The cherimoya (Annona cherimola) is a species of Annona native to the Andean-highland valleys of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.
It is cultivated in many places throughout the Americas, including California, where it was introduced in 1871, and Hawaii.
The fruit is oval, often slightly oblique, 10-20 cm long and 7-10 cm diameter, with a smooth or slightly tuberculated skin. The fruit flesh is white, and has numerous seeds embedded in it.
The fruit is fleshy and soft, sweet, white in color, with a custard-like texture, which gives it its secondary name, custard apple. Some characterize the flavor as a blend of pineapple, mango and strawberry. Others describe it as tasting like commercial bubblegum. Similar in size to a grapefruit, it has large, glossy, dark seeds that are easily removed. The seeds are poisonous if crushed open; one should also avoid eating the skin.
A close relative of sugar apples, the custard apple above was grown by my grandpa in his backyard in Lemon Grove, California. Admittedly not as tasty as the mang cau in Vietnam are, these are the next best thing, and much more conducive to the desert conditions in SoCal. My grandpa has been harvesting custard apples for years now, but I had no idea what they were until I lived in Saigon.
The fruit’s outer skin is fuzzy and soft like a peach, while its insides are very similar to sugar apples’, but with fewer seeds. It’s good to know that when I move back to the States I won’t have to look far for a mang cau fix.