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Do Custard Apples Have Health Benefits?

Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on May 19, 2022

Custard apples have numerous health benefits. The custard apple comes from the custard tree, whose leaves, bark, roots, and unripe fruit have medicinal properties. 

Despite the many health benefits of the custard tree, though, its seeds have a kernel (inner soft part) that can be toxic if consumed. Still, swallowing the seeds whole may not cause you any harm.

What Are Custard Apples?

The custard apple tree stands erect with a 10 to 14-inch diameter. The tree grows to a height of about 15 to 35 feet tall. Its leaves have a foul smell and are shed from time to time. It also has fragrant, drooping, slender flowers that don’t open fully. The flowers are pale yellow with a purple or dark-red spot inside and are light green on the outside.

Custard apples are green in color, with white flesh whose consistency is like that of custard. The fruit has a slightly acidic taste and contains dark-brown seeds. Its characteristic taste is said to be a mix of pineapple and strawberry. 

There are two main types of custard apples grown in the Pacific region — the sweetsop (Anona squamosa) and soursop (Annona muricata).

Soursop custard apples are dark-green, medium-sized, oblong-shaped, and have shiny spines that curve a bit. 

The sweetsop is a smaller type of custard apple that doesn’t have spines.

Custard apples are believed to have originated from the West Indies and carried to southern Mexico through Central America. For a long time, the fruit has thrived in areas that stretch as far as Peru and Brazil. They were introduced in the tropical regions of Africa around the 17th century, where they were grown as dooryard fruit trees in South Africa. The fruit tree is also cultivated or grows wildly in areas around India. It's present in the Philippines and other areas around southeast Asia. Today, though, it's more common in the Bahamas, Bermuda, and southern Florida.

How Custard Apples May Improve Your Health

The vitamin C contained in custard apples is an antioxidant that is responsible for getting rid of free radicals in your body. Free radicals are associated with cell damage that causes aging and other medical issues. 

Additionally, if you are allergic to dairy products, custard apple can be a great alternative since it has the same nutritional value. Due to their creaminess and tastiness, these fruits make great shakes, ice cream, and smoothies.

The leaves of the custard fruit are used for medical purposes in some tropical and subtropical countries (India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos). Instead of burning or discarding their leaves, they use them to produce traditional medicine for fever, dysentery, constipation, cardiac issues, worm infections, fainting, hemorrhage, and dysuria (painful urination). 

Recent studies on the custard fruit leaves show that they may have antioxidant, antiviral, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, antiobesity, antidiarrheal, and antitumor properties.

The custard fruit contains polyphenolic compounds that help to fight against certain chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and neurodegenerative conditions.

Custard fruits also contain essential oils, which, when extracted, have antiparasitic and antimalarial properties.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Custard Apples for Your Health?

Eating custard apples has its pros and cons.

Pros

  • They are rich in vitamins.
  • They contain a lot of iron.
  • They are anti-inflammatory.
  • They can be used for pain relief (as analgesics).
  • The seeds can be powdered to make insecticides.

Cons

  • They are higher in calories than some fruits.
  • They contain high sugar content.
  • Excessive consumption can cause electrolyte imbalance.
  • Their seeds are toxic.

What Nutrients Are in Custard Apples?

As a food, custard apples contain water and nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamins (C, B6, A), thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, fatty acids, tryptophan, lysine, and methionine.

How Many Calories Are in Custard Apples?

Custard apples do not contain any cholesterol. It doesn't occur naturally in custard apples.

However, custard apples contain some calories and natural sugar content. That makes it a good choice for dessert or a healthy snack, though, in comparison to most junk food.

How to Eat Custard Apples

When choosing the right custard apple to eat, select the fruit that’s light green or yellowish-green with an expanded, scale-like skin. A ripe custard apple is lighter, with softer skin, while an overripe one has a darker skin color and harder skin. If your fruit is not ripe enough, consider ripening it in a dark place.

Before eating your custard apple, make sure you wash it well. Then, cut the fruit into quarters and serve it, or start by peeling off the flesh and removing the seeds, then serve. You also have the option to blend or strain custard apples depending on how you want to consume your fruit. You can eat custard apples fresh or make different types of drinks.

You can also eat custard apples directly by scooping the flesh from the skin or serving it with some cream and a sprinkle of sugar. Blending it allows you to use it to make a sauce for cakes and pudding.

Other Uses of Custard Apples

The leaves of custard apples are used in the tanning industry and are known to make blue or black dyes. Custard apple trees also produce wood. The wood from this tree is yellow, soft, fibrous, moderately close-grained, and durable. The custard apple's wood is used in some areas to make yokes for oxen.

Conclusion

While consuming custard apples may have some cons, the benefits of the fruit easily outweigh the disadvantages. Of course, always try to be careful while handling custard apple seed, especially around the eyes. These seeds have been found to cause chemical injury when they come into contact with the eyes. They can cause corneal erosions and abrasions. 

If you accidentally chew on the toxic custard apple seed, consider talking to your doctor about it.

Overall, custard apples have very good health benefits despite the plant looking a bit unattractive. Judging the plant at face value may not do it justice.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Biomolecules: “Custard Apple (Annona squamosa L.) Leaves: Nutritional Composition, Phytochemical Profile, and Health-Promoting Biological Activities.”

GMS Ophthalmol Cases: “Custard apple seed induced keratitis: a harmful traditional practice in South India.”

Morton, J. Custard Apple, Fruits of warm climates, 1987.

NYLN: “Custard Apple Pros and Cons List.”

University of Hawai‘i: “CUSTARD APPLE.”

Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital: “Health Benefits of Custard Apples (Sitaphal).”

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE: “Custard-apple, (bullock's-heart), raw.”

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