Origin of Santol
Santol originates in Cambodia, southern Laos and Malaya. However, they’ve been naturalized for many years in countries such as Brunei, Sri Lanka, and India, the Philippines. Today, the fruit has spread to Indonesia, Mauritius, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Myanmar. Santols also make rare appearances in Western countries including Honduras, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and a few states in the US (namely Florida and Hawaii). The timber is of exceptional quality, and thus Sri Lanka and Myanmar grow the trees primarily for its wood.
Availability of Santol in India
Santol grows wild in the tropical regions of India, but is not harvested commercially. The fruit is quite hardy, as it thrives in arid and humid conditions as long as the elevation does not exceed 1,000 meters. Santol is a summer fruit and comes into season during the balmiest months of June through August.
Where to find Santol in India
Santol has a small presence in the villages of southern India, though the fruit doesn’t share the same popularity as it does in Thailand and Cambodia. However, several states of India are conducive to growing the fruit: Kerala, Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, to name a few. Despite suitable growing conditions, markets seldom purvey these fruits.
Checking for Ripeness in Santol
Santols grow the size of green cricket balls on the tree before turning yellow, orange, and finally a rusty, yellowish orange color when fully ripe. It is not uncommon to see a pinkish blush engulf some santols, either. Expect peachy fuzz on the surface of these fruits. Ripe fruits fall naturally from the tree.
Brown spots, marks and streaks are common on santols, and they do not necessarily indicate poor quality. Pale, whitish underripe fruits should be avoided, as they do not sweeten. Overripe fruits marked by soft, brownish skin taste fermented and should also be avoided.
Taste of Santol
Santol’s other name—the cotton fruit—comes from its fluffy white edible portion surrounding the seed. Its texture is spongy and, like a mangosteen, the flesh never separates from the seed entirely. Sucking the flesh emits a milky, creamy, sweetish juice loved by most who try it. Offsetting the sweet juice are tart, floral, citrus and vinous notes. If the fruit is not fully ripened, expect a bitter taste.
The outer flesh is unexpectedly savory, earthy and astringent with some likening the flavor to basil or oregano. Few deny that the outer, grassy tasting flesh is not nearly as succulent as the cottony portion of a santol. The rind is quite sour, compelling some to dry it, grind, or pickle it for use as a souring agent.
Note: different varieties have different ratios of sour to sweet—some santols are overwhelmingly tart, while others have been described as drab and insipid.
Nutritional Value of Santol
The nutritional value of santols per 100g, as published in the book, “Fruits of Warm Climates”:
Ascorbic Acid: 86mg
Ascorbic Acid: .78mg
Health Benefits of Santol
Santol has a number of health benefits. In Europe and Africa, the dried pulp is an astringent; and the leaves for rashes, sweating and when powdered, for ringworm. Powdered bark is also given to women post-child birth as a heath remedy. In Java, bark powder treats Leucorrhea and other vaginal infections. Santol is also used to remedy diarrhea, dysentery and a number of stomach ailments.
Scientific studies reveal additional, amazing health benefits of santol:
--According to a study published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, a compound from the santol plant called sentulic acid has anti-cancer properties based on its ability to induce cytotoxicity in human leukemia cells.
--As per a 2004 study published in Phytomedicine, santol stem extracts showed anti-inflammatory activities in when tested against ear inflammation in mice.
--A 2003 study published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that bark extracts delayed tumor growth in skin carcinogenesis on mice.
--An additional 2009 study mentioned in the International Journal of Cancer Research found similar promising results of the bark extract’s tumor growth inhibition on breast cancer cells.
How to Open/Cut:
Santol requires lopping around the skin, and then sucking out the white, edible cottony fruit surrounding the three to five seeds. If desired, use a spoon to scoop the savory flesh surrounding the spongy part of the santol. If using the fruit in recipes, cut in half and remove the seeds from each half.
Though tempting, avoid swallowing the seeds—a 2001 health advisory was issued in the Phillipines after a woman perforated her large intestine by eating too many santol seeds. A few other cases of stomach problems arising from seed consumption have surfaced as well.
Santols are climacteric, meaning they will continue to ripen once plucked from the tree. Thus, keep santols at room temperature if you wish for the flesh and peel to grow softer. Keep santols at a temperature no lower than 15 degrees Celsius, or, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder conditions will result in chilling injuries, evident by brown, bruised skin and a translucent aril. Santols will keep for three weeks in semi-cold conditions.
Santol Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Santol has enough pectin to make preserves and jams, though one must dedicate approximately 5 days to the process. Here’s a recipe from the website, filipinovegetarianrecipe.com: Place peeled santol fruits in cold water, and then cut the fruit into quarters and remove the seeds. Submerge the fruit sections for three days, ensuring to change the water at the start of every day. After soaking for these days, blanch the fruit for five minutes and then submerge the santol flesh in cold water. Strain, and then boil the fruits in a half-sugar, half-water concoction for 20 minutes. Remove the pulp, and let the syrupy water sit overnight. The next day, add the fruits back to the sryrup water, boil again for 15 minutes, and transfer the mixture to sterilized glass jars.
--Make chunky, citrusy santol juice: peel the fruit in thick slices, as taking more pungent flesh off the skin ensures sweeter juice. Slice the fruit into several pieces, removing the seeds in the process. On the side, boil some water with sugar. Once cooled, add sour orange juice to the sweet water and set to chill in the refrigerator. Once the orange syrupy water has cooled, pour over the cut santol in a large pitcher.
|"Santol-ade" from peachkitchen.com|
--Create a savory dish featuring santol and extra firm tofu: Peel the fruit and remove the cottony, sweet inside. Chop the remaining santol meat into small pieces, and then use a food processor until it’s achieved a pulpy, yet thick consistency that resembles finely-grated carrots. Set aside, and in a separate saucepan, sautee oil, ginger, garlic until hot. Add crumbled tofu and some soy sauce, and then stir-fry briefly. Combine the santol with the tofu, pour coconut milk over the blend, and then let simmer for an hour. Serve with rice.
Coconut, citrus, lemon, lime
Herbs, spices, and oil: salt, sugar, peanuts, ginger, tamarind
In honor of it being his favorite fruit, pomologist Bob Livingston changed his first name to “Santol.”