Cherimoya or “Custard Apples” Could be the New Banana
Bananas are ubiquitous at grocery stores around the nation. But it wasn’t always so. Wild bananas contain many large seeds making them unsuitable for commercial use. Getting rid of those seeds made first the “Big Mike” banana popular in America, followed by the now dominant variety, Cavendish.
Although Cavendish now faces supply disruptions due to fungal disease (an earlier fungal disease ended commercial use of the Big Mike variety), a new fruit, the Cherimoya or Custard Apple, could soon find its way to a produce department near you.
Like the wild banana, cherimoya fruits are filled with large seeds, making them largely unpalatable for mass consumer use. Despite this, cherimoya are legendary for their flavor. Mark Twain once described the fruit as “the most delicious fruit known to men.”
Now, scientists at the University of California-Davis have found how to make the cherimoya fruit seedless. If implemented on a wide scale, the findings could open the way for large scale cultivation of cherimoya for commercial purposes.
“This could be the next banana -- it would make it a lot more popular,” said Charles Gasser, professor of plant biology at UC Davis.
Cherimoya fruit has a number of properties that make it desirable. A Website devoted to cherimoya describes the fruit as delicious, delicate and custardy with a “combination of luscious flavours reminiscent of papaya, banana, mango, passionfruit, lemon and pineapple” that also has an ice-cream consistency.”
The researchers working at UC Davis found a genetic component responsible for turning off seed production in cherimoya and other fruits. According to a press release from the University:
Researchers José Hormaza, Maria Herrero and graduate student Jorge Lora at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientiﬁcas in Malaga and Zaragoza, Spain, studied the seedless variety of sugar apple. When they looked closely at the fruit, they noticed that the ovules, which would normally form seeds, lacked an outer coat.
They looked similar to the ovules of a mutant of the lab plant Arabidopsis discovered by Gasser's lab at UC Davis in the late 1990s. In Arabidopsis, the defective plants do not make seeds or fruit. But the mutant sugar apple produces full-sized fruit with white, soft flesh without the large, hard seeds.
The Spanish team contacted Gasser, and Lora came from Malaga to work on the project in Gasser's lab. He discovered that the same gene was responsible for uncoated ovules in both the Arabidopsis and sugar apple mutants.
Putting the findings into perspective, Professor Gasser noted: “This is the first characterization of a gene for seedlessness in any crop plant.”
The results of the research, funded by the Spanish government, the European Union and the U.S. National Science Foundation will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.