Faced with the seductive bearing of the mango or papaya, and without reaching the striking image of the colorful pitahaya, the custard apple is the ugly of tropical fruits, but it hides a creamy, sweet and delicious pulp. Although its exotic companions attract all eyes nowadays, this peculiar fruit has been cultivated for more than two centuries in the warmest areas of Spain, even counting on a Protected Designation of Origin in Andalusia.

It has been in our territory for many decades, but it was not until the nineties when it really expanded and generalized throughout the country, since rarely left the southern markets and the islands to fascinate the consumers of colder lands when they hardly received exotic products other than local production.

Today there are even those who consider it a fruit something old, recalling the passion that aroused in our parents and grandparents as an almost luxury whim, but recent promotional campaigns and the interest generated by the tropical sector is reviving their consumption.

What is custard apple, characteristics and varieties

Also called cherimoya and with the curious nickname of pudding apple in English (“creamy apple” or “custard), custard apple (Annona cherimola) is the fruit of custard apple tree, of the Annonaceae family to which more than 2000 species belong, generally distributed in tropical climates around the world. Under the genre Annona we found more than a hundred tropical fruit trees with several hybrids specially selected for the production and human consumption of its fruits. The also popular soursop belongs to this same family.

The trees usually reach a height of between five and eight meters maximum, with a smooth, cylindrical trunk, with thick bark and a branched habit. Leafy and with thin, oval leavesHermaphrodite flowers are not very showy, with yellowish or whitish petals and sometimes purple tones.

The custard apple itself is a fruit mutilple, formed from separate fruit aggregates from several separately fertilized flowers, such as pineapple or raspberry. This gives the custard apple a distinctive look that it shares with other anonnas, with an exterior that reminds of scales of a reptile.

Cherimoyas Alicante

Of variable average size, with a weight that is usually between 200 and 800 g in the whole fruit, the custard apple develops a heart shape or more globose, with a smooth green skin that darkens as it matures. This skin is not usually eaten but it is not very thick, which together with the softness of the ripe pulp make it a fruit delicate and that requires great care in handling. That is why it is usually still slightly green.

The interior of the custard apple offers a white or ivory pulp, more yellowish in the area near the skin when it is very mature. When ripe, it presents a very creamy, tender and honeyed, sweet and aromatic inner flesh, full of seeds of notable size of black or dark brown color, annoying to eat but that can be easily removed, with a shape reminiscent of pipes. sunflower.

Cherimoya Seeds

Cherimoya seeds.

There are more than fifty varieties but only eight are grown for human consumption, the Fino de Jete standing out. In addition to the green ones, there are gray and red custard apples, although they are still rare, and they are classified commercially according to the outer surface of the skin (smooth, printed, umbonata, mamilata and tuberculata).

Origin, cultivation and current production

The origins of the custard apple are located in South America, probably in the Andean areas of Peru, Chile, Colombia or mountainous areas of Ecuador, regions where the tree still grows spontaneously, especially in the Peruvian Andes. Name custard apple comes from quechua chiri (cold and very (seeds), referring to the fact that it germinates in high altitude terrain.

Custard apple

It is currently a widely spread crop by tropical areas around the world, from southern California to South Africa, Asian areas, Australia and New Zealand. In Europe, Spain is the main producer, where the first specimens arrived in the eighteenth century by Andalusian ports. This community is the main producer, with more than 43,000 tons of custard apples produced in 2009. It is also grown in Alicante, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, with more recent small plantations in other regions such as Murcia.

In 1995, the creation of the Protected Designation of Origin of cherimoya from the tropical coast of Granada-Malaga, finally approved by the European Union in 2002. This has made it possible to increase the production and dissemination of the fruit throughout the country and also in the international market, whose interest has been increasing in recent years, parallel to the consumption trends of tropical fruits.

Cherimoya on Tree

The current cultivation of this fruit maintains very traditional techniques, especially in the productions assigned to the Denomination of Origin. Being hermaphroditic, when the custard apple flower is in the female state, the pollen is extracted and pollinated one by one to guarantee a homogeneous production of the fruit that responds to the quality demanded. Each fruit it is also harvested by hand, using a kind of pole, and is processed from the warehouse for distribution and sale.

