Known in English as soursop, belonging to the custard apple family of fruit, which includes the cherimoya and sugar apple (atis). Scientific name: Annona muricata.
The guyabano is sometimes marketed in North America and Europe as guanábana (in Spanish) and graviola (in Brazilian Portuguese).
Across various regions of the Philippines, the guyabano goes by many names. According to Doreen Fernandez in her book Fruits of the Philippines (Bookmark, 1997), the fruit is called guyabano or guayabano in Tagalog, babana in the general Visayan dialect, banano or yabanos in the Samar and Leyte provinces, sikukarabaw in Cebu, llabanos in Bicol, bayubana, gayubano and dayabana in Ilocos, atti and guanaba amongst the Ibanag people of Northern Luzon, guiabano amongst the Sambal people of Zambales, benabana and unaba in Pampanga, gwayabana in Pangasinan, labanus among the Muslim Tausugs of Palawan and Mindanao, and finally rabanot amongst people who reside in the mountain province of Benguet.
Guyabano trees are found throughout the Philippine islands, with ripe fruit reaching their peak in November and December for a late annual harvest (through trees produce pale yellow, conical flowers throughout the year).
Julia Morton’s excellent 1987 study Fruits of Warm Climates describes the soursop tree as ‘low-branching and bushy, but slender because of its upturned limbs.’ Soursop trees grow best in deep, rich soils, and are propagated from seeds or cuttings grafted onto rootstock of the same family.
Guyabano fruit can appear anywhere on the tree’s trunk or branches, often nestled amongst clusters of high branches but also recorded (by Morton) to appear down low on the ground, in the case of trees grown in cool climates.
Morton describes the fruit as oval to heart-shaped in structure, ranging from 10-30 cm long and up to 15 cm wide, with full-grown fruit that can weigh up to 15 lbs. The fruit is covered with a bitter, inedible skin that appears leathery, from which protrude soft, pliable “spines” that are stubby to elongated and curved.
Fernandez writes that fruit should be harvested “when full grown and still firm,” with their skin “shiny green or yellowish green in color, with the spines set far apart.” As with many tropical fruit, there is no clear-cut standard for the length of time to leave guyabano fruit on the tree. Fernandez can only warn that if picked prematurely, fruit will soften and “be poor in quality,” and if left on the tree for too long, “they are often attacked by birds and bats, or fall to the ground.”
After they’re picked, Morton writes, fruit can be held for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. The fruit’s outer skin will darken and “become unsightly,” she describes, though this does not affect the flesh of the fruit within.
Ripe guyabanos are cut down the length of the fruit, guided by a few incisions from a sharp knife. Once halved, the guyabano’s flesh appears milky white and softly fibrous in a few spots; you’ll get a whiff of something that smells like a fresh pineapple rising from the cut fruit. Numerous segments of flesh with sparsely distributed black seeds surround the guyabano’s soft, pithy core.
“At its best, the flesh is so juicy one could be said to drink the fruit,” writes Fernandez. “The ripe guyabano is mostly eaten fresh…with an acidity that varies from sour to sweet.”
In the Philippines, Fernandez adds that guyabano fruit is popular in its juiced form – sold in cans and shelf-stable tetrapaks, or as a concentrate for fruit punch and mixed drinks. The fruit is also processed into jams, jellies, candy, ice cream and chunky preserves similar to chutney.
Of the fruit’s Tagalog name, Fernandez writes, “the name from the Haitian (Arawak) guanabano or anon identifies a tree from the Antilles and eastern coast of Mexico.” She continues that, according to one scholar, the “linguistic transformation and migration of the original Spanish forms…have enriched Philippine languages, and make an interesting study” (as evidenced in the 18 recorded guyabano names above).
A countryside favourite
“One of my best experiences with the fruit,” Fernandez shares, “was in Basey, Samar, when we wandered unannounced into a teacher’s house, to inquire about the town’s handwoven mats. In provincial hospitality, she had a guyabano picked off the tree right beside her house…and served it to us strangers just as it was – sweet and juicy and tasting of the fresh outdoors.”
I cannot wait to taste guyabano fruit. I have absolutely no memory of what fresh guyabanos taste like at all! I’ve certain I’ve had a guyabano shake, but I don’t remember its flavour profile, and I’m even more certain that my view on guyabano shakes went something along the lines of “why would I drink that, when I could be enjoying a crazy sweet Vanilla Frappuccino, hangin’ at the Starbucks all my friends are at in the mall?” Teenagers.
Fresh fruit to be sampled soon!
• As mentioned above, Julia Morton’s Fruits of Warm Climates. Contains informative descriptions of how soursops are cultivated and prepared around the world.