Chico – the game changer

Today, I did something that was a GAME CHANGER.  I topped vanilla frozen yogurt with cut-up chico fruit, and then sprinkled a healthy dose of cinnamon over it. Three ingredients, minimal mess, and healthier than most desserts – this will be my new dessert for dinner parties as well as when I’m cooking for one.   Maybe also a mid-day snack when no one’s looking.


The Game Changer = Vanilla Frozen Yogurt, Chico Fruit, and Cinnamon

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how many chicos I’ve had today.  Actually, I lost count, but I know it was enough to give me a sugar buzz.  If you’ve had them, you’d understand.  They taste like a candy, but since you remove skin and not a wrapper to eat them, I overindulge sometimes.

My first taste of a chico came from a discarded fruit in a yard waste bin.  Yes, you read that right.  Right after we moved to Hawaii, I had volunteered to help out at social permaculture gathering known as Permablitz in order to learn more about what grows here and meet some people.  Well, while we were tackling the task of building a banana circle, one of the permaculture gurus, Hunter, went to track down organic matter to throw into the pit we had dug.  It was yard waste pick-up day, so he drug a bunch of the neighbors’ bins off the street and into the yard we were “blitzing.”  As he was dumping out the contents of one, he stopped and said, “Is that a chico fruit?”  He picks it up and says it was, then ripped it in half and offered half to me and half to another woman standing by.  He said, “Try it, it tastes like brown sugar.”  Um, I will try anything that you tell me tastes like brown sugar, so I took a bite before I heard the other woman say, “It has maggots on it.”  Awesome.  To which Hunter replied, “Yeah, it might be a little too ripe… let’s see what else is in here.”  A quick scan of my half showed no critters, but I decided to just buy them the next time I saw them for sale and threw my half into the banana circle.

My first chico came from a yard waste bin

The next time I saw them was at the Thursday morning People’s Open Market here in Kailua, HI.  Only two of the vendors there have them, and I decided to buy them from the guy who didn’t have all his produce in plastics bags.  I think that time I bought four chicos, but currently, I’m up to double digits.  The vendor has stopped asking me if I know what they are, and has started to round to the lowest pound when I’m in between.  (You can also easily find them in Chinatown).

Chicos at the People's Open Market in Kailua, HI

So, these little fruits go by many names – Hunter called them Chico Zapote, but when I started researching them I found they are also commonly called sapodilla, nispero, and zapote, with many other names depending on where you are.  The species name is Manilkara zapota, so if you feel like doing your own research, I’d start searching with that term.

These fruits come from a tree that only grows in places that don’t freeze, so my dream of putting one in the ground next to our plum tree in Tacoma will never come true.  However, anytime I’m some place warm, I now know to look for these gems.  Fun fact about the tree itself in case you end up on Jeopardy one day – it’s the source for the natural chewing gum, chicle.

The inside of a chico can have 1-10 seeds. Luckily, they're very easy to remove.

The appearance of a chico reminds me of a kiwi, while the skin feels more like a potato.  You know they are ripe to eat when they give a little with a gentle squeeze, much like a mango or a papaya will.   You can cut into them with a butter knife, where you’ll find anywhere from 1-10 black seeds (don’t eat the seeds).  Scoop out the fruit and eat as is, or do as I did and put it on top of frozen yogurt.  The texture is grainy, like a ripe pear, but tastes like brown sugar or caramel was injected inside – a secret dessert if you will.

The health benefits of a chico go beyond the vitamins (e.g. Folate, Pantothenic acid, Thiamin, and Vitamin C) and minerals (potassium, copper, and iron) it provides.   It’s also rich in tannins – a word I hear used a lot with wine, which is because of the main ingredient, grapes.  Tannins are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, etc., which translates in my mind to: good for calming the bad and enhancing the good.  Also, the simple sugars make it an ideal fruit to eat before or after a workout when you need easily digestible energy.  I find myself eating one before or after a workout quite frequently – way better than a gel pack of sugars.

So, now you know about the fruit that can be the game changer to your dessert, or an energy boost before or after a workout.  Never before has the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” been so true.  I’m going to try to make chico pudding soon and will let you know how it turns out.  But first, “relax, chico.”

Some great sites for additional chico reading:

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