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The atemoya, Annona × atemoya, is a hybrid of two fruits—the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) and the cherimoya (Annona cherimola) —which are both native to the American tropics. The hybrid was first developed in 1908 by P.J. Wester, a horticulturist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Subtropical Laboratory in Miami; similar crosses occurred naturally in Australia (1850) and Palestine (1930; NAS 1989). The resulting fruits were of superior quality to the sugar apple and were named "atemoya," a combination of "ate," an old Mexican name for sugar apple, and "moya" from cherimoya.

Atemoya trees are shorter than the parent cherimoya, seldom growing to more than four meters tall, and are more cold-tolerant—some cultivars tolerate temperatures below freezing. The atemoya, like other Annona trees, bears protogynous hermaphroditic flowers (which have female and male parts, but female parts are reproductively mature before the male parts) that rarely self-pollinate. Many cultivars of cherimoya require artificial pollination, by hand, in order to set high-quality fruit, but some atemoya varieties appear to pollinate without hand pollination, which increases the commercial value.

The atemoya fruit is normally heart-shaped or rounded, with pale- or yellowish-green, easily bruised, bumpy skin. It is very juicy and smooth, with the white flesh tasting slightly sweet and a little tart, reminiscent of a piña colada with vanilla. There are many inedible, glossy black seeds throughout the flesh of the atemoya. When ripe, the fruit can be scooped out of the shell and eaten chilled.

Atemoya is now cultivated widely and is commercially grown in Australia (where it is often called “custard apple”), Central America, Florida, India, Israel, the Philippines, South Africa, and South America (NAS 1989). This fruit is popular in Taiwan, where it is known as the "pineapple sugar apple,” and is sometimes mistaken for a cross between the sugar apple and the pineapple. In Lebanon, the fruit is called achta and is used in many desserts, including ice cream.

Atemoya and other members of the Annonaceae family contain small amounts of neurotoxic alkaloids, such as annonacin, which appear to be linked to atypical Parkinsonism in Guadeloupe if consumed frequently or in large quantities (Champy et al. 2005, Caparros-Lefebvre and Elbaz 1999). The seeds are poisonous if crushed open. An extract of the bark can induce paralysis if injected.


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