Sometimes beautiful things come in strange packages. Looking at the outside of a bright green, scaly cherimoya (pronounced “cher-eh-MOY-ya”), it might be hard to imagine the delights inside. But once, long ago, one of our curious and adventurous ancestors decided to split that strange green thing apart and take a taste.
What a taste it was—and still is. Inside, the cherimoya has a creamy white fruit that’s the texture of a perfectly ripe peach. That incredible texture is the reason it’s nicknamed “the ice cream fruit” and is also known as a custard apple.
If you’re wondering, “what does it taste like?” the best answer might be “just about everything.” Its flavor has been described as a blend of many fruits, including apple, banana, pineapple, papaya, peach, pear, mango and strawberry. Some people even find space in their taste buds to discern a topnote of vanilla. That’s a lot of taste for one small fruit to contain, but the cherimoya is up to the challenge.
Origin and history
The name means “cold seeds” in the language of the Peruvian Quechua people. That‘s because the cherimoya tree, which thrives all over the tropics in high altitudes, does best in colder weather. Although it’s still a beloved fruit in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, it’s also grown in California, and it’s in season throughout spring.
How to serve
The White variety, which has fewer of those giant black seeds, is universally popular. The Selma variety has red flesh and raspberry notes, while the Booth is said to taste like tropical papaya. Pierce varieties have a very creamy texture and a peachy taste.
While all these varieties may be delicious, they’re also delicate. Even though that scaly skin looks tough, it’s very susceptible to browning. Ripen the fruit at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Once the skin of the fruit gives when you apply gentle pressure, wrap and refrigerate. They’ll keep for about four days.
When you’re looking for serving ideas, don’t forget about that “ice cream fruit” nickname, since cherimoyas taste great when chilled or frozen and scooped directly out of their flesh with a spoon. They’re delicious in fruit salads, juices, sorbets and smoothies. Or add cubed cherimoya fruit for a sweet touch in a spicy salsa.
Is there anything Mark Twain didn’t have an opinion about?
If you’re still not convinced, it might help to know that Mark Twain called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.” Botanist Berthold Carl Seemann, who said the world’s three finest fruits were pineapple, mangosteen and cherimoya, had a strong opinion about which of that trio rated No. 1 status. After tasting a cherimoya that had been freshly picked from a tree on the slopes of the Andes, he said, “If I were asked which would be the best fruit, I would choose cherimoya without hesitation.” [*mic drop*]