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The real rose apple

January 13, 2011

Are you familiar with the bell shaped and glossy red or green fruit called ‘rose apple’ by the hotel staff? It is in fact a Java apple or ‘chompu tup tim jan’ in Thai (Syzygium samarangense, Myrtaceae). There are 1200 species of Syzygium in the world, so calling all of them ‘rose apple’ would be terribly confusing, as they have different qualities.

What is the real rose apple then? Well, vernacular names have no rules, but it is generally accepted by botanists that rose apple is Syzygium jambos, often called ‘chompu nam dokmai’ in Thailand. It has narrower leaves than Java apple, but they both have large white flowers. The fruit of the real rose apple is small and round, not bell shaped. It does not have the glossy enamel surface of the Java apple, but a duller finish. The colour of a mature rose apple is whitish or yellowish green, and inside you often find a hollow with 1-2 large seeds. The rind reminds one of passion fruit in morphology, but not in taste. This rind is quite dry, but in my opinion it has a much better flavour than its reputation. I like it!

So, why is this species called rose apple, when it is not pink or red? The confusion is due to the fact its leaves is a classical source of rose oil for perfume-making. That scent is often not detectable when crushing a leaf.

Being native to southern Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, it demands more water than many local northern Thai trees, which is why you do not see commercial orchards here in Chiang Mai. I have never seen its fruit in a Chiang Mai market.

I do believe it has a place in an irrigated Chiang Mai garden, and since its wood is hard and durable, an oversized specimen can provide you with building material.

If you visit Dokmai Garden now, you will see blossom and fruits of both Java apple and rose apple.

Eric Danell

The real rose apple (Syzygium jambos) after a bite. Inside you can see one of the seeds.

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