Sweetsop is known by the scientific name Annona squamosa and is also referred to as a sugar apple or pinha. The fruit is from the Annonaceae family and is native to the West Indies and tropical America.

It’s believed it was brought to Asia by Spanish traders in the Philippines and it is now widespread throughout northern Queensland, which has one of the largest breeding programs in the world.

There are many variations of sweetsop, with India home to 10 different types and local
producers working on new commercial varieties.

Growth and harvest

Sugar apples require tropical or near-tropical climates to thrive. They need heavy loam with good drainage, but do well in most soil types. Trees are commonly grown from seed and should be planted horizontally with enough distance between each seed. The germination rate is low and can take around 30 days.

The evergreen plant grows between 3-6m tall and has an open crown of irregular branches. Oblong, deciduous leaves have an aromatic scent and can grow up to 15cm long. The flowers are typically solitary, but can grow in groups of up to four. They have a green exterior and a cream interior with six petals. It can take five years for trees to fruit, with the produce becoming smaller as the tree ages.

Sweetsop is ready to harvest when it turns green. The segments also come apart as the fruit ripens to reveal the flesh, which is an indication of ripeness along with the seeds changing from light brown to almost black. The fruit is extremely delicate and
should be cut at the stem with a sharp knife or pruning shears to ensure the tree is not damaged.

Appearance and flavour profile

Sweetsop is spherical-conical in shape and can weigh up to 250g. It has a thick, scaly rind covered in knobbly segments that conceal a creamy white/ light yellow flesh that is segmented and resembles custard.

The juicy, fragrant flesh is filled with as many as 40 brown-black seeds that are arranged in a single layer around the core. The flavour is described as minty, milky or custardy.

Culinary applications and storage

While sweetsop is most commonly consumed raw, it is a popular dessert option across multiple cuisines. In Malaysia, it’s turned into ice cream and it can be combined with sugar, water and cardamom to make a milk/juice beverage. It is very popular in Jamaica where it’s added to custards, ice creams and milkshakes.

The fruit has a short shelf life and should be consumed quickly. It only keeps for a couple of days at room temperature, but can be refrigerated to increase longevity.

Image credit: Louie’s Nursery