They grow on an attractive, tropical evergreen tree with glossy, dark green leaves. The tree will grow up to 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 metres) tall.
The tree will propagate true to seed, but better fruit is ensured by applying grafts onto seedlings.
The Malay Apple tree produces many blossoms, which can be white, yellow or orange but are usually purplish. Sixty days after the blossoms appear, the fruit will be ready to pick. The fruit, which grows in clusters, is shaped like a bell (or pear), 2 to 4 inches tall (5 to 10 cm), with glossy, waxy thin red skin and juicy flesh. Every year a tree will produce somewhere in the range of 50 to 200 pounds (23 to 90 kg) of fruit.
Malay Apples will usually have either 1 or 2 large seeds filling a large cavity, though some trees will produce seedless fruit. Once the fruit is ripe, it will fall from the tree and get bruised. It damages easily so it needs to be picked by hand.
Some people will eat the fruit raw, though most consider it flavourless, and cook it by either stewing or making a sauce, complemented with other flavourings.
If the fruit is picked before it is ripe, it can be used for pickles or jelly.
The flowers can be used in salads and the young leaves can be cooked as greens.
The Malay Apple tree is grown throughout south-east Asia, including southern India. It is also grown in Brazil, Surinam, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. It won’t grow in Florida or California, as it gets too cold.
The Malay Apple is probably native to Malaysia and was brought to East Africa by the Portuguese.
Hawaiians used the wood to make idols before the arrival of Europeans, when the only “fruits” there were bananas, coconuts (if you want to think of a coconut as a fruit). Malay Apples were brought to Jamaica by Captain Bligh in 1793.
In English they are also called the Water Apple, and the Otaheite Apple, names that are already applied to other fruit. The same applies to “Pera de agua” used in Venezuela. Owing to the apple’s resemblance to the fruit on a cashew tree, it’s sometimes also called French Cashew.