Sugar apple (Annona squamosa) and cherimoya (Annona cherimola) are closely related, similar-tasting fruits with only a few differences. They’re also called sitaphals, sharifas, sita pazham, and sweet sop, depending on the region.
Origin of Cherimoya and Sugar Apple:
As explained in the book, “The Cultural History of Plants,” cherimoyas and sugar apples originate in the Neotropics—or, ancient southern Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies—and Africa. They were first domesticated in the highlands of Ecuador and the mid-altitude areas of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In fact, archaeologists discovered cherimoya-shaped Peruvian pottery dating back to 1,000 to 700 BC.
Nobody can say for sure how the fruits came to India. The British recoded their widespread assimilation on India’s soils in 1835, but no Sanskrit word appears for any Annona fruit. The generally accepted theory is that the Portuguese brought the fruits from the New World circa 1590, around the same time they introduced other fruits like the cashew apples, papayas and peppers.
A small number of researchers, however, claim that the fruits already existed in India for many centuries. Brigham Young University’s John L. Sorenson writes in his document, “Scientific Evidence for Pre-Colombian Transoceanic Voyages to and From the Americas,” that the Bharat Stupa dating to the 2nd Century BC depicts Annona fruits on its carvings. He points to the cashew nut’s image next to it, and the nut’s two Sanskrit names as additional evidence.
Today, Annona fruits are cultivated in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Israel, Burma, the Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the West Indies, and parts of the US.
Availability of Cherimoya and Sugar Apple in India
Annona fruits grow well throughout the plains of India at elevations not exceeding 4,000 ft. The cherimoya prefers a tropical climate, but with cool winters. The fruit tolerates a variety of conditions, from saline soils to droughts. In fact, farmers usually cultivate the fruits on hills in barren lands. Erratic rains will, however, impede fruit quality.
Cherimoya and sugar apple growing regions include Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. According to a 2012 “Times of India” article, approximately 55,000 hectares are dedicated to custard apple cultivation. Pune’s Purandar Tehsil district accounts for almost 10 percent of this figure. Along with Maharashtra, Gujarat is another large custard apple growing state. The fruit’s growing popularity will likely increase production figures substantially in the coming years.
Where to find Cherimoya and Sugar Apple in India
Cherimoya and sugar apple season is from the end of September through February. During these months, shops of all sizes purvey the scaly skinned fruits. Prices tend to be reasonable, although growing demand inches them higher every year. Many farmers have switched from pomegranate production to Annona cultivation in an attempt to capitalize on this trend.
Restaurants also take advantage of cherimoya season by offering milkshakes and baked sweets made from the sweet, vanilla-like pulp.
Checking for Ripeness in Cherimoya and Sugar Apple:
Custard apples yield to the touch when ripe. If ready for consumption, the white flesh inside will be slightly visible in between the fruit’s bumpy protrusions.
Unripe fruits have a dark, green skin and do not yield to the touch. Overripe fruits, on the other hand, fall apart in the hand and have a black exterior. They also lose their sweetness and have a bland, mildly musky flavor.
Many farmers pick Annona fruits before they’re fully ripe, as they continue to ripen once picked from the tree. Store with bananas in a brown paper bag to hasten ripening. Avoid keeping the fruit in the kitchen if temperatures routinely exceed 24C.
Cherimoyas are perishable fruits, lasting only a week at room temperature. Annona fruits do not respond well to cold storage, either, and they should not be frozen or refrigerated below 8C. Keeping the fruits longer than five days at this temperature will cause chilling injuries, as evident by a brown, aged appearance.
Taste of Cherimoya and Sugar Apple:
The sugar apple lives up to its name by tasting, well, sugary. Its flesh is creamy, rich, mellow and sweet. Some liken the taste to warm ice cream, while others compare it to bubblegum. Most everyone is a fan of cherimoya, as its sweet flavor profile is universally appreciated. It has no peculiar, surprising notes, and is therefore not an acquired taste, as is the case with jamun or durian.
A select few may find the fruit cloying. In the 1835 manuscript, “The Oriental Interpreter and Treasury of East Indian Knowledge,” the British recorded cherimoya’s taste as thus: “To some, it is the most delicious fruit in the country, while to others its flavor seems not merely a mawkish sweetness but almost nauseating.”
Cherimoya and sugar apple’s texture is creamy, smooth, and custardy, similar to vanilla pudding.
