Annona Time at Lake Atitlán

We’ve started seeing the first annonas of the season in the Panajachel market. Oh, how we love a good annona! And how we detest a bad one.

I tried my first annona on my second trip to Guatemala. It was late November 2009, near the end of the season. The first one was delicious, sweet and creamy, living up to the descriptive name of custard apple. The next annona, though, was mealy and full of worms. I had my first lesson in the art of choosing annonas.

When I decided to write about annonas, I thought it would be pretty quick. All I needed to do was find out what species we have in the markets of Lake Atitlan. Was I surprised! Who knew that there are over 150 species of annona!

Several species, from sugar apples and soursop, from ilama to cherimoya, can be found in Guatemala. I saw one species, the Annona Purpurea, in the Pana market last week: it looks more like a puffer fish than a fruit (I didn’t try it, but I’ve read that it’s more photogenic than tasty).

The descriptions and photos I found in my search weren’t the same species I know. It didn’t help that several of the species are called custard apples though their appearance and other characteristics vary greatly. After spending far more time than I should have researching, I finally found the answer: the species I know and love is called atemoya.

Atemoya is a hybrid fruit, first developed in 1908 in Miami. The atemoya’s two parent fruits are the sugar apple (Annona squamose) and the cherimoya (Annona cherimola). The atemoya tree is hearty while the fruit is smooth, creamy, and sweet—some say it tastes like a piña colada. Conditions in several areas of Guatemala are ideal for growing atemoya.

Though the tree is hearty, the fruit can bruise easily. One of our friends doesn’t even take them home—he just brings a spoon to the market and feasts right there. If you’re going to carry them home, do so carefully or you’ll have a mushy fruit.

A ripe annona will give just a bit when pressed gently–you don’t want them too soft. Most importantly, though, look over the skin for any holes. Holes mean it’s likely the fruit will have worms.

If you get a good one, the sweet, creamy inside will be white to slightly brown. Just scoop it out with a spoon and enjoy the deliciousness. Be aware, however, that the fruit is full of hard black seeds, which are not edible. In fact, the seeds of many annona species are toxic.

Annonas are just coming into the Lake Atitlan markets now (September). You can expect to find them into December.

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