An evergreen native to the West Indies, the soursop tree is known for the large, versatile fruit it produces. Soursops are highly popular around the world, but are rarely found fresh outside of the tropical areas in which they are grown.
A member of the Cherimoya family, the soursop tree is short and bushy, generally reaching a height of 25-30 feet (7.62-9.14 m). Its large, heart-shaped fruits mature during the summer and fall and can weigh up to 15 lbs (6.8 kg). The green leathery skin of the soursop is inedible and covered with pliable spines, protecting fibrous white segments of acidic fruit within. Each fertile segment contains a single hard black seed; one soursop may contain anywhere from a few dozen to 200 seeds.
The soursop requires a warm, humid climate to thrive. Originally grown in the West Indies and tropical America, it is now cultivated in the Bahamas, southeastern China, Australia and western Africa. In the continental United States, the soursop can survive in the southernmost parts of Florida, and then only if carefully protected from frost during the winter months.
The flesh of the soursop is tart, but fruits that are less acidic and fibrous than most can be sliced into sections and eaten with a spoon, or torn and used in fruit salads. Most commonly, the pulp is pressed and strained to extract the juice, which is then sweetened and used in many drinks, ice creams and sherbets. An electric blender can be used to process the pulp, but one must take care to remove all seeds from the fruit first, as they are toxic.
Soursops are extremely versatile. A puree made by processing the white flesh with sugar freezes well and can be used in a variety of dessert recipes. The pulp of the soursop can also be canned and exported for commercial use. In Indonesia, immature soursops are cooked as vegetables. In Brazil, they are roasted or fried.
In many countries, soursops are believed to have medicinal properties as well. The diuretic effects of the ripe fruit are commonly used as a remedy for urethritis. The sap of the leaves is also believed to have healing properties, and can be used as a poultice to relieve swelling and eczema.