The mamey sapota--an exotic tropical fruit popular in Hispanic venues--could soon be rolling into traditional American supermarkets as a flavor component in various food and beverage products.

Reminiscent of a football, the mamey sapota has a coarse brown skin covering its sweet, golden-tinged non-acidic innards, and weighs from one to three pounds. Seeded from large, tall trees common in tropical climates, the three- to six-inch-long mamey retains an apricot/raspberry fragrance and a sweet, pumpkin-like taste, complemented with carrot and almond nuances.

To enjoy its sweet flavor, the skin, seed, seed coverings and rag--the flesh joining to the skin--must all be removed.

Native to Central America and the West Indies lowlands, and used routinely in Hispanic-American households, the fruit is chopped and/or blended for use in beverages, fruit salads, and desserts, or often eaten raw and topped with cream, sugar or wine. It is also made into jam.

In many areas of its native land, people slice, wrap and store mamey on refrigerated racks to allow customers to view the fruit and examine its ripeness stage. Normally, a whole mamey sapota will have a nick near its stem exposing the fruit's interior. If a green hue is present, the fruit has not reached its full ripening stage. Once ripe, the mamey yields to a gentle squeeze and has a refrigerated shelf life of four days.

The tropical fruit is rich in potassium, iron, vitamins A and C, and dietary fiber. It has a moderately high caloric rate of 134 calories per 2/3 cup, and a carbohydrate content of 31%.

In the process of reviewing exotic fruit flavors, David Michael & Co.'s Technical Marketing Interface Group, Philadelphia, discovered the rich and full-bodied taste of the mamey sapota. In turn, David Michael flavor chemists developed several new mamey flavors in both natural and artificial forms. Common applications for the new flavoring include frozen desserts and beverages.

"The biggest challenge we faced at the onset of our research was finding fresh mamey to do taste testing in order to start the flavor development process," says Steve Wilbur, assistant vice president of marketing at David Michael & Co. "Because of the prevailing use of the mamey in Hispanic-American households, we believed there would be sufficient industry interest to warrant the development of such flavors."

David Michael & Co., a 105-year-old family-owned manufacturer of flavors and stabilizers, produces mamey sapota flavors in liquid--the most prevalent form based on anticipated usage--and powder forms. The flavors are available in natural WONF, natural and artificial, and artificial forms.

"Because application requirements and budgets can vary widely from company to company, our objective in the development of any flavor is to provide our clients with the option to purchase that flavor in a natural or artificial form," notes Wilbur.

The liquid mamey sapota flavors are packaged in plastic gallon containers (four to a case), and in 55-gallon drums, while the powders come in 100-pound drums.

"Mamey is very versatile, and can be used anywhere fruit would be utilized, but the most appropriate places appear to be in beverages and in frozen sorbet products," concludes Wilbur.