Sineguelas (Spondias purpurea), also known as the Spanish Plum, is an exotic antioxidant fruit native from the Latin America which was brought to and grown in the Philippines back in the 1800s. Today, Sineguelas can be found in several provinces across the Philippines. It is commonly called by the Filipino people as the “food of the gods”.
You may also encounter this fruit under other names, such as Jocote, Jamaica Plum, Purple Plum, Brazilian Plum, Red Mombin, Chile Plum, Ciruela, Hog Plum, Ovo, Purple Jobo, Purple Mombin, Scarlet Plum, Spanish Plum and Wild Plum. Jocote is perhaps the most common of the names used for this fruit and the etymology comes from the Nahuatl word xocotl, indicating any kind of sour or acidic fruit. However if you wait long enough for this fruit to ripen, it will become pretty sweet.
The Sineguelas tree has been naturalized in parts of Sri Lanka, India, Africa, Bangladesh, Indonesia and other Caribbean islands. However you’ll mostly find this fruit cultivated in some areas of the Brazilian Northeast side. This is precisely why you can find the Spanish plum in the homes of so many Brazilians, especially in the Southeast and South regions.
There are two varieties of Ciruela, the yellow and the red variety – both of these types of Spanish plums have a large seed at their core. The seed is inedible, fibrous and bitter, so it’s best if you don’t attempt to eat it.
The fruit starts forming on the branches starting May and by the time June comes around, Spanish plums are ripe and ready to eat. The plant itself is found in open forests, pastures and thickets. The plant is quite versatile, as it can thrive in a wide variety of soil types: gravel, sand, calcareous soils and loams. The tree is semi-evergreen and it can reach up to 25 m in height.
The Spanish plum itself is oblong and measures around 3-5 cm at its maximum width and length. It has a smooth and glossy peel, which will make this fruit quite easily recognizable. Spanish plums are also called golden apples sometimes due to their close resemblance to apples and ultimately to plums at a first glance.
The fruit is green and turns into yellow red or maroon when ripe. It is small in size approximately 1.5 inches. The taste is sweet and juicy when eaten ripe. Other people prefer eating them unripe matching it with salt and vinegar. The Sineguelas is rich in vitamin C and ascorbic acid. It is best known to keep your immune system healthy and strong.
What’s In a Spanish Plum?
Spanish plums are still relatively unknown to the general public. They are quite the rare fruits and you can tell this by the few information you can find about them. Studies regarding their health properties still need to be conducted in order to get a more ample understanding of this marvelous antioxidant fruit. However we can still look at the nutritional value of the Spanish plum and see what it contains. One Spanish plums serving (28 g) contains the following:
- 6% of the DRV sodium – this mineral is essential in the body since it maintains a healthy balance of electrolytes. On the other hand, when this electrolytes balance is not achieved, you may experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, vomiting, low energy and muscle pains, among other uncomfortable symptoms.
- 1g of protein – proteins are crucial to the body’s well-being since they ensure whole tissue health. Skin, bones and cartilages are also the benefactors of a sodium-rich diet.
- 5% of the DRV vitamin C – By eating considerable quantities of Spanish plums, you’ll help your body prevent iron deficiency and lower the risk of heart disease. Apart from this, vitamin C may also reduce the risk of chronic disease, may help better manage high blood pressure and will give your immunity a boost.
- 3% of the DRV iron – this mineral is very important in the body since it ensures hemoglobin’s proper functioning. This is the protein that carries oxygen through the bloodstream and guarantees that your entire body is supplied with oxygen. Iron is usually pretty inconspicuous in the body and you can actually understand its importance once it’s lacking. This will manifest as anemia, a condition showing symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, rapid heartbeat and leg cramps, among others.
- 24.9 g calories.
As you can see, this small plum-resembling fruit actually holds important nutritional value that can boost your immune system and prevent certain ailments or diseases. Of course, extensive studies are still needed in order to shed a light on what this wonderful antioxidant fruit may really offer in terms of health benefits.
