A custard apple is a heart shaped tropical fruit native to Latin America. It has creamy flesh which is remarkably similar to custard in texture, and tends to be sweet and mildly flavored. In addition to Latin America, the fruit is also cultivated in many parts of Asia, where it is eaten along with other close relatives such as the cherimoya. The fruit can be difficult to find at a grocer's, because it is generally viewed as inferior when compared with cherimoyas and other fruits in the Annonaceae family.
Technically, a custard apple, bullock's heart, or sitaphal is known specifically as Annona reticulata, a reference to the divided compartments which appear in many cultivars of the fruit. A cherimoya is a different species, A. Cherimoya. Other popular fruits in the Annonaceae family include A. quamosa, also known as sugar apples or sweet sops, and A. muricata or sour sops. The fruits all look very similar, but they have different, distinctive flavors, with sweet sop and cherimoya being preferred to custard apples in many cases.
Like its relatives, the fruit grows on a spreading tree with large leaves. The leaves typically overhang the fruit, protecting it from the heat. A true custard apple tends to be knobbly, rather than merely scaly like a cherimoya, and when sliced open it reveals several compartments of creamy flesh and medium sized seeds. The seeds are discarded before consumption, or they are spit out as the flesh is eaten.
There are an assortment of uses for this fruit. Many people eat it out of hand, or mix it with fruit salads. It can also be turned into a distinctive fruit sorbet, added to cake filling, or turned into a chutney or side dish for spicy dishes such as curries and barbecue. Squeezing lemon juice over the cut fruit will help to prevent browning. Like other tropical fruits, custard apples prefer warm, humid climates, and they are sometimes used ornamentally in areas like Florida.
The internal color of a custard apple can range from creamy white to reddish pink, depending on the cultivar. Some trees have been developed specifically with the intention of producing particularly sweet, creamy fruit with a rich texture, while wild trees tend to produce inferior fruit. When selecting one to eat, look for an evenly colored specimen which yields slightly when pressed. The ridges of the fruit may be slightly tinged with brown, but the fruit should not appear black, pulpy, or wizened.