Getting to know Taiwan's favorite fruit hybrid: the atemoya

The atemoya is a star among fruit in export markets

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The atemoya fruit growing in Taitung.

The atemoya fruit growing in Taitung. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A little bit crab apple, a little bit cherimoya, the ambitious atemoya hopes for soft power prowess and export success.

When the atemoya (鳳梨釋迦) was first exported from Taiwan in 2008, its sales quickly surpassed that of other Taiwanese staples, including mangoes and pineapples. In 2014 alone the atemoya brought in NT$580 million (US$19,272,303) in export profits.

Exports hope the atemoya will become as ubiquitous with Taiwan as the kiwifruit is with New Zealand. Becoming the industry leader in atemoya exports, particularly in the Asian region, could aid Taiwan in national branding campaigns.

The biggest atemoya farms in Taiwan are in Taitung's Peinan Township (台東卑南鄉). These farms alone have opened Chinese and Hong Kong fruit exchange agreements.

Because of the atemoya's grand success abroad , Taiwan's Council of Agriculture is allocating even more land growing atemoyas as well as pineapples and bananas. Some farmers worry that sudden growth may damage the water and soil in these developing areas, or potentially oversaturate the fruit market.

The atemoya was first introduced to Taiwan in 1968 from Israel. During that time patents on fruit hybrids were not staunchly adhered to and circulated relatively freely among nations. Somewhere along the way, the atemoya arrived in Taiwan (as did the Irwin mango! (愛文芒果)).

After some trial and error, Taiwanese farmers discovered that planting the atemoya in December instead of in July or August, its assumed planting season, led to a plentiful harvest. Since then the atemoya has become a tariff-free export and its production strongly encouraged.

As long as we can maintain a standardized and modernized national market for the atemoya to be sold and marketed in, says a Council representative, there will not be problems of domestic competition but instead a strong, Taiwanese national presence behind the sale of the atemoya.