Real Food Encyclopedia | Cherimoya and Atemoya
If you have never had a cherimoya or atemoya, the fruits can be hard to describe. The scaly cherimoya and bumpy atemoya are visually striking — they never fail to catch the eye of market-goers, often inspiring the question, “What is that?” Both conceal a sweet pulp, with a silky texture like a firm flan. The flavor is a heady mix of banana and pineapple with perhaps a little strawberry and kiwi thrown in. Its fruity taste is light and refreshing, but the creamy, custardy texture is also comforting to eat. Like a homemade pudding made virtuous — that’s the beauty of the cherimoya.
Fun Facts about Cherimoya and Atemoya:
- Mark Twain called cherimoya, “the most delicious fruit known to man.”
- Cherimoyas are part of the custard apple family that also includes soursop and pawpaw but is not, in fact, a custard apple. Although they are often called by the same name, the cherimoya, Annona cherimola, is different from and considered by many to be superior in taste to the custard apple, Annona reticulata.
- The seeds, leaves and limbs of the cherimoya plant contain poisonous alkaloids that have been used to kill lice.
What to Look for When Buying Cherimoyas and Atemoyas
Cherimoyas range in color from very deep green to yellowish-green. They turn brown when old. The fruit is harvested when still firm and is allowed to ripen off the tree. Fully ripened fruit is extremely soft and fragile and would easily be damaged at the market, so expect to wait a few days from purchase to enjoy your cherimoya.
Atemoyas are very similar, but have a bumpier appearance. Like cherimoyas, they are ready to eat when very soft.
When ripe they are very soft and have a custard-like texture, like an over-ripe banana, but without the starchy quality. The pulp is dotted with bean-like seeds that are poisonous.
Sustainability of Cherimoyas and Atemoyas
Cherimoya trees are generally disease-free. The most common pests include ants and snails that attempt to climb the trees to reach the sweet fruit but can easily be deterred with physical barriers around the trunk.
Cherimoyas ripen from October through May but the precise growing season will fluctuate slightly with the weather conditions. Atemoyas are typically available during the late summer through early winter.
Cherimoyas require a very specific climate to grow. They enjoy sun, but will scorch if over-exposed. They tolerate only short, light frosts, but need between 50 to 100 chill hours (exposure to cold temperatures that release the tree from dormancy) to produce fruit. They need a good soaking during their growing cycle but are susceptible to root rot if they stay damp for too long. These precise demands severely limit the commercial viability of cherimoya. Currently, that area is limited to the coastal and foothill areas of southern California that are slightly elevated and about three to 15 miles from the ocean. Production has had limited success in warmer pockets as far north as San Francisco and slightly inland, but the trees will not tolerate the heat of the desert. There is such a high demand for cherimoyas in California that very little of the fruit ever leaves the state.
Cherimoyas are native to the of valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. The fruit has naturalized across Central and South America. In the United States, cherimoyas were first planted in 1790 in Hawaii, where the fruit has since naturalized, and in California in 1871. Although Florida had some unsuccessful attempts at growing cherimoyas, Hawai’i and California are the only two states that have proven suitable for growing the fruit, the latter being the only state that produces cherimoyas commercially.
Atemoyas are a hybrid between the cherimoya and a relative, the sugar apple. Their hybrid parentage allows them to tolerate warmer and more humid conditions than the cherimoya, making them a better fit for tropical areas close to sea level like Florida where cherimoyas can’t fruit reliably.
Eating Cherimoyas and Atemoyas
Fully ripened fruit can be refrigerated for one to two days but no longer.
Cherimoyas and atemoyas have a delicate texture is a treat to enjoy completely unaltered. Simply wash the fruit, cut it in half from stem to blossom end and scoop out the tender, creamy pulp, being careful to remove the seeds as you go. The fruit is exquisite enjoyed just as it is, perhaps slightly chilled, maybe with a squeeze of lime over top. If you want to get creative, enjoy cherimoyas in ways that highlight their flavor and texture:
- Smoothies and shakes: The creamy texture of the fruit lends itself to blending bliss. Combine cherimoya pulp with other fruits, such as bananas, chunked pineapple or a few berries or blend it on its own with a splash of coconut milk for a creamy shake without the dairy.
- Salad: Cherimoyas are a surprising addition to a fruit salad. The fruit’s smooth texture would be great added to any mix but is particularly delightful alongside melon or other tropical fruit such as mango.
- Tart: An easy dessert can be thrown together in a flash by baking an empty tart shell and filling it with mashed cherimoya pulp. Top with berries and a few drops of lemon or lime juice and dessert is ready.
- Cocktail time: Take your piña colada to the next level by pureeing skinned and seeded cherimoyas with coconut milk and pineapple. Rum, optional.
Even though their texture is as creamy and rich as ice cream, cherimoyas contain no fat or cholesterol. The fruits are high in fiber and are a good source of Vitamin C and B complex vitamins.
The seeds of both fruits are poisonous, their toxicity amplified by being crushed.
Top photo by nito/Adobe Stock.