The custard apple’s skin may look alien with its bumpy segments. Even at fruit stalls, vendors field questions of “Is it really edible?”
Words: Chusri Ngamprasert
Photo: Kay Choomongkol
Believed to be a native of tropical America and the West Indies, the fruit is the most widely grown species of Annona. The “ugly duckling” species among the prominent members of the Magnolia order, the custard apple is known as “Anona” by Spanish speakers and in Thailand, it’s called “Noi Naa”.
Under the thick scaly skin, this heart-shaped fruit has a fragrant, sweet, creamy white flesh with a pleasant flavour, one that will remind you of summertime.
Custard apples are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, which help get rid of free radicals from the body. It boasts an abundance of iron, magnesium, calcium, niacin, potassium, and dietary fibre.
Inside the pulp are shiny black seeds that are inedible. The kernels of the seeds are quite toxic and have been used in traditional medicine to get rid of head lice.
Seeding is the usual means of propagation, so the trees are not always true to their parents. It is believed that custard apple arrived in Thailand since the Ayutthaya period. In Thailand, custard apples fall into two main groups: ‘Fai’ (Cotton) and ‘Nang’ (Skin). “Noi Naa Fai” has a lot of seeds with an aromatic, creamy and very sweet flesh. Popular Fai varieties are Phra Thee Nang Yen or Narai the Great (very sweet, fragrant) and one of the oldest varieties in Thailand, and Fai Khiao Kaset Song (a lot of seeds, with a fluffy pulp and fresh tasting, sweet and fragrant). Spreading to Thailand from neighbouring Vietnam, “Noi Naa Nang” has a pulp that takes on a custard-like consistency during ripening. A popular variety is Nang Khiao Kaset Song with a meaty and succulent pulp that’s sweet.
For the best way to enjoy the fruit, chill a custard apple before serving. Cut it in half and scoop it with a spoon. Custard apple ice cream and custard apple in coconut milk are seasonal treats greatly enjoyed in Thailand. the fruit makes a thirst-quenching milkshake and also a perfect match with yoghurt.
Despite an unattractive appearance, the custard apple once tasted proves to be ambrosia.