A mamoncillo is a tropical fruit filled with a creamy, tangy pulp which is often enjoyed directly out of hand, although it can also be used in desserts like fruit sorbets. This fruit is most commonly available in markets in South America, where the trees grows as a native, although it can be found in Latin American markets in other regions of the world. In some areas, the mamoncillo tree is grown as an ornamental; gardeners and homeowners are not always aware that the clusters of green fruit are perfectly edible.
This fruit goes by a number of aliases, including Spanish lime, chenet, ginep, quenepa, akee, limoncillo, ginnip, and mamon. Despite the references to limes and lemons, the mamoncillo is not a citrus fruit and it is not a close relative of the citrus family; instead, it comes from the Melicoccus bijugatus tree, in the soapberry family, making it a relative of fruits like lychees and longans. The plethora of nicknames can get confusing, especially since some of them are offensive in various languages; you may want to ask a local what the name of a plant is so that you do not cause offense by accident.
The trees have silvery gray bark, simple bright green leaves, and sprays of aromatic off-white flowers. The flowers can pollinate each other or the flowers on other trees, allowing the trees to develop clusters of small green drupes. The drupes are covered with a thin skin, which must be cracked to get at the fleshy pulp inside; the pulp conceals a large seed, which is also edible, although the seeds are usually toasted before consumption.
The traditional way to eat a mamoncillo is out of hand. The consumer cracks the skin with his or her teeth and then sucks out the pulp inside, being careful to avoid the big seed, which is usually spat out. Mamoncillos can also be pulped to make desserts and drinks, in which case the pulp is sieved to separate the seeds for roasting. The plant has several other uses as well; the fruit can be used to produce a dye, and the wood is useful for cabinetry.
This fruit is typically cultivated through cuttings, to ensure that young trees retain the positive traits of their parent trees. As a tropical fruit, it does best in USDA Zone 10, in a moist environment with plenty of fertilizer. It can also be grown in a greenhouse, along with other tropical fruits, although you will need a tall ceiling clearance to grow mamoncillo since the fruit trees get quite tall.