Sugar Apple: More than just a tropical snack

By Isaac Hopkins

Unrelated to the ubiquitous apple, the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) is a tree native to the tropics of South America and is now grown in many regions around the world, from China to Africa. The sugar apple, also known as sweetsop, annon, or krishnabey, is grown most intensely in India, where horticulturalists have identified ten different cultivated varieties.

The sugar apple is a popular sweet fruit in many tropical areas. It also can be used as a natural pesticide. (Photo Credit: Agrofolio Database for Neglected and Underutilized Species)

The sugar apple grows in tropical and subtropical areas, but it flourishes in a variety of soil types, and is moderately resistant to drought. This flexibility has allowed it to grow on five continents.

The principle use of sugar apples is raw consumption of the fruit, which are segmented, knobby clusters of juicy, sweet flesh.  In Malaysia, the fruits are frequently squeezed through a sieve and the juice is added to ice cream or milk for a sweet treat. High in calories and iron, this fruit is good for providing extra nourishment for people in the tropics and subtropics.

When eating a sugar apple, one must mind the seeds, which are abundant, hard, and toxic if ingested. This toxicity, however, has shown promise as a natural pesticide. Oil extracted from the seeds has been shown in studies to be as effective as conventional pesticides at eliminating pests from crops such as tomatoes, melons, and soybeans in greenhouse conditions. Furthermore, subsequent testing showed that the compounds break down quickly, are no longer toxic after two days, and are completely inactive after eight days. The same potency allows seed powder to be used as a lice treatment.

Ironically, the sugar apple has proven vulnerable to a variety of pests and blights, which has discouraged its cultivation in the Caribbean and South America. Indian growers have developed several techniques to counter these pests, which may help reignite the sugar apple’s popularity in the Americas. In Florida, for example, tropical fruit crop specialist JH Crane rated the commercial expansion potential for sugar apples and related hybrids as “good” and “excellent,” respectively.

As sugar apple cultivation expands, the trees could be grown alongside other crops, providing natural pesticides and enriching local diets with more variety. Sugar apples may prove to be more than just a casual tropical snack.

Do you know of other local plants that can be used to provide natural protection from pests? Tell us in the comments!

Isaac Hopkins is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read about other indigenous crops, see: Shea: for People and Planet, Eru: Growing Popularity of Cameroon’s Nutritious Wild Vine, Star Apple: Prized Fruit and Timber, and Shalakh Apricot: Protecting a Species’ Diversity, and a Local Culture.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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