Your columns are always full of interesting, useful topics to those of us living here, whether gardeners or not. Here is our contribution: few people have any idea that the fruit of the monstera is edible and delicious! It’s almost a weed where we live, in Hawaiian Paradise Park, and it’s on every street. Granted, knowing when to pick it and how to cut it off the cob is a bit tricky, but we’re betting you could easily explain this to your readers. Two of your dedicated readers, R. &N.B.
Monstera deliciosa is a native of Mexico and Central America. It is a climber that under excellent growing conditions can reach 70 feet while leaves can measure 3 feet across. It has aerial roots which cling to a support or will form a dense mat on the ground when unsupported. The plant grows well in a well-drained soil, rich in organic matter.
Warning: All parts of this plant are poisonous. Symptoms include intense burning of mouth, tongue, and throat; nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur.
Furthermore, contact with cell sap may cause skin irritation. The edible parts of the plant are only the ripe fruit. Some people, however, are even allergic to it.
For those who are not allergic, eating large quantities of the fruit at any one time is not recommended. The toxin is the needle-like calcium oxalate crystals and possibly other unidentified toxins.
This chemical is also found in the taro plant, rhubarb and other plants in the Araceae family.
Mature fruit that is ready to harvest will turn from green to a lighter green and the tile-like segments, or caps at the base of the fruit will begin to separate slightly, making it appear somewhat bulged. This usually takes place about 12 months after flowering. Fruit may then be cut from the plant, leaving 1 inch or more of the stem. To ripen the fruit, keep it at room temperature for up to six days. Sometimes fruit is placed in a paper bag during the ripening process.
Alternatively, information from Australia indicates that the whole fruit can be ripened for eating at one time by standing the base in water and keeping it in the dark for a few days.
During this time the fruit will ripen as the green caps will easily fall from the fruit, expose the edible portion beneath. Fruit ripens first at the base, moving toward the apex (top). Do not eat from any section where the caps have not been shed.
The pulp should only be eaten from that portion of the fruit that easily falls off the core (stem). This is because immature sections of the fruit contain the oxalate crystals that cause severe discomfort when swallowed. Leave the unripe section in the paper bag until the next portion is ready to eat. The pulp may be stored for several days in the refrigerator before consumption.
In general, monstera is eaten as a fresh fruit, although the pulp may be used as an ingredient in desserts. It is said that the ripe fruit taste like a combination of banana, pineapple, and cherimoya (custard apple). Others add flavors such as grape, strawberry and mango. In fact, because of these strange all-encompassing flavors, monster is sometimes called the fruit salad plant.
In addition to the above written description of the mature fruit, I would urge interested readers to search “eating monstera” on YouTube. There are some good videos, as the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Hilo resident Nick Sakovich is a professor emeritus of the University of California. He has worked in the field of agriculture for 30 years. Email your questions to Sakovich at askthegarden firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit his website at www.gardenguyhawaii.com.