The Sineguelas also contains antioxidants that keep your skin looking healthy and glowing. Because of its great amount of vitamin C, it can protect you from common sickness that you may catch from other people such as cough, colds and fever. The Sineguelas fruit is not commonly sold in supermarkets. But if you happen to visit local stores in the Philippines, you might want to check it out and have a taste of this so called foods of the gods.
Traditionally, ciruelas or Spanish plums have been used as traditional medicine in treating diarrhea, relieving swollen glands, healing sores and reducing sore throats and headaches.
How to Pick the Best Spanish Plums
All in all, these are delicious little fruits that closely resemble plums and that can become really sweet and enjoyable once they pass their green, raw stage. This is why it’s important to know when and how to pick them, so you only get the best of what these fruits have to offer.
Whether you’re picking them off the branch or from the local farmer’s market, you need to look out for the color these fruits have. If they’re green with reddish-brown areas, it means they’re not ripe yet, but they’re in the process of becoming ripe. If they’ve already turned a beautiful reddish color, it means they’re well and ready to be taken home. One additional test you can perform is to press the sineguelas with your fingers.
If they’re ripe, their flesh will yield to the pressure. You will feel the texture of the fruit as being slightly soft, yet maintaining its firmness underneath it all. If the fruit feels too soft to the touch and holds no resistance at all, it means it’s probably too ripe and you may want to pass on it.
Storing Your Spanish Plums
Similar to regular plums, Spanish plums are also pretty perishable, so it’s important that you get acquainted with the storing techniques before it’s too late and they become inedible. So if you bought them and they’re still a bit green, you can leave them on the counter for a couple of more days, so they can continue the ripening process.
However it’s important that you check up on them regularly, since they can go bad pretty quickly. If you want to speed up the process, you can place them in paper bags and leave them on the counter – this will save you precious time.
If you want to have them for a longer time, you can put them in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator drawer – this should add at least 3 more days to their lifespan. Storing Spanish plums requires a bit of attention, but the effort will pay off.
How to Use Spanish Plums
Considering Spanish plums are pretty perishable, it’s recommended you make the best of them as soon as you get them from the market or pick them off the tree.
You can, of course, eat them raw, as most people do, or consider turning them into something else. Think about:
- Baking them – That’s right, you can easily bake Spanish plums and add them on the side of whatever your heart desires. They will get that unique aroma that retains the flavor of the fruit, while also resembling a dessert.
- Including them in your morning muesli – add a bit of granola to your small Spanish plums chunks, a bit of honey and you’ll have a delicious and energy-packed start to your day.
- Including them in a smoothie – There’s always a time to try new things and Spanish plum smoothies are relatively unheard of. Until now. Mix them with Greek yogurt, a banana and whatever other fruit suits your taste. Add in any other ingredients to balance the taste to your liking and you’ll have a drink that’s both refreshing and healthy.
- Turning your sineguelas into jams – the sineguelas jam recipe will require you to be a bit creative, but it’s nothing you couldn’t handle, especially if you’ve made jams before.
- Making them into desserts – sineguelas ice cream is another popular dessert option for those looking to turn their Spanish plums into something savory.
Sineguelas have a way of blending well with lots of other fruits and ingredients, so you’ll have many options to consider when thinking how to consume them.
If you ever travel to the Philippines, you’ll actually get to sample a myriad of Spanish plum recipes, as they are lovingly prepared by the locals. In no other place are Spanish plums so well-known and beloved as in the Philippines, so make sure you jot down any recipe you stumble upon over there, so you can recreate it at home later on.
One recipe there, for example, includes Spanish plums in a sour sineguelas soup, together with cooked meats. Kinilaw is another popular dish in the Philippines and it’s a blend between seafood, juices and vegetables.
At the end of it all, it’s easy to see why Spanish plums are such a favorite among the Philippino locals – they’re small, easy to consume, zesty and delicious. Apart from this, they can treat ailments, they are rich in health benefits and they can easily become essential parts in great recipes. The antioxidant content gives them an important position among the impressive list of antioxidant fruits you can find throughout the world. All you need to do is to be careful of how you store them and enjoy becoming creative with finding new ways to make them a part of your healthy lifestyle.