Non-Timber Tuesday: Sapodilla
The Manilkara sapota (in the Sapotacea family), is known to be native from Mexico and Central America and was cultivated by the Maya and Aztec for its fruits – a sweet pear-flavored egg-shaped fruit very high in vitamin C – and its latex. The tree can be tapped every 2-3 years in order to obtain milky and gummy latex which, once boiled, gives a gooey substance called chicle.
Chicle was apparently well known to the ancient Maya who chewed it to quench thirst and to accompany meals. Up until the 1940’s, chicle was used as the base of chewing gum developed and sold by companies, such as Wrigley’s. Around the time of World War II, the companies started to develop synthetic replacement for chicle.
Today, most chewing gums are made of other natural latex or, more often, petroleum-based synthetic gum. Even if there has been a revival of natural chicle as an alternative to synthetic gum in recent years, chicle-based gums represented only 3.5% of the chewing gum produced in 2007.
Not only is the natural chicle better for our health, it is also better for the environment’s health as it is 100% biodegradable, can be produced sustainably while creating livelihoods for communities and protect forests as it offers a better alternative to cutting for timber.
The sapodilla is now cultivated in various tropical regions worldwide. Its tropical fruits are popular and full of health benefits, eaten fresh or prepared in purees, beverages, ice creams, etc. Furthermore, almost all the parts of the tree are used for many medicinal uses, ranging from antiviral to anti-inflammatory properties. Definitely a multipurpose tree!