Annona, Cherimoya, Custard Apple

Annona, Cherimoya, Custard Apple: Exotic Fruit in South Italy

Over the past few years, I have become more and more aware of an exotic fruit rather common in the Province of Reggio Calabria. In Italian, this unusual, light-green fruit that ripens in the fall is called annona from the Latin Annona cherimola. In English, it is known as the cherimoya (also chirimoya, chirimuya) or custard apple. 



A cherimoya (annona) tree in the Province of Reggio Calabria

Native to South America, specifically Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the Annona cherimola is a tropical plant that has spread to many other parts of the world. The fruit’s roundish shape, tapered at the end, is distinguished by a surface articulated by many small sections in a pattern, almost like scales. The greenish exterior protects a soft, whitish, edible flesh, punctuated with numerous, inedible black seeds.

The cherimoya is creamy and sweet, with a pleasing, unique flavor, somewhat similar to other tropical fruits. The delicate taste could be described as a reminiscent mix of pineapple, banana, vanilla and strawberry. However, the fruit must be eaten at the right maturation as it can get pungent and turn sour if overripe. The cherimoya is rich in vitamins and fiber, and one piece weighs from a half to several pounds. As an after-dinner treat, a cherimoya may serve four people.

custard apple, cherimoya

Cross section of the annona or cherimoya


In Europe, the annona or cherimoya has been cultivated in Spain and Portugal for over two hundred years. In Italy, the annona is a rare, exotic fruit except in the Province of Reggio Calabria, where it flourishes in the coastal area between the towns of Bagnara and Gioiosa Ionica.


Annone (cherimoya) for sale on the street in Reggio Calabria

During the fall, crates of annone can be found at fruit stands throughout the southern tip of the Italian peninsula. Additionally, several enterprising Calabrians have used the fruit to make preserves, gelato, sorbet and pastries.


Annona gelato at Cesare Gelateria in Reggio Calabria


The delicate nature of the ripe fruit doesn’t allow for its conservation after maturity, so the annona will not be found outside its autumn season. In fact, Mark Twain lamented of this in one of his letters from Hawaii published in the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866: “We had an abundance of mangoes, papayas and bananas here, but the pride of the islands, the most delicious fruit known to men, cherimoya, was not in season. It has a soft pulp, like a pawpaw, and is eaten with a spoon.”

Slicing open the sweet, creamy fruit and eating it with a spoon is indeed the way to go. It’s a bit custard-like and goes down smooth, thus the custard apple name.

So if you find yourself in the Province of Reggio Calabria in autumn, give the annona a try. You will be pleasantly surprised. And while at the fruttivendolo (fruit seller), don’t miss the cacchi or lotta (persimmon), as well as other fruits, such as varieties of apple, pear, and even peach and plum, delightful taste sensations in the fall. And all year round, an annona confettura (cherimoya preserves) spread on toast makes for a delicious snack.

Edulè annona

“Confettura Extra di Annona” – a jar of cherimoya preserves by the Edulè company of Reggio Calabria (photo courtesy of Edulè Annona di Calabria). For orders, visit the Edulè sas Facebook page.

Read more about Calabria’s exotic fruit in my blogposts: Calabria’s Incredible Bergamot and Santa Maria del Cedro and the Precious Diamante Citron

Calabria bookAnd for an in-depth look at the beautiful land in the toe of the boot, check out Calabria: The Other Italymy non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region. It’s available in paperback and e-book versions.

“Like” Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page and follow me on Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for more beautiful pictures and information.

Sign up below to receive the next blog post directly to your email for free.

CALABRIA: THE OTHER ITALY makes a great gift!

Comments 10

    1. Post

      From what I’ve read, California is the only state with a commercial production, but not much of the fruit leaves the state.

  1. I’ve never heard of the annona – here in the U.S. we are in the apples, bananas and grapes rut. Even though we might not see the annona on our shelves, maybe I’ll see some of the preserves at the store!

    1. Post

      Yes, our fruit choices aren’t what they should be in the US. Hopefully, as you say, the preserves, at least, will become popular enough to be imported.

    1. Post
    1. Post
  2. I’ve never tried annona, but the inside of the fruit looks exactly like the American native pawpaw (which Twain mentions up above, and is from the same plant family). You can grow pawpaws in your own backyard in most of the Eastern U.S. and probably other places as well. I’ve had pawpaws and they’re great – undergrown in the U.S.

    1. Post

      I’ve only seen the pawpaw in photos, but you’re right, its interior looks like that of the annona. A little reading revealed that the pawpaw is the only member of this plant family not limited to the tropics, and it was popular with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and an important food source on the Louis and Clark expedition. Funny how things can fall out of favor and be forgotten. Thank you for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *