What is it?
Don’t let this tropical fruit’s reptilian-looking exterior deter you. Inside that scaly green skin lies sweet, smooth flesh that tastes like a delicate combination of banana, pineapple, papaya, and strawberry.
A ripe cherimoya is similar in texture to firm custard, which explains its other name, custard apple. It’s delicious cut in half and eaten on its own with a spoon (avoid the black seeds), or you can peel, seed, and purée it and fold it into meringues, soufflés, puddings, milk shakes, smoothies, ice cream, or sorbet. Domestic cherimoyas are available from winter through early summer (imported fruit can be found year-round), so if you see them, be sure to give one a try.
Cherimoyas (Annona cherimola) are native to the Andes region of South America, specifically Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. Today, most of the world’s cherimoya trees are grown in southern California, Spain, and South America. The fruit can be as small as a tennis ball or as large as a football. Difficult to grow, they are usually hand-pollinated and individually harvested, which makes them pricier than most tropical fruits, but their unique texture and flavor are well worth the premium.
How to choose:
Select cherimoyas that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should have a green-gold hue; avoid fruit with brown spots, a mushy feel, or cracks in the skin. It’s best to buy cherimoyas while they’re still hard and green and let them ripen at room temperature, which should take two to three days. When a cherimoya is ripe, its skin will darken and it will yield to slight pressure (like a ripe avocado).
How to prep:
Use a sharp knife to cut the ripe fruit into halves or quarters; then scoop out the flesh with a spoon and discard the seeds and skin. (Both the leathery skin and the large black seeds of the fruit are inedible.) At this point, you can eat the fruit as is (serve well chilled). A quick dip in lemon or lime juice will prevent the creamy-white fruit from browning.
The delicate, velvety flesh of the cherimoya doesn’t require additional cooking; in fact, it’s best eaten fresh. When puréed, it’s ideal for adding to desserts and even cocktails. You can also stir finely diced cherimoya into your favorite pancake, waffle, or quick bread recipes, or add it to a tropical fruit salsa or salad. However you prepare it, keep the other flavors in the dish mild so the subtle taste of the cherimoya is the star. Citrus, mango, passionfruit, vanilla, banana, cream, avocado, and chiles all pair well with cherimoyas.
How to store:
You can keep ripe cherimoyas in the refrigerator for two to four days.
The custardy texture of ripe cherimoyas becomes airy and almost mousse-like in this recipe. It’s fantastic served with crisp shortbread cookies or a slice of buttery pound cake.