The cherimoya (Annona cherimola), also spelled chirimoya and called chirimuya by the Inca people, is an edible fruit-bearing species of the genus Annona from the family Annonaceae.
It is generally thought to be native to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, spreading through cultivation to the Andes and Central America. Cherimoya is grown in tropical regions throughout the world.
Mark Twain called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men”. The creamy texture of the flesh gives the fruit its secondary name, custard apple.
Large green conical or heart-shaped compound fruit, 10 – 20 centimetres long, and diameters of 5 – 10 centimetres , with skin that gives the appearance of having overlapping scales or knobby warts. Ripening to brown with a fissured surface from winter into spring; weighing on the average 150 grams – 500 grams but extra large specimens may weigh 2.7 kilograms or more. The ripened flesh is creamy white. When ripe, the skin is green and gives slightly to pressure. Some characterize the fruit flavour as a blend of banana, pineapple, papaya, peach, and strawberry. The fruit can be chilled and eaten with a spoon, which has earned it another nickname, the ice cream fruit. Indeed, in Peru, it is commonly used in ice creams and yoghurt.
The cherimoya fruits are classed according to degree of surface irregularity, as:
- Lisa, almost smooth, difficult to discern areoles ;
- Impressa, with “fingerprint” depressions;
- Umbonata, with rounded protrusions at the apex of each areole;
- Mamilata with fleshy, nipple-like protrusions;
- Tuberculata, with conical protrusions having wartlike tips.
The flesh of the cherimoya contains numerous hard, inedible, brown or black, bean-like, glossy seeds, 1 – 2 centimetres long and about half as wide. Cherimoya seeds are poisonous if crushed open. Like other members of the family Annonaceae, the seeds contain small amounts of neurotoxic acetogenins, such as annonacin, which appear to be linked to atypical Parkinsonism in Guadeloupe. Moreover, an extract of the bark can induce paralysis if injected.
“The pineapple, the mangosteen, and the cherimoya” – wrote the botanist Seemann – “are considered the finest fruits in the world, and I have tasted them in those localities where they are supposed to attain their highest perfection – the pineapple in Guayaquil, the mangosteen in the Indian Archipelago, and the cherimoya on the slopes of the Andes, and if I were asked which would be the best fruit, I would choose without hesitation, cherimoya. Its taste, indeed, surpasses that of every other fruit, and Haenke was quite right when he called it the masterpiece of Nature.”
Different varieties have different flavours, textures, and shapes. Shapes can range from imprint areoles, flat areoles, slight bump or point areoles, full areoles, and combinations of these shapes. The flavour of the flesh ranges from mellow sweet to tangy or acidic sweet, with variable suggestions of pineapple, banana, pear, papaya, strawberry or other berry, and apple, depending on the variety. The usual characterization of flavor is “pineapple/banana” flavour, similar to the flavour of the Monstera deliciosa fruit.
When the fruit is soft-ripe/fresh-ripe and still has the fresh, fully mature greenish/greenish-yellowish skin colour, the texture is like that of a soft-ripe pear and papaya. If the skin is allowed to turn fully brown, yet the flesh has not fermented or gone “bad”, then the texture can be custard-like. Often, when the skin turns brown at room temperature, the fruit is no longer good for human consumption. Also, the skin turns brown if it has been under normal refrigeration for too long – a day or two maybe.