Chirimoya, called cherimoya or custard apple in English, is a delicious tropical fruit native to South America. Cherimoyas are green heart-shaped fruits with bumps on the outside that are scaly in texture. In general, their size is pretty standard, large apple-sized fruits, but some can grow to be 4 inches in diameter and 8 inches long. The inside is white, juicy and fleshy, with a soft custard-like texture and large black seeds that look like beans. It is creamy and has a combined sweet, tangy, and sour flavor that most people describe as a combination of bananas, peaches, pineapples, and strawberries. Hard to describe, but needless to say, it is plain delicious.
Where Do Cherimoyas Grow?
Endemic to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, cherimoyas are also grown in Spain, in the area near Almuñecar, and in many areas of South East Asia where it's known as sitaphal, or sugar apple. From the Quechua word chirimuya, a term meaning "cold seed," the name comes from the fact that the trees grow in high altitude, perfect for the steep Andes mountains.
Although there are more than 50 varieties of cherimoyas, the most common ones are green, red and gray, with the red or pink ones being bigger in size. No matter the variety, cherimoyas are high in carbohydrates, with about 20% of their net weight made out of simple sugars like fructose and glucose. They are a very nutrient-dense family of fruits and just 100 grams of pulp contain 100 calories. But regardless, the benefits offset the caloric intake. Cherimoyas are high in vitamin B6 and C, and are full of fiber, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and potassium.
Cherimoyas in the U.S.
In the United States, cherimoyas are more commonly found grown on farms in California, Florida, and Hawaii or imported from Mexico. If you live near the coast in California, look for cherimoyas in your local farmers market. If you live in the western US, check your gourmet grocery stores and Hispanic supermarkets. Online food suppliers might have them when in season.
Storage and Use
Like avocados, cherimoyas will ripen at room temperature right on your kitchen counter. When ripe, the skin and seeds fall right off the flesh. When the fruit is soft to the touch is when it's the sweetest. If you purchase a ripe cherimoya and don’t eat it immediately, it is best to refrigerate it because they go bad fast.
If you ever have the chance to eat guanábana (soursop), you'll identify a similar texture, although cherimoyas are tangier than the over-the-top sweetness of soursop.
Served raw, they are wonderful for breakfast or snacks. Simply cut them in half and scoop out the flesh, picking out the seeds. If you prefer, peel and seed them and make a fruit smoothie; blend them with milk and condensed milk and make creamy popsicles; or make a refreshing beverage by adding water, honey and mint.
If the fruit is already too overripe to eat raw, blend it into a pulp to add it to a basic custard for a cherimoya pannacotta or flan. Mix cherimoya puree with ripe avocados, salt, and lime juice for a tangy and creamy dip perfect for cooked shrimp, chips, and chicken satays.
Although most people wouldn't use it in savory dishes, try making a peanut butter-cherimoya sauce by blending equals parts of those ingredients with olive oil, salt, onions, and pepper. Use it on top of grilled chicken or tofu for a sweet-and-savory dish.
Cherimoya jelly can be made with just pulp, sugar, and lime juice to avoid discoloration. Simply mix 2 pounds of seedless pulp with 1 pound of sugar and let rest for 3 hours in the fridge. Cook in medium heat with 1 cup of water, stirring constantly, and let simmer for 30 minutes until thick.