Nutritional Value of Cherimoya:
The nutritional information of a cherimoya per 100g of edible flesh is:
17.7g carb (14% RDI)
3g fiber (12% RDI)
.7g fat (1% RDI)
.2g omega 3 (14% RDI)
1.6g protein (3% RDI)
13% RDI tryptophan
.1mg thiamine/B1 (9% RDI)
.1mg riboflavin/B2 (12% RDI)
.6mg niacin/B3 (5% RDI)
.3mg pantothenic acid/B5 (7% RDI)
.3mg pyridoxine/B6 (20% RDI)
23ug folate (6% RDI)
12.6mg of vitamin C (17% RDI)
.3mg of vitamin E (2% RDI)
.1mg of copper (8% RDI)
.3mg of iron (2% RDI)
17mg of magnesium (5% RDI)
.1mg of manganese (5% RDI)
26mg of phosphorous (4% RDI)
287mg of potassium (6% RDI)
.2mg of zinc (2% RDI)
Health Benefits of Cherimoya and Sugar Apple
Cherimoyas and custard apples are high in B6, a critical nutrient that aids the body with protecting the immune system, alleviating PMS, regulating hormones, protecting against anemia, and alleviating skin conditions like acne, hair loss, eczema and dry skin.
These fruits are also rich in Omega 3s. Humans cannot produce these nutrients, so they must be consumed in one’s diet. These essential fatty acids assist with human growth and development, promote brain health, lower the risk of arthritis, cancer, and inflammation, and combats mood swings, fatigue, and boost memory.
Locals throughout India have used parts of the fruit and tree for a number of traditional remedies. According to the book, “Indian Medicinal Plants,” cherimoyas and sugar apples have been used to treat the following:
--The roots act as a powerful purgative, and also treat spinal problems and depression.
--Cherimoya’s leaves aid in killing lice and act as a potent insecticide and suppurate.
--The fruits are a sedative, hematinic, coolant, stimulant, tonic, and may be used to treat anemia and impaired pitta conditions. Additionally, healers use the fruit to treat burning conditions, vomiting, coughs, and to control malignant tumors.
--The seeds are toxic with abortifacient properties. Like the fruit, they too are insecticidal.
Several scientific studies affirm cherimoya and sugar apple’s traditional uses:
--According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy Research, compounds isolated form Annona squamosa showed potent antiulcer activity, outperforming the standard drug, omeprazole in its hydrogen potassium ATPase activity.
--A 2012 study published in Food Chemistry found that researchers isolated six cytotoxic compounds from Annona squamosal seeds, all of which showed efficacy against five human tumor cell lines.
--As per a 2012 study published in Process Biochemistry, silver nanoparticles using the plant’s leaf extracts showed cytotoxic activity against human breast cancer cells.
--A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology shows that Annona squamosa hexane extracts promote glucose uptake and modulates insulin, thus showing antidiabetic properties.
--A 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry affirms the fruit’s seeds as an antifungal and nematicidal agent.
--A 2013 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology affirms Annona cherimola’s traditional use as an effective means by which to control hypercholesterolemia.
How to Open/Cut Cherimoya and Sugar Apple:
Custard apples may be split into two with the hands. For an exact cut, simply slice the fruit in half, starting at the stem and slicing downward to the heart-shaped point. Then, scoop the flesh with a spoon and enjoy—the fruits do, however, have many black seeds that must be spit out. The skin is not edible.
Cherimoya and Sugar Apple Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Make a cherimoya milkshake by blend the pulp with soymilk, almond extract, vanilla, and salt, and ice. Thicken by adding butterfruit or finely ground cashew nut powder.
--Combine sugar apple or cherimoya pulp with bananas to make a quick smoothie.
--Make a cherimoya cheesecake by blending the fruit’s pulp with dissolved gelatin. On the side, make cashew nut “whipped cream” by soaking cashews in water overnight, ideally in the refrigerator. Discard the water, and rinse the nuts. Blend the nuts, slowly adding water and maple syrup until the nuts are a whipped, creamy consistency. Place in a bowl, and fold the cherimoya into the batter. Transfer into a piecrust and smooth the batter. Put the pie in the refrigerator and leave to set for at least 3 hours.
--Blend sugar apple pulp with coconut milk, and leave to set in the fridge for three hours. Add as whipped topping for fruit salads.
--Sweeten and thicken curries by folding de-seeded pulp into the sauce at the end of its preparation. Whole chunks of he de-seeded flesh may be added to Thai green and red curries as well.
--Blend coconut milk, frozen bananas, vanilla bean and add sugar apple pulp in a food processor to make ice cream.
Fruits: Banana, sweetsop, soursop, mabolo, durian, banana, avocado, breadfruit, banana, date, pineapple, peach, cherry, mulberry, phalsa
Herbs, spices, and oil: coconut milk, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, salt, cashew, almond, walnut, macadamia, maple syrup, brandy, port, sweet liquor, chai, caramel, honey
Sharifa, sitaphal (Hindi, Manipuri)
Sita phalamu (Telegu)