They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the same should go for fruits. Take the cherimoya. This prehistoric-looking tropical fruit has thick, scaly green skin and looks more like a Jurassic Park prop than a yummy dessert choice. And yet it’s a symphony of sweetness. It’s no wonder why the Incas reserved it as a treat for royalty and Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to men.”
Native to the inter-Andean valleys of Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, cherimoyas grow in big, bushy trees and are very popular in Latin American cuisine. They’re easily found in street markets around the region — and under myriad names. In Brazil, people call them grabiolas; in Mexico, poox; in Belize, tukibs; in Haiti, cachimans la Chine; and in Venezuela, chirimorrinons — quite a tongue twister. They come in hundreds of different varieties, with names like Deliciosa, McPherson and Chavez, and while they do well in tropical climates, they are also grown in places like the south of Spain and California.
What does it taste like? Well, it’s difficult to describe but resembles a mouthwatering cross of other exotic fruits, including banana, pineapple, papaya and mango. This odd combination makes it taste more like a dessert: custard, fruit pudding or even bubblegum. “It’s one of those very particular tastes that either you love or hate,” says Carmen Pons, a fruit vendor at a Barcelonian market.
The soft, beige interior might not seem very appetizing. The cherimoya has the texture of a rotting pear and is filled with big, black (slightly toxic) seeds, but use a spoon to scoop out its squishy insides, and you won’t be disappointed. What’s more, packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, protein and dietary fiber, this fruit turns out to be quite a superfood.
So why isn’t cherimoya already on the menu at every restaurant and smoothie shop? Chalk that up to the fruit’s formidable reptilian exterior appearance, fiddly interior and high cost. “Restaurants tend to prioritize less-exotic ingredients because the profit margins are so low,” says Spanish chef Bertant Basany. Banana and pineapple, which taste somewhat the same, are “way cheaper and easier to find, and might give you a similar result,” he says.
Still, for the adventurous fruit eater who refuses to let mere aesthetics guide his or her diet, the cherimoya might be a wonderful new ingredient for smoothies, flans and sorbets. They could even serve as a great social crutch: If you’re having particularly boring people over for dinner, one way to keep them entertained is to serve them some cherimoya and then ask them to guess what type of fruit they’re eating.
Take that, apple.