Chocolate Fruit for South Florida


As published in the Miami Herald

The chocolate pudding fruit is native to the dry
forests of central Mexico.
I remember it well in the markets of Michoacán, where the
fruit is known well and highly appreciated. They often use the fruit by itself
but they sometimes mix the pulp with wine, cinnamon and sugar and serve as


The Chocolate persimmon fruit (Diospyros digyna), a member of the persimmon family, is native
along both coasts of Mexico
from Jalisco to Chiapas, Veracruz and Yucatan. Outside of  Mexico it is
cultivated in the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Hawaii and of
course on South Florida.


Growing Chocolate persimmon in South Florida


What to plant: It is an attractive evergreen tree, 25 ft or more at
maturity.  Most of the chocolate pudding
fruit in South Florida ripen in October
through March in a time when we have few tropical fruit to enjoy.  Because there are both male and female trees
when grown from seed it is preferable to use grafted trees, which can bear
within 3 years. Chocolate pudding tree should be planted in full sun for best
growth and fruit production. Select a part of the landscape away from other
trees, buildings and structures, and power lines. Merida’ is a grafted variety that can be
locally purchased from specialty nurseries. This variety produces a superior
quality fruit in November, which is much earlier than other selections, and
extends the season for 6 to 8 weeks (November – January).


Taking care of tree: Newly planted chocolate persimmon trees should be
watered at planting and every second or third day for the first couple of
months. Once the rainy season arrives, irrigation should be stopped. Mature chocolate
pudding trees do not need frequent watering and over watering may cause trees
to decline or be unthrifty. Mulching is a great practice for almost any fruit
tree in  South Florida. It helps retain soil
moisture, reduces weed problems and improves the soil. Mulch with a 2- to 6-
inch layer of bark, wood chips, or similar mulch material. Keep mulch 8 to 12
inches from the trunk.


Pruning: Remember that chocolate persimmon fruit can become large
if not pruned to contain their size. Formative pruning during the first 2 years
is recommended to encourage lateral branching and growth. After several years
of production, it is desirable to cut back the tops of the trees to 10 feet.
Selectively removing a few upper limbs each year will help prevent the loss of
the lower tree canopy due to shading. In addition, maintaining a smaller tree
facilitates tree care and fruit harvest, and greatly reduces possible storm


Fertilizer:  Chocolate persimmon tree is not demanding in its
fertilizer requirements. After planting, when new growth begins, apply a half
to full handful of 8-3-9
or similar fruit tree fertilizer mix. The fertilizer should be sprinkled lightly below the drip-line of the
canopy three times per year. Take care not to apply the fertilizer to the trunk.


Using the Fruit: The chocolate  persimmon fruit’s shape is that of a green
tomato. The flesh is dark brown or black, rich and sweet in flavor. The fruit
are picked when full size but unripe (olive-green color) and allowed to ripen
in 10 days at room temperature. The fruit is soft when fully ripe.  The fruit can be used fresh or frozen.  Ripe fruit will store for 3 or 4 days under
refrigeration. For longer storage, (6 months) pulp should be removed from the
fruit and frozen.


Chocolate persimmon fruit are rich in Vitamin A and
Vitamin C, and have a relatively high amount of potassium. This tropical fruit
is a distinctive element of South Florida
cuisine, but must be fully soft before consumption or use. The fruit by itself
has a bland flavor, and its brilliant gel texture develops caramel flavors when
cooked, making it a great base and desirable filling for pies and other pastry.
It is also made into ice cream.


Tips using
the chocolate pudding fruit:

  • Pick
    when full size but unripe (olive-green color) and ripen in about 10 days
    at room temperature.
  • Fruit
    begin to soften and turn brown within 3-6 days after picking. The flesh is
    soft when fully ripe.
  • The
    fruit can be used fresh or frozen. Ripe fruit will store for 3 or 4 days under
  • The
    fruit is delicious eaten fresh or used as a chocolate substitute in
    recipes and milkshakes…

 Noris Ledesma is curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.