Elusive delicacy overflowing with goodness and flavour

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Sweetsop also known as sugar-apple is an exotic tropical delicacy overflowing with a pleasant custardy flavour and distinct sweet-smelling fragrance. Annona squamosa in the genus Annona of the family Annonaceae is closely related to the commonly known cherimoya and soursop. Sweetsop is unique among Annona fruits in that it typically has a bumpy appearance with knobby segments that tend to separate when ripe.

Sweetsop, known in Sinhalese as seeni aththa or seeni anoda and in Tamil as sitapalam is usually spherical or heart shaped with a dark green thick rind that will change to light green sometimes with a yellowish tinge when ripe. The delicate white or creamy flesh inside that is slightly grainy, a bit slippery, very sweet and soft, adheres to the hard, shiny, black or brownish seeds forming individual segments arranged around a conical core. Around 20 to 40 segments are contained in each fruit.

There does not seem to be any organised cultivation of sweetsop in Sri Lanka with those available being grown in home gardens. In years gone by almost every home had a seeni anoda tree. However with home garden space decreasing the trees are rarely seen. This means that if we are to enjoy this luscious fruit we have to be on the lookout for sweetsop in the market place.

When purchasing the fruit always select those with smooth skin and large segments with yellowish grooves. Avoid spotted, blemished or ruptured fruits. If you buy a fruit that is firm to the touch, store in your fruit bowl and allow to ripen. This usually takes a few days. Once it is ripe and softened, it will only stay good for two to three days when stored in a container and kept in the fridge. You will also be able to spot cracks in the hard skin after it has ripened and as such it requires careful handling as it is very delicate and the segments may come apart. As the fruit spoils very quickly it must be eaten in the short period between firmness and mushiness.

The sweetsop is typically eaten fresh out-of-hand. Pull apart the fruit with your hand and enjoy the flesh by separating it from the seeds in your mouth and spitting out the seeds. Make sure you do not bite or swallow the seeds. The fruit tastes best when eaten chilled. The segments can be pressed through a sieve to eliminate the seeds and then blended with milk to make a refreshing beverage or with frozen yoghurt to make a nice ice cream. The flesh can also be used in sorbets, smoothies, milk shakes and even to make a special sugar apple popsicle. Try mixing the deseeded segments with your breakfast cereal and adding shredded coconut or dried fruits and nuts to enhance the flavour or add to a fresh fruit salad or to a vanilla ice cream for a unique appearance and taste. The fruit is almost never cooked, unless using for jellies or preserves.

Nutritional benefits
Sweetsop is an excellent source of vitamin C, and a good source of dietary fibre, thiamine, riboflavin and pyridoxine (vitamin B1, B2 and B6) and provides vitamins B3, B5 and B9 (niacin, pantothenic acid and folate), calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium in fair quantities.

Regulates sugar levels
The fruit contains high amounts of dietary fibre which plays a significant role in slowing down the absorption of sugar thus lowering the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Relieves asthma attacks
While the vitamin B6 in the fruit minimizes bronchial inflammation, the vitamin C helps lower histamine levels reducing inflammation and wheezing and the magnesium helps in relaxing muscle cells.

Promotes healthy bones
The calcium and the magnesium in the fruit both of which are essential for strengthening and maintaining your bone health, lessens chances of osteoporosis and other bone-related problems.

Helps manage blood pressure
The sweetsop contains potassium that helps to balance the adverse effects of salt in the body and may help in keeping your blood pressure under control.
Assists control of cholesterol levels

Vitamin B3 (niacin) in the fruit plays an important role in increasing the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) while reducing triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol levels

Promotes healthy heart
Sweetsop is a good source of vitamin B6 and this along with vitamin B9 in the fruit helps in controlling the accumulation of the amino acid, homocysteine in the blood. Together with the magnesium in the fruit that helps disentangle the muscles of the heart, they lessen the chances of stroke and coronary heart disease.

Promotes healthy eyesight
The fruit is a rich source of vitamin C and riboflavin that helps curtail eye problems such as macular degeneration, poor vision and night blindness while also maintaining good vision.

Good energy booster
Sweetsop is an excellent source of thiamine which helps converts sugar into energy. So this energy powerhouse is ideal for fighting fatigue, tiredness and weakness of the body.

Ideal for pregnant and lactating women
The high level of folic acid in the fruit is good for pregnant women and lactating mothers as regular use facilitates milk production.

Benefits skin
The vitamins B and C as well as the antioxidants in the fruit are helpful in maintaining healthy and youthful skin. It is effective against warding off sunburn and promoting the rejuvenation of cells. The fruit also stimulates collagen production that boosts the elasticity of the cells while also reducing the clustering of melanin reducing skin pigmentation.

Promotes digestion
The high dietary fibre in the fruit eases bowel movement reducing the risk of constipation, gastritis, heartburn and stomach pains while also eliminating toxins from the body.

Healthy weight gain
The fruit is packed with healthy calories with the sugar content helping boost the metabolic processes of the body. This increases appetite and thus eating sweetsop regularly will contribute to healthy weight gain.