Revised October, 2018.
Cherimoya (Annona cherimola) (also known as Custard Apple) is a tropical fruit native to Peru and Ecuador, and has naturalized in tropical highlands and subtropical areas of South America (Love et al, 2007). However, cherimoya is also very adaptable to growing in Mediterranean climates (UCANR, 2016). Andalusia, Spain is the world’s largest producer of cherimoya (Fresh Plaza, 2014), and California is the only state that grows the fruit commercially within the United States. The fruit is considered by many to be the best tasting of all tropical fruits (UCANR, 2016). The fruit’s texture is custard like, and, depending on whom you ask, the flavor will be described as tasting similar to banana, mango, papaya, pineapple, pear, or vanilla (Ferguson, 2015).
The marketing season for fresh California cherimoya usually starts in January and lasts until May (Ruskey, 2016). The main markets for fresh cherimoya are farmers’ markets. A great strategy to use when marketing an unusual fruit is to have free literature describing the fruit and its uses. Some customers might still be reluctant to purchase a fruit they’ve never tasted; therefore another good marketing strategy is having free samples available. Fresh cherimoya can be used in many ways: it can certainly be eaten as is, or it can be added to salsas and salads, blended into dressings, added to smoothies, or used in desserts such as cobblers (Produce For Better Health Foundation, 2016).
The price for fresh cherimoya fluctuates. An article published by SFGate in 2011 stated that cherimoya cost $5 to $8 per pound. In 2015, an article published by The Desert Sun said that fresh cherimoya sold at a local farmers’ market for $6.50 per pound. The cost for processed cherimoya products varies depending on the type of product sold.
To add value, cherimoya has often times been been processed into ice creams, jams, and purees.
Andalusia, Spain, is the world’s largest producer of cherimoya with approximately 3,000 hectares in cultivation, yielding nearly 40,000 metric tons valued at €48 million (more than $52 million) (Fresh Plaza, 2014). In the United States, cherimoya is only commercially grown in California, and mainly along the coastal regions of Southern California (UCANR, 2016). According to the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG), cherimoya has been growing in California since 1871 (CRFG, 1996), and it became a minor commercial crop in the 1940s (Sellers, 2010). Currently there is no complete data on cherimoya acreage within California. However, individual farms will often list their personal cherimoya acreage on their websites.
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
Cherimoyas for sale in late fall are usually imported from South America, mainly from Chile, whereas cherimoyas grown in California often don’t become available until January (Durand, 2006).
Although cherimoya has been in commercial production within California since the 1940s, it has not yet become a large-scale commercial commodity; therefore there is currently no United States export, import, or per capita consumption data available.
Two of the most important aspects of cherimoya management are pruning and pollination.
If not trained, Cherimoya trees can reach upwards of 30 feet in height, but they can be kept close to 12 feet if pruned heavily. Heavy pruning leads to more and better fruit growth, and keeping the height lower helps with ease of harvest (Silber, 2009). Seedling and/or grafted cherimoya trees usually produce fruit within two to four years (CTHAR, n.d.).
The beetle species that pollinates cherimoya in its native range does not exist within California, therefore natural pollination of cherimoya in California depends on wind. Another major factor affecting cherimoya pollination is its flowers. Cherimoya flowers are considered perfect, meaning they exhibit both male and female reproductive parts on the same flower. They are also dichogamous, meaning that they mature at different times. This prevents the same flower from pollinating itself and sometimes prevents flowers on the same tree from pollinating each other. Due to these characteristics multiple trees must be planted next to each other in order for pollination to occur. This flower characteristic has led most growers in California to hand pollinate their trees to ensure plentiful fruit set (CRFG, 1996). Mid June is usually the best time to start hand pollinating cherimoya, especially in areas of California that are hot and dry. Areas of California within 15 miles of the coast have less of a need to hand-pollinate. Higher humidity along the coasts allows female cherimoya flowers to stay receptive longer, making wind pollination occur more easily (CRFG, 1996) (Silber, 2010).
According to the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, “the fiscal aspects of [a cherimoya] orchard investment are similar to that of lemons.” (UCANR, 2016)
Calabrian Cherimoya Tropical Jam, Artimondo by Artigiano in Fiera, 2014.
Cherimoya, University of California – Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), 2016.
Cherimoya, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), University of Hawaii at Manoa, n.d.
Durand, F., 2006. In Season: Cherimoyas, thekitchn.com.
Farmers’ market pick of the week: cherimoyas, The Desert Sun, 2015.
Ferguson, G., 2015. Santa Monica’s Farmers Market Report: Cherimoyas aka Ice Cream Fruit, Los Angeles Magazine.
Hickman, K.R., 2011. Cherimoya’s scaly skin hides ‘deliciousness’, SFGate.com.
Sellers, C., 2010. In Season: Cherimoyas, seriouseats.com.
Love et al, 2007. Twelve Fruits with Potential Value-Added and Culinary Uses, University of Hawaii – College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Our Products – Cherimoya (Puree), superiorfoods.com, 2016.
Silber, A, 2009. How to Prune a Cherimoya Tree - YouTube, Papaya Tree Nursery.
Silber, A, 2010. Cherimoya Hand Pollination - YouTube, Papaya Tree Nursery.
Spain: Andalusia is the world's leading cherimoya producer, Fresh Plaza, 2014.
Top 10 Ways To Enjoy Cherimoya, Produce For Better Health Foundation, 2016.