A Guide to the Ice Cream Bean

Last post I wrote about how I was living the ice cream bean dream. The ice cream bean has been on my fruit bucket list for many years, and I was finally able to cross it off during my recent travels to Guatemala.

Do you want to live the ice cream bean dream too? If so, here is a quick guide on how to find, and how to eat, an ice cream bean.

Part One: How to Find the Ice Cream Bean

The ice cream bean is a fruit that has not made it to mass market, so if you want to eat it, and you don’t live in Latin America*, you will have to travel for it. In my opinion, traveling to try the ice cream bean would be a great fruit adventure, and well worth the effort.

The ice cream bean can be found in most of Central America, and certain parts of South America. In South America, the ice cream bean is especially popular in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

When traveling in Latin America, the best way to find the ice cream bean is to visit the local markets. However, the fruit has many different names, depending on where you are. For example, in Guatemala the ice cream bean is known as Paternas, and in Ecuador they call it Guama.

Because the ice cream bean has so many local names, it’s very important to know the fruit by sight. To find the ice cream bean in the markets, keep your eye out for something that looks like a big, green bean. They are usually sold in a big pile, sometimes right on the ground.

Here’s an example of how the ice cream beans were being sold in San Pedro, Guatemala:

And in Puno, Peru:

*I have heard that the ice cream bean is now being grown on a small scale basis in Hawaii and Australia, so those are ice cream bean destinations to look into as well. Since all of my ice cream bean expertise comes from Latin America, that is what my guide focuses on.

 

Part Two: How to Eat an Ice Cream Bean

If you are traveling in Latin America, and are curious to try the ice cream bean, here is a short how-to to help you try this cool, exotic fruit.

First, when in the market, make sure to pick beans that are relatively thick, long and that have a nice, bright green hue. Here is the bunch I picked out when I was in Guatemala:

To eat, simply break open the bean with your hands, pulling back