Mammee, also known as mamey, mammee apple, and South American apricot, is a tropical tree that produces edible fruit. Its species is Mammea americana and it belongs in the family Guttiferae, which makes it a relative of mangosteen. Mamey is often confused with the sapote (Mamey colorado), another tropical plant that bears fruit. This is largely because the sapote is mistakenly called “mamey” in Cuba. Mamey trees are native to tropical regions in the West Indies and South America and they have spread to the Bahamas, Central America, and Florida. European explorers took mamey seeds back to Europe, where most attempts at growing the trees failed. The seeds were finally coaxed to grow in a small region in West Africa and in some areas of Southeast Asia.
The mamey tree can grow to be 60 to 70 feet tall and has large oval leaves that are glossy-green. The tree produces fragrant white flowers in the spring on small stalks. Pollinated flowers develop into mammee fruit that ripens from May to August, depending on the region. In some areas mammee trees yield two crops a year, first in June and later in December. Mature trees can produce 150 to 200 fruits per crop. Fruits are ripe when their skin is slightly soft and yellow. They should be picked before they are allowed to fall off the tree, as the fall will bruise and spoil the fruit.
Mammee fruit is round, about 4 to 8 inches in diameter, and has a leathery light brown skin. Directly under the skin is a thin white membrane that surrounds the flesh. Both the skin and membrane are bitter and not generally eaten. The inner flesh is light yellow to orange and its texture varies from dry and crisp to tender and juicy. People have compared the flesh’s sweet flavor to apricots, raspberries, and mangoes. At the center of the fruits are one to four hard brown seeds several inches long. The seeds are not eaten.
Ripe mammee fruit can be found in Florida, the Bahamas, Central and South America, and regions in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. It is almost impossible to find the fresh fruit in other areas of the world but canned mammee can be found in some Hispanic markets. If you are shopping for fresh mammees, look for unblemished fruit that yields slightly when pressed. Hard fruits are not yet ripe, but can be ripened by leaving them out on a kitchen counter for several days. Once ripe they will keep in the fridge for several days and should be eaten as soon as possible. The brown tough skin and the bitter membrane underneath are best removed by cutting them into strips and peeling them off. The flesh can then be cut into slices, discarding the seeds and any potentially bitter flesh that may cling to them.
The fruit can be eaten raw alone or in fruit salads. In Jamaica it is first cooked with wine and sugar and in other areas of the Bahamas the flesh is typically marinated in lightly salted water to remove bitterness and then cooked with sugar to a mushy consistency. The fruit is also cooked into pies and tarts and both ripe and slightly under ripe fruits are made into preserves. The fruit and sap of the mammee tree are also fermented and made into wine.