About the Custard Apple Family of Fruits: Their Nutrition and Multiple Uses

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The custard apple family includes several varities of sweet, fragrant, custard textured fruits, that can be found in many of the worlds tropical and subtropical regions. The most popular and widely cultivated are soursop, sweetsop, custard apple and sugar

When Spanish missionaries first discovered the Annona family of fruits in the tropical Americas they were delighted by their sweet, juicy and slightly acidic taste. The English likened the fruits consistency to custard and the name custard apple stuck throughout the English speaking world. The Spanish and Portuguese successfully propagated several of the over 50 varieties in South East Asia and eventually cultivation of the custard apple genus spread throughout tropical and subtropical regions.

Soursop (Annona muricata): Its likely that soursop was introduced to the Philippines from the Caribbean and the Americas, via the Manila-Acapulco trade route,as one of its many names suggests, nangka menila (Manila jackfruit). It is also called durian belinda, suggesting the fruits similarity to durian and its journey from the west. In Brazil soursop is known as graviola, its guanabana in Colombia and sirsak in Indonesia; derived from the Dutch name zuur zak.

Soursop is the largest fruit in the Annonaceae family and has many uses including medicinal. Its white, pasty, fibrous flesh is sweet and fragrant yet full of tiny inedible seeds. This makes soursop popular as juice, although the flesh is often eaten like a vegetable. Soursop is also used as a flavoring for ice cream and desserts. Image credit; Cristobal Alvarado Minic at flickr.


Cherimoya (Annona cherimola): cherimoya is cultivated in many parts of the world including North America, Israel and Australia. Although its origins are in the Andean highland valleys of South America. The main producers in south America are Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia. The name cherimoya originates from the Quechua language and means 'cold seed'. A reference to the cherimoya tree’s preferred climate.

Cherimoya is fragile and does not transport well. It spoils soon after ripening and should be picked when unripe. Nevertheless, many regard cherimoya as one of the tastiest fruits there is. The white cherimoya flesh is sweet and has a granular texture, similar to a pear. Its seeds are tough and inedible, as is its skin which sometimes has large scales. Image credit, Sylvia Wrigley at flickr.com. 

Custard Apple ( Annona reticulata): known in many parts of south and Central America as anon or rinon, the custard apple and its tree are not particularly attractive yet the creamy custard like fruit is delicious. The custard apple was taken from the Caribbean to South Africa, where today it is a common garden fruit. From Africa it spread to the Indian subcontinent, where it is called sitaphal, and then to South East Asia.

Like its relations Annona reticulata has many inedible seeds, about 50-60 per fruit. The fruit is ripe when its skin is light green, although dark patches can make the fruit appear spoiled when it is not. The flavor of custard apple has been described as a cross between papaya, vanilla and pineapple. The flesh of custard apple is said to have many medicinal uses, including as a treatment for boils and as a remedy for dysentery. Image credit, flickr.com.

Sugar Apple ( Annona squamosa): this member of the Annona genus is known in Malaysia as serikaya, which means 'full of grace', probably referring to the sugar apples delicate flavor. Indians and South East Asians have the Spanish and Portuguese to thank for it naturlization in their homelands, after the fruit was first introduced to southern India in the late 1580’s. Today it is the most widely cultivated of the annona fruit species.

Sugar apple is know by various names throughout south and central America including; anon de azucar, annona de castilla and anona de Guatemala. But in Guatemala it is called cherimoya, not to be confused with Annona cherimola. Sugar apple (Annona squamosa) is often confused with custard apple (Annona reticular) and is known as sweetsop in the Caribbean. In India sugar apple is known as sharifa; its pomme du cannelle in Thailand, mang cau te in Cambodia and fan li chi in China, to name but a few. Simiulary to other fruits of the Annona family it is usually eaten raw, juiced or as a flavoring for sorbet and icecream.

Not surprisingly the sugar apple tree partakes in many traditional home remedys. In Mexico the fragrant leaves of the sugar apple tree are used in homes to repel lice and in India they are crushed and sniffed to revitalize a fainting person. In South America the leaves are used as a tea to aid digestion and also to treat colds. Image credit, flickr.com.

The Custard Apple family and its Nutrition: fruits from the Annonaceae family of trees are extremely nutritious, being high in carbohydrate, fiber and protien. Annona fruits are rich in calcium, phosphorous and vitamins B and C. The fruits, in general, have a high sugar content which is about fifty percent glucose to sucrose. The average fruit has around 100 calories with .4g of fat.

Soursop fruit (Annona muricata) is believed to be a powerful free radical scavenger. A dietary supplement of Annona muricata under soursop's Portuguese name Graviola has been marketed since 2001. Makers of the supplement claim that the antioxidants in Graviloa are an important ally in the treatment and prevention of twelve types of cancer. So far no human or animal trials have been carried out to support Graviola’s positive effects against chronic diseases. However, lab research looks promising, it suggest that Graviola has anti-viral, anti parasitic and anti-cancerous properties.

Primary image credit, Prof Dr.Kamarudin Mat-Salleh, flickr.com.


Posted on Apr 29, 2011
Charlene Collins
Posted on Oct 11, 2010
Posted on Oct 10, 2010