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Kei apple has a rounded shape and petite size measuring only 1 to 1 ½ inches in length. When ripe the tough skin of the Kei apple turns form green to yellow-orange and boasts a fuzzy coat, similar to that of a peach. Its flesh is mealy and juicy, like that of an apricot and surrounds two rings of central seeds and can contain anywhere between 5 and 15 seeds total. Its flavor is extremely acidic and for most people needs to be sweetened with sugar prior to consumption. In contract to its flavor, the Kei apple offers a highly aromatic, sweet aroma when ripe.
Kei Apples are available late summer through the fall.
The Kei apple plant, botanically known as part of Dovyalis caffra or Iberia caffra is a sub-tropical, evergreen fruit tree or shrub, and a member of the Flacourtiaceae or Placourtia family. Botanically speaking it is a berry though appearance-wise it looks more like an apricot and flavor-wise compared to citrus as a result of its high acidity. It is grown as a coastal hedge and ornamental in southern California and the Mediterranean and for the fruit it provides in parts of Africa. Its popularity as a fresh eating fruit is limited due to its highly acidic flavor and as a result of the plants thorns which make it difficult to harvest. These thorns do however make it ideal for use as a natural fence capable of providing a barrier for protection from wild animals and intruders. As a coastal hedge it additionally aids in the prevention of cliffside erosion and desertification.
The Kei apple is high in vitamin C and amino acids and offers 15 different antioxidants with the highest amounts coming from alanine, glutamic acid, phenylalaninem, aspartic acid, serine, and leucine. The fruit, stem and roots of the Kei apple tree have also been studied in Egypt for their potential antibiotic properties.
The highly acidic flavor of the Kei apple requires that for most palates the fruit be sweetened prior to eating. To prepare the Kei apple slice, peel, de-seed, sprinkle with sugar, and let to sit for an hour. Sugared Kei apple slices can be served as is, used in fruit or green salads, or added as a component in desserts. The natural acidity of the Kei apple makes them ideal for use in making jams, jellies and syrups. Additionally Kei apple has a natural jellying ability and can assist in making jelly with fruits that do not jell well on their own. Unless making one of the afore mentioned applications, cooking of the Kei apple is not recommended as once exposed to the heat; it quickly breaks down to a thick liquid form. Unripe Kei apples can also be used to make pickles. Kei apples will be orange-yellow when ripe and should be used shortly after harvesting, for best flavor they should be consumed ideally within one week.
The Kei apple, also known as Umkokolo in Africa, is one of 3 Dovyalis species fruits that provide a valuable source of food and income in southern Africa. Often referred to as a famine food the Kei apple plant has been used to provide sustenance in times when food was scarce to come by and difficult to grow. In the Lowveld region of Africa the roots of the Kei apple plant are additionally used for medicinal purposes in the treatment of rheumatism and chest pain. In Israel, the Kei apple was grown for some time as a hedge around citrus groves but the fallen fruits from the tree proved to be a breeding ground for the Mediterranean fruit fly and consequently nearly all the Kei apple trees there were destroyed.
The Kei apple tree is native to southwest Africa specifically Namibia and the area around the Kei River, hence its namesake. It first made its way to England in 1838 then from there to Algeria, southern France, northwestern Australia, Jamaica, Egypt, the Philippines, and in the United States to Florida and California. A subtropical plant the Kei apple can be grown as a small tree or a shrub and is commonly planted to form a hedge. The plant thrives in locations above 2,600 feet and thrives in dry, sandy soils. It can be grown in saline rich soil and locations near the ocean where salty air is prevelent and is highly tolerant of drought. The Kei apple plant also is known to produce a biochemical that can inhibit the growth of other nearby plants, an occurrence known as allelopathy, while this is beneficial for weed abatement, care should be taken not to plant it too close to other fruit or vegetable-bearing plants.