The sweet, tropical cherimoya is a delicious fruit that everyone should try at least once! This detailed guide will tell you everything you need to know about it and will help to pick the best fruit. You will also learn how to eat a Cherimoya correctly or use it in various recipes.
Over the past year cherimoya has become one of my favorite fresh fruits to enjoy. I was lucky enough to try it when we were in Tenerife, Spain and the sweet, creamy fruit was so delicious that it became a fast favorite.
The flavor of it has been well loved by more than just me throughout history. For hundreds of years, people have been enjoying the natural sweetness. It was even described by Mark Twain once as “the most delicious fruit known to men”.
Despite that, a lot of people out there still have no idea what cherimoya is, where to get it, or how to eat it. I’d like to fix that! This guide will answer any question you have about the exotic cherimoya fruit, and hopefully inspire you to find it and savor those first tropical tastes.
What is a Cherimoya?
Cherimoya, sometimes called the custard apple (though not a true custard apple) is a tropical fruit with a very sweet, almost candy-like flavor. It’s native to the mountainous, coastal regions of South America, near Ecuador and Peru.
As explorers from Spain were introduced to the egg-shaped fruit, the seeds were taken back to Europe. Today Spain is one of the largest producers along with South America and California.
The outside color ranges from dark to pale, yellow-green with scale-like markings on the smooth skin. Inside, the flesh is white and very creamy, but it contains several large black, hard seeds that are not edible.
The candy-like sweetness of fresh cherimoya is hard to describe. It has a distinct tropical taste and aroma, like a combination of bananas, pineapple, strawberries, and papaya.
Cherimoya or Not?
Once you start learning about cherimoya, you’ll quickly discover a lot of very similar-looking fruit. It can get confusing quickly, so I want to share the differences between what a true cherimoya is and the other members of the Annonaceae family.
Cherimoya, or Annona cherimola, will always have a smooth skin and creamy interior. Its cousins are different in a few key ways, and these tips will help you identify each.
- Sugar Apple (Annona squamosa) – This is the most commonly confused with cherimoya. But the sugar apple has a grayish-green, bumpy, ridged skin rather than smooth. The interior is also different. It has many seeds and is segmented into distinct wedges you can pull out and eat.
- Atemoya (A. squamosa x A. cherimola) – Atemoya is a hybrid between cherimoya and sugar apples, and the appearance is similar to both, but the green skin is covered with rounded, raised spikes. Inside, the smooth flesh is more like a cherimoya, but a little less sweet, almost like a mildly tart pineapple.
- Custard Apple (Annona reticulata) – True custard apples look nothing like cherimoya, with smooth skin that’s either white, yellow, brown, or pale red. The fruit is smaller and either rounded or heart shaped. The interior is smooth and creamy, but a little less sweet.
- Soursop (Annona muricata) – The soursop is the easiest to tell apart due to its enormous size. They can grow as big as footballs and feature pale, yellow-green skin that’s covered with soft spines. The pulp is creamy, juicy, and sweet, but in some places they’re actually eaten unripe and used like a vegetable.
The great news is that if you can’t find true cherimoya, or happen to pick up one of these other close relations by mistake, the tips I’m sharing on how to prepare and eat them can easily be applied to them all.
Like most fresh fruit, snacking on cherimoya rather than opting for something processed is a healthier choice.
The sweet flesh not only tastes great, but adds a healthy amount of carbohydrates, natural sugars, iron, fiber, and niacin to your diet.
It’s key, however, to avoid the skin and seeds. Both can be toxic and should be discarded.
Where and When Can I Buy it?
The great news is that it’s pretty easy to find a cherimoya if you live in the US. They are primarily grown in southern California then distributed all across the country during their prime season.
They come into season in the fall and are available all the way until late spring, usually disappearing sometime in May. You’ll have the best luck looking near all the other tropical fruit offerings at your grocery store. Wherever the mangos, dragon fruit, and bananas live, is where they’ll place cherimoya too.
If you have absolutely no luck, you can even buy it online these days!
How to Pick a Ripe Cherimoya
Choose the ripest options by gently squeezing them. They should be slightly soft, but not mushy. If you can only find hard ones don’t worry, they’ll ripen in a few days if left on your countertop.
Once ripe, slow down the softening by transferring them to the fridge. They’ll keep there for a few days. Also, try to be gentle while handling it. It can bruise easily if put under heavier food items.
How to Cut a Cherimoya
Once you’re ready to eat, it’s actually very simple to prepare them, no more complicated than eating an apple or an orange.
Simply start with ripe, clean fruit and slice it in half lengthwise. Once opened you can choose to scoop the flesh out with a spoon, or use a knife to cut away the skin.
There is a small core area near where the stem was attached which you can cut out with a knife too. Then remove the seeds and eat the creamy, juicy white fruit that’s left behind.
How to Eat a Cherimoya
Most often it’s enjoyed just as it is – fresh and raw. You can even try freezing the halves and then enjoying the silky smooth flesh like tropical ice cream.
But it’s also used in fruit salads, pureed for making ice cream or sorbets, or blended into smoothies and milkshakes. Some cultures even ferment the flesh to make a tropical, fruit punch like alcohol.
Once de-seeded and juiced it can be enjoyed with a wedge of lemon like they do in Colombia or used to make a really delicious cocktail.
It’s worth stating again that it’s really important to remove the skin, and especially the seeds before you puree, juice, or otherwise eat the fruit. If they’re crushed and ingested, they can be toxic, so just pop them out and enjoy the flesh.
With all of this information about what a cherimoya is and how to eat it, I hope you’ll discover your own love for this really tasty tropical fruit. It’s pretty hard to resist once you’ve had your first taste, so good luck finding it and discovering your favorite ways to enjoy it.