You’d probably be forgiven if you confused a tree full of ripe, green hog plums for a pear tree. Their plump, pale-green exterior and freckled skin give them the appearance of a more common fruit like the plum, but make no mistake- these wiley little fruits are the same species as the Santa Rosa, Chickasaw, and Myrobalan.
But what is a hog plum? Can you eat it? Did it crash down to earth from some alien planet? In this article, we’ll dig into the hog plum’s past, getting down to the roots of this strange little fruit and excavating a few fun facts.
What Are Hog Plums?
The hog plum, or the yellow mombin as it’s also known, is a species of plum native to the tropical Americas. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the hog plum tree usually reaches anywhere between 15 and 22 meters in height, and their fruits have spines that are difficult to separate from the pulp.
The tree’s bark has deep fissures, and its branches sprout compound leaves, which usually drop before a flowering. They have unique, stud-like white flowers and fruits with large, hard stones.
Because of their tough exterior and spiney inside, many people think of hog plums like crab apples. But these plums are actually edible, as well as their young leaves. Parts of the tree have even been used in traditional American medicines throughout history.
Hog Plum History
The hog plum, native to the tropical Americas, had its first European contact with Spanish and Portuguese settlers. It was transported by the Portuguese to Asia around the 17th century and, according to Purdue, is now naturalized in tropical Africa.
According to the same Purdue article, the hog plum is less appreciated than its variant, the yellow mombin. It is mostly enjoyed by travelers and children as a way to alleviate thirst. In this sense, it’s less like a pear and more like a coconut.
In Mexico, the plum is pickled in vinegar and eaten with chili and salt. It makes for a tart, spicey, and semi-bitter treat, much like a pickled apple.
The tree secretes a gum that is sometimes used as glue, and its bark is used for tanning and dyeing. Many people also make small trinkets, like cigarette holders and amulets, out of hog plum bark since it is so thick.
What Do Hog Plums Taste Like?
Because of the large pit and hard-to-separate spines, hog plums are not commonly eaten straight-from-the-branch. Some do enjoy them, however, and report a taste much like a Granny Smith apple- sweet, sour, and a little bit tangy.
Depending on ripeness, the fruit’s flavor can vary. Its tartness and sweetness are taken advantage of in Guatemala, where the fruit is used to produce a wine known as Vinho de Taperiba.
Eating hog plums can be a challenging experience, but the reward is well worth the effort. The pulp is exceptionally juicy and gives off a somewhat distinct musk. Some report hints of turpentine and an acidic bite.
How to Use Hog Plums
There are boundless ways to use hog plums in a variety of dishes and beverages. The fruit is native to the tropical regions of south and middle America and has thus been exposed to the clever gambit of the South American culinary world. When looking for hog plum recipes, be prepared for sweet, spicy, and bitter variants on an otherwise un-noteworthy fruit.
In Mexico, the hog plum is typically pickled in vinegar, as stated above. With salt and chile on top, this recipe serves as a beautiful hors d’oeuvre for a hot summer day and can be served with a margarita or other mixed drink as a chaser.
Going back to our handy Purdue article, the juice is often extracted for use in cool beverages and ice cream. Particularly adventurous fruit-lovers might try freezing the plums, but they can also be eaten out-of-hand.
The young leaves are typically roasted and used as greens. Guatemalans also use the juice to produce a cider-like drink. Other uses include the typical jams, jellies, and different preserved variants.
Health Benefits of the Hog Plum
The hog plum is exceptionally high in moisture and is used by travelers and wayfarers as a way to replenish moisture reserves on the trail. Your body, when tired, begs for sugar and water- energy and electrolytes. Hog plums are a great way to replenish these.
The hog plum is also very high in calcium, which is needed by the heart and nerves for proper functioning.
According to the Health Benefits Times: “The plant is used medicinally in traditional medicine against lower back pain, rheumatism, digestive track problems, angina, sore throat, malarial fever, diarrhea, urethritis, gonorrhea, stomach pain, colds, dysentery, laryngitis, ophthalmia, and many others.
According to the same article, the hog plum also enhances bone health, which is good news for our lactose intolerant readers who are able to get their hands on a few. No more worries about being teased over brittle bones!
Where to Buy a Hog Plum Tree
Stones from the Nepali variant of the hog plum can be found online on sites like Amazon. However, for whatever reason, there are not very many hog plum trees in the united states, which is such a shame because of their rich cultural history and many uses.
Hog plum seeds were initially transported to the United States from Columbia in 1914, but today the main known populations of hog plum trees in the US exist in special collections.
If you want to tackle the challenge of growing the elusive, mysterious, and culturally rich hog plum, follow a few steps for success.
How to Grow Hog Plums
Despite their tropical origin, hog plums can actually be grown all throughout the United States in USDA zones 3-9.
To grow a hog plum tree from a sapling, a little bit of preparation is necessary. It is good first to soak the roots of the plant in a bucket of water before planting. This allows the plant to suck up a bit of excess moisture, which it can use to adapt to its new environment and root out sources of nutrients.
Hog plums are best planted in the fall and can be grown in sunny or partially shady spots. Keep in mind- hog plums love drainable, porous soil.
After mulching around the base for weed control, trim back any weeds and remove sticks from the tree’s base. Now, just prune and water as needed. Soon, you’ll have your very own juicy hog plums,.
Fruits Like the Hog Plum
Hog plums, while entirely distinct, have a few similar-tasting cousins. People without access to hog plums might turn to Italian plums.
Hog Plum FAQ
Here are a few frequently googled questions about the hog plum. We hope we’ve got the answer you’re looking for.
Are Hog Plums Edible?
Yes, hog plums are edible. Many people assume that, because of the spines and the tough, leathery skin, hog plums are some inedible variant of the more common plums we see on the shelves. But the hog plum is enjoyed all across South America and up into Mexico, as well as in Africa and Asia.
What Color Are Hog Plum Flowers?
Hog plum flowers are a brilliant white with protruding yellow stamens. They grow off the branches of the hog plum tree in a frond-like manner. They look unique, having a distinct roughness that differentiates them from the more dainty Santa Rosas and Myroballans of the world.
Are Hog Plums Sweet?
Hog plums are very sweet but also have lingering hints of tartness and bitterness as well as a very acidic bite. I would compare a hog plum to a pear with a shot of lime juice and just a hint of turpentine. Every taste of a hog plum is an adventure, and connects you with a tropical world just ripe with peoples and cultures.
Are Hog Plums Good for Baking?
Because of the large stones and hard-to-separate spines, people don’t usually bake with hog plums. They are commonly used in jellies, juices, jams, or eaten out of hand or pickled. There are abundant uses for the hog plum from across south and central America, but none of them include baking.
That being said, rules are made to be broken, and most great recipes come from experimental avenues. Don’t be afraid to experiment with hog plums to see what kinds of culinary feats you can pull off- and don’t forget to thank us for introducing you to these sweet, tart treats.
All in all, the hog plum is a semi-sweet, semi-tart plum that grows on 15-22 meter high trees, typically in the tropical Americas. Although there aren’t many hog plum trees growing in the US, you can still grow them in your backyard with little to no effort. However, growers in tropical climates will have better luck.
So, what are you waiting for? Why not buy a hog plum for yourself? Growing any plum tree is a fun, rewarding experience that will pay off in a matter of years.