Cherimoya—aka the Custard Apple—Is a Rare Fruit Worth Tracking Down

Here's where to find this unique subtropical fruit—and how best to enjoy it.

<p>nito100 / Getty Images</p>

nito100 / Getty Images

Tropical fruits, from black sapote and mangoes to papayas and rambutan, add excitement to the fruit bowl and scores of recipes. With its eye-opening flavors and strange appearance, the subtropical cherimoya tips the scales, transporting taste buds with each complex bite. Learn more about this exotic delight, including when it's available, which parts are edible, and the best ways to enjoy it—that is, if you're lucky enough to find one in season.



Meet Our Expert

  • Alex Jackson, vice president of sales and procurement for Frieda's Branded Produce, a woman-founded wholesale produce company.

  • Desiree Pardo Morales, founder and president of Tropical Fruit Box, an online purveyor of tropical and exotic fruits.



Related: Your Guide to Papaya: How to Choose and Enjoy This Luscious Fruit

What Is a Cherimoya?

The cherimoya (botanical name Annona cherimola) is part of the Annonaceae or custard apple family. Native to the highland valleys between the Andes Mountains of Ecuador and Peru, cherimoyas spread throughout South and Central America, and then into Spain and other subtropical regions following the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Today, cherimoyas are cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions, including Central America, Chile, Spain, Bolivia, New Zealand, and Southern California.

Appearance

Cherimoyas are about 4 inches wide and 4 to 8 inches long, and look like "heart-shaped grenades," according to Alex Jackson, vice president of sales and procurement for Frieda's Branded Produce, a wholesaler that markets and distributes unique fruits and vegetables.

"It's one of the most unusual-looking fruits—if you can find it in the produce aisle," says Desiree Pardo Morales, founder and president of Tropical Fruit Box, a Miami-based online purveyor that grows and procures tropical and exotic fruit. "The outside is green, rubbery, and scaly, and the cone shape resembles a pinecone." Globally, there are dozens of cultivars. "Our imports from Chile, for example, are primarily Concha Lisa," she says, referring to a round variety with fingerprint-like indentations.

Flavor

While the leathery scales give the cherimoya an odd appearance, once you cut it open, you'll discover the most delectable soft fruit inside, says Morales. "They taste like a creamy, tropical ice cream," says Jackson.

The flavors can vary, depending on the variety, ranging from sweet to tangy. "Most commonly, it is described as a blend of pineapple, banana, and peach," says Morales. Hints of strawberry, apple, and vanilla may also peek through. "When you pull it apart, you are sure to experience fruit nirvana, as it reveals an aromatic sumptuous flesh with a velvety custard consistency that gives it its secondary name, the custard apple," she says. (It also goes by the name of chirimoya or annona.)

Season

Cherimoyas are native to tropical climates and hard to find in the U.S., making them a real treat for those who are lucky enough to get their hands on one, says Morales. Its scarcity can be attributed to labor-intensive production, with trees bearing small amounts of fruit, and the challenge of growing cherimoyas outside of high-elevation tropical terrain.

The season for Chile imports is June through November; in the U.S., between March and May, says Morales. Signing up for updates with direct-to-consumer online sources may increase your chances of pinning down this tropical prize. With some sleuthing, you might be rewarded at specialty stores. "The season and volume are limited, so they are a bit expensive when you find them at the grocery store, however, they are available at retail stores around the country that typically carry variety in tropical fruits," says Jackson.

How to Eat Cherimoyas

Given its wide spectrum of flavors, cherimoyas deliver a singular fruit experience—no matter how you slice it. "You can enjoy it in so many ways, but the most popular among our customers is to just chill it and eat it with a spoon," says Morales. Chilling gives the fruit more of an ice cream effect, adds Jackson.

But before diving in, you should wash it, cut it in half, and proceed with caution. "Do NOT eat the seeds as consuming them is poisonous, so scoop them out as you go," says Jackson.

Morales also likes to toss it in a salad, which lends an interesting texture. She also purees it for smoothies and sorbets, and to freeze for future use. "Because the fruit is so rare, it's normally not combined with other fruit so you can truly experience the flavor profile, which already offers a unique medley," she says. "Nonetheless, it does combine nicely with other exotic fruits like dragon fruit and mangosteen."

Ripening and Storing

Cherimoyas can be purchased when hard and ripened until soft at room temperature, then refrigerated for three to five days. As it ripens, the greenish skin turns a darker green-brown and the stem sinks in, says Morales. "It's best to consume cherimoyas when they have a little give to them," says Jackson. "If you purchase it with some softness, you will want to eat shortly after purchasing.” 

Read the original article on Martha Stewart.