Mamoncillo (Spanish Lime)
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Mamoncillo, or Spanish limes, grow in clusters of 12 or more fruits at the end of the branches of large green, leafy trees. Individual branches are removed and the fruits are commonly sold in clusters. The small fruits measure 3 to 4 centimeters in diameter and are almost perfectly round. The thin skin is smooth, tough, and leathery with the occasional protrusion opposite the stem end. The pulp has a gelatinous and glistening appearance, similar to that of a lychee. The flesh is referred to as the “aril” and can range in color from salmon-orange to pale yellow. It clings to a large white seed (sometimes two) at the center of the fruit. Unripe Mamoncillo can be sour and have a slightly ‘hairy’ texture. When Mamoncillo are ripe, the pulp is sweetly acidic and can be compared to a cross between a lime and a lychee.
Mamoncillo are available in the summer months.
Mamoncillo, or Spanish Limes, as they are known as in the United States, got their name from their resemblance to small, unripe limes. Their likeness to limes is limited to appearance only. Botanically referred to as Melicoccus bijugatus (and sometimes Melicocca bijuga), the small green fruits go by many names in their native region. They are called Quenepas in Puerto Rico, Mamones in El Salvador, and Gineps in Jamaica and Guyana. Mamoncillos are not a citrus fruit; instead, they are related to the more common lychee and rambutan. The Latin name literally translates to “honey berry”. The fruit is a considered a drupe, a fruit with an outer fleshy part, surrounding a hard shell that contains a seed, similar to most stone fruit.
Mamoncillo are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. The small fruits also contain tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin. Mamoncillo are also a good source of phenolic compounds, which act as important antioxidants. The fruit pulp has been used to help treat digestive issues and hypertension in the Caribbean.
Mamoncillo are most often eaten fresh, right out of the skin. To eat a Mamoncillo, bite into or puncture the thin skin so it can be peeled back to expose the pulp. The best way to eat it is to pop the whole fruit into your mouth and suck the pulp from the seed. The seeds can be roasted, and eaten like chestnuts. The small fruits can also be used to make beverages, desserts and jellies. Peeled Mamoncillo can be added to equal parts sugar and water, and simmered to make a simple syrup to use in desserts and drinks. In Puerto Rico, the fruits are soaked in rum and sugar to make a sweet alcoholic drink. In Ecuador, Mamoncillo are eaten with salt and chili. The juices from the fruit can stain, so use caution when eating or preparing. Because of its leathery skin, Mamoncillo will keep fresh for several weeks. Refrigeration is not necessary, unless the peel is removed.
The indigenous tribes of the Caribbean, the Arawak, used the juice from the Mamoncillo to dye cloth. The juices leave a darn brown, permanent stain. According to local lore in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, young girls would learn the art of kissing by eating Guineps. Another legend says that if a woman discovers two seeds within her Quenepas, she is destined to have twins.
Mamoncillo are native to northern South America and the Caribbean, specifically Colombia and Venezuela, and the islands just off their coasts. They grow mainly in tropical areas, and are found in some parts of tropical Africa and the Pacific. The little green fruits are commercially cultivated in the very southern portion of Florida in the United States and in some home gardens. Mamoncillo may be found at the end of the summer in specialty stores catering to Caribbean and Cuban tastes in the northeastern United States.
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