Nutritional properties and benefits

Cherimoya still has a certain reputation for being a caloric fruit, but despite not being the least energetic, it is a very healthy food full of nutrients with which to enrich any diet, except for very specific specific needs.

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Open Cherimoya

With between 80 and 90 kcal For every 100 g of edible fruit, the main nutrient of custard apple is carbohydrates, providing about 20 g of carbohydrates and about 2 g of fiber, in addition to glucose and fructose. It has practically no fat and its protein intake is also low, with approximately 1 g in the mentioned proportion.

Cherimoya is a great source of potassium and antioxidant vitamins

Very rich in water, it stands out for its micronutrient content, vitamins and minerals. It is a great source of potassium, with about 400 mg and antioxidants, especially in the form of vitamin C and folates. It also contains plant calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, and vitamin A.

In this way, it is a fruit satiating, hydrating and energetic, whose nutrients can have beneficial effects on the proper functioning of the body, helping to improve intestinal transit, favoring the formation of collagen, the absorption of iron and the normal activity of the nervous system and muscles. It is an ideal fruit for athletes and for weight control diets, always within a varied and balanced diet.

Tips for buying and keeping it at home

Cherimoyas in Market

What climacteric fruit, the cherimoya continues to ripen for a few days after being harvested, as happens with other tropical ones such as mango or avocado. Although its skin is thick, the mature specimen is very delicate and sensitive to shocks, so it may be more advisable to buy units slightly greener than the point where we like to consume them.

It is rare to find custard apples for sale that do not come from our national market, unless we are out of season, but it is always convenient check labeling to know its exact origin and date of collection. If they are certified with the quality of the PDO, they must bear the seal that accredits them and grant all the guarantees.

To buy good custard apples we can look at how are they exposed, if they have been arranged neatly, in a single row or delicately, without piling up. Some shops have them with special protections, often provided by distributors, seeking to minimize possible transport and handling damage.

Cherimoya Box

A custard apple should look medium or large, with smooth and green skin, no breaks, bumps or dark areas. To the touch it should give way slightly, and we will know that it is well ripe the softer its texture. As they mature they become more tender, softening the skin and acquiring a blackish brown color that begins with dark lines on the scales.

It is recommended to store the custard apple at room temperature, in an airy and cool place, away from sources of heat or direct sunlight, and separated from fruits that emit ethylene, unless we want to accelerate their ripening. Once matured, we can store it in the least cold area of ​​the refrigerator for one or two days, if we want to avoid overdoing it.

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How to consume it and use it in the kitchen

The easiest and most common way to consume this fruit is natural, with a spoon or chopping it once peeled. The large seeds are somewhat uncomfortable, like in a watermelon, but due to their size they are easier to avoid with the spoon or, simply, to discard when we find them in our mouth.

Open Cherimoya

Skin can be removed peeling it with a knife sharp peeler type, as if it were an orange, or by first pulling the peduncle and then cutting it in the middle lengthwise, as if it were an avocado. If it is just right, the skin will go through very easily and the pulp will be honeyed and smooth.

As with the banana, a custard apple that is already very dark is also edible, although it can be excessively sweet; in that case we can use it to cook by separating the pulp, which can be frozen for a few months. The pulp quickly turns black from oxidation on exposure; This can be avoided or reduced by sprinkling it with lemon juice and covering it well, without giving air spaces, or by packaging it in a vacuum container.

Cherimoya Sorbet

We can thus use it as we would do with the mashed banana, the pulp of the mango or an apple compote, in sweet masses and preparations such as sauces, stews, vinaigrettes, spoon desserts such as pancakes or mousses, also ice cream, sorbets, smoothies, jams and popsicles. Crushed is perfect for reducing the amount of added sugars in sweets, and can be integrated into desserts such as a cheesecake or custard, or as a substitute for cream or coconut milk in savory recipes.

If the pulp is even firmer, it can be chopped, separating the seeds, to fill and top cakes, muffins and muffins, empanadas and sweet or fruit salads. It is delicious served with good natural yogurt, some nuts and other more acidic fruits, such as raspberries or pomegranate.

Photos | iStock – Unsplash – Jumpstory – Javier Lastras – Fátima Flores – Wikimedia Commons
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