March is the apple season!
European apple (Malus domestica, Rosaceae) is the model for fist-sized edible fruits, and so when the British explorers traveled the world they gave English names containing the word ‘apple’ to any exotic edible fruit. In the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) there is a genus Syzygium containing some 1200 species, many of which are edible. The classic complimentary fruit basket at most Thai hotels contain a lovely assortment of tropical fruits, ‘Java apple’ (Syzygium samarangense) often included. This fruit can be rose coloured, and so hotel staff call it ‘rose apple’. This may cause confusion, because the real ‘rose apple’, the one that tastes like rose, is the white ping-pong ball-shaped Syzygium jambos. The latter is quite uncommon in Thai markets and gardens, but deserves a lot of attention due to its lovely fruit and evergreen foliage. A more common member of the genus is ‘Malay apple’, Syzygium malaccense. Although not common in fruit markets here in northern Thailand, it is sometimes planted as a garden ornamental. All three species demand plenty of water since they are native to the lower parts of the Malayan peninsula and Indonesia, which may explain why you do not see orchards of them around Chiang Mai.
The Malay apple should be eaten when fully mature or it will be too hard. When mature, it has a deep red colour and the flesh is white, soft, rich in tasty organic acids and is quite juicy. There are 1-2 large seeds inside. This is our son Mika’s favourite.
A rose coloured variety of Java apple should be eaten when deep rose. It has a crispy texture with a flavour of myrtle, a good thirst quencher when hot. Many cultivars are seedless. This is Ketsanee’s favourite.
A rose apple should be eaten when there is no green shade left, only yellowish white. The flesh is thin and there is a large hollow with 1-2 seeds. The flesh is very tasty, dry, and so a perfect fruit during a car drive. This is Eric’s favourite.
The Malay apple is not only refreshing, the tree provides evergreen shade from decorative, large and leathery leaves and a sweet leaf litter when the flowers fall down.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell & Ketsanee Seehamongkol