Native to southern Ecuador and northern Peru, where it still grows uncultivated, the tropical fruit cherimoya is unheard of by many Americans, since it has somewhat finicky growing preferences. Cherimoya trees don’t fare well in extreme temperatures, nor do they grow in tropical lowlands or at very high altitudes. The leaves and fruit suffer when exposed to climates over 85-90 degrees or below 30-32 degrees Fahrenheit for very long.
They also require excellent drainage. Limited production of cherimoya is known in Southern California, but growers report it doesn’t do well in Florida, probably because of excessive summer heat.
Cherimoya was carried to other parts of the world centuries ago. Today, it’s known on nearly every continent, from China to Egypt, Australia to Hawaii. But it’s sometimes known as cherimolia, chirimolla, or even colloquial monikers like “soursop,” “pap” or “tzumuxin” in Guatemala, and “anone” in France (being of the genus Annona). Pawpaws and sugar apples are close relatives. Needless to say, the varieties are many.
Cherimoya fruits are sometimes heart-shaped, about the size of a large grapefruit, with creamy white, sweet and slightly tart flesh, green skin, and an abundance of large, black seeds. Neither the skin nor the seeds, which are toxic when crushed, are edible.
Visually like a cross between an artichoke and a strawberry, the flavor resembles a blend of pineapple and banana. Firm fruits should be refrigerated to slow the ripening process and removed three to four days before eating. Easily broken or cut to expose the pleasant fragrance and delicious, custard-like fruit, they’re usually eaten like an apple or scooped out with a spoon, or cut in half lengthwise and peeled.
Cherimoya can be cut into cubes, pureed, and used as a mousse or pie filling. Some people add a few drops of lime or lemon juice and dilute with ice water for a refreshing beverage. Seeded, they’re added to fruit salads, sherbet, or smoothies, and fermented to produce an alcoholic beverage. Pieces can be dipped in lemon or orange juice to prevent darkening.
With zero saturated fat, cherimoyas are cholesterol-free, high in fiber, iron, and niacin, and contain powerful cytotoxins that are said to combat cancer, malaria, and human parasites. They’re high in vitamin C, a natural antioxidant that helps the body resist infection, as well as a good source of B vitamins, notably vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), which provides 20 percent of the daily recommended value.
Cherimoya provides high potassium levels, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Furthermore, it contains more minerals weight per weight than a lot of more common fruits, such as apples, because of its copper, magnesium, iron and manganese content.
There’s been discussion about the fruit’s ability to manufacture GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid ), a neurochemical in the brain sometimes known as “the euphoric amino acid” because of its calming and headache pain-easing effects. Many people have been known to enjoy the fruit for that reason as well as for the flavor.
In rural Mexico, a couple of cherimoya seeds are sometimes roasted, peeled, and pulverized into a powder, and mixed with water or milk to induce vomiting. Mixed with grease, the powder is said to kill lice, as well as cure parasitic skin infections.