier and not as juicy. Long-term residents living in growing regions rave about mabolo’s mild taste, although first-time tasters seldom share the enthusiasm.
In India, velvet apples are two colors: light red, and crimson. The lighter cultivars tend to be sweeter, but both are pleasantly edible. The taste has been likened to “fruit cream cheese,” and a cross between bananas and apples.
Note: Sometimes the smell causes people to perceive the taste as musky and oniony; however, mabolo’s unpleasant smell is entirely because of compounds in the skin. If the smell is too off-putting, peel the fruit and place it in the refrigerator. Doing so will cause the aroma to dissipate after a few hours. The taste should subsequently improve.
Nutritional Value of Velvet Apple
According to a nutritional analysis published in the paper, “Variability and Performance of Superior Velvet Apple Germ Plasm in the Hilly Region,” and a Purdue horticulture article*, 100g of edible flesh contains the following:
35IU Vitamin A*
18mg Vitamin C*
Health Benefits of Mabolo
Several cultures use mabolo in traditional remedies. In Southeast Asia, velvet apple juice treats diarrhea, dysentery, insect bites, cough, diabetes, and stomach ailments. Bangladeshis utilize the leaves and bark to heal snakebites and to cleanse the eyes; and in Guiana, locals consume the fruit to remedy hypertension and heart problems. A tea of the bark and leaves are used to treat skin issues as well.
Little scientific research has been conducted on mabolo, but results are promising:
--According to a study published in “Inflammation,” scientists in Korea found that velvet apple extracts exhibited anti-inflammatory activities in the airway passages of mice, thus supporting its traditional use in treating allergic bronchial asthma.
--A study published in “Natural Product Research” indicates that the leaves have potent analgesic qualities.
--A 2012 study published in the “International Journal of Pharmacology” found that mabolo’s leaf extracts might be a useful anti-diarrheal agent.
How to Open/Cut:
Though mabolo’s hairy skin is edible, most peel the fruit and only consume its white-fleshed pulp.
Most velvet apple varieties contain 4 to 5 large seeds that require removal. If the fruit’s shape resembles an apple, it very likely has seeds. If the fruit is globose, it might be one of the rare seedless cultivars.
To use in recipes, cut the fruit into quarters and then into eights before removing the skin. Next, take a paring knife and cut the flesh away from the heavily scented, velvety peel. Scoop away the seeds from some of the wedges, and then place the slices into the refrigerator to lose the unpleasant smell.
Note: let the peeled fruit cool in the refrigerator before mixing it with any other foods. Otherwise, the ingredients will take on mabolo’s smell.
Place at room temperature, where the fruits should keep up to one week.
Mabolo Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Peel and slice mabolo into thin segments and sauté with oil, salt and pepper, just like a vegetable. Add as part of a stir-fry or consume as-is.
--Peel mabolo and blend fruit chunks with coconut milk and banana for a tropical smoothie
--Add cubes of the fruit to a salad, particularly one that includes apple, pears and bananas.
--Make velvet apple butter by adding 1 cup of sugar for every 6 cups of fruit. Peel and chop the fruit, and then simmer in water limejuice. Remove from the heat when soft, and blend the fruit with sugar.
Note: when dry heated, the fruit becomes tougher and fibrous—these qualities are attractive if preparing savory stews and roasts, but may not be as desirable for use in sweet breads and creamy desserts.
Apple, pear, banana, sapota, persimmon, apricot, Asian pear, breadfruit, guava, citron, coconut, custard apple, date, jujube, melon, peach, pineapple, pomegranate, sapota, santol
Herbs, spices, and oil: Sugar, salt, lime, lemon, brown sugary/jaggery, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, rum, coconut milk, salt, pepper, chili
Diospyros discolor (wild)