Plant names may be descriptive, but they can’t always be taken at face value. Take the Spanish lime, for example. This is not even related to the lime, nor does it hail from Spain. The mamoncillo (Melicoccus bijugatus), also known as Mamóncillo or Quenepas is a small oval green-colored fruit grown on trees related to the Evergreen family. It is native to Colombia, Venezuela, and the island of Margarita, also French Guiana, Guyana and Surinam. It is commonly cultivated and spontaneous in those countries, also in coastal Ecuador, the lowlands of Central America, the West Indies and in the Bahamas. This fruit typically grows in clusters of twelve or more from a single stem. Similar in shape and size to a large green olive, the outer flesh of the Mamoncillo is hard and brittle. It is easily peeled away to expose a pinkish to cream colored flesh, which provides a very sweet tasting meat. Also known as a Spanish Lime, this fruit is often served in beverages like a lime, or served as a fresh flavored snack to eat out of hand. The fruit is similar to its cousin, the lychee and should be eaten in the same manner. The seed of the Mamoncillo can be roasted and eaten just like sunflower seeds or chestnuts as well. According to Britton, there was a tree about 30 ft tall in Bermuda in 1914 but it had never bloomed. There are a few trees in Israel but none has flowered before 10 years of age.
The mamoncillo tree is slow-growing, erect, stately, attractive; to 85 ft high, with trunk to 5 1/2 ft thick; smooth, gray bark, and spreading branches. Young branchlets are reddish. The leaves are briefly deciduous, alternate, compound, having 4 opposite, elliptic, sharp-pointed leaflets 2 to 5 in long and 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 in wide, the rachis frequently conspicuously winged as is that of the related soapberry (Sapindus saponaria L.). The flowers, in slender racemes 2 1/3 to 4 in long, often clustered in terminal panicles, are fragrant, white, 1/5 to 1/3 in wide, with 4 petals and 8 stamens. Male and female are usually borne on separate trees but some trees are partly polygamous. The fruit clusters are branched, compact and heavy with nearly round, green fruits tipped with a small protrusion, and suggesting at first glance small unripe limes, but there the resemblance ends. The skin is smooth, thin but leathery and brittle. The glistening pulp (aril) is salmon-colored or yellowish, translucent, gelatinous, juicy but very scant and somewhat fibrous, usually clinging tenaciously to the seed. When fully ripe, the pulp is pleasantly acid-sweet but if unripe acidity predominates. In most fruits there is a single, large, yellowish-white, hard-shelled seed, while some have 2 hemispherical seeds. The kernel is white, crisp, starchy, and astringent.
Aah! Let me tell you… I’ve voraciously consumed these Quenepas since childhood. I even learned a thing or two which I hadn’t known, despite a lifetime of experience with these sweet, tangy and delicious fruit, recently a friend of mine tell me it’s a great source of iron. How amazing is that?! The most common way of eating them is to remove the skin and suck the pulp from the seed. However, I’ve also heard of soaking the peeled fruit in rum and sugar to make a drink. Another thing to be careful when eating Quenepas is that the juice of the pulp stains, very much like green bananas and green plantains stain and if that juice falls in your clothes they could be stained forever. Nonetheless, Quenepas are the perfect fruit to eat at the beach during summertime. If you come across a bunch, give them a try, just be careful… never talk with a Quenepa in your mouth. OK? Enough said, I will leave you with an interesting note. According to Caribbean folk wisdom (especially in Jamaica), girls learn the art of kissing by eating the sweet flesh of this fruit, also it is said that if a girl finds two seeds then they’ll have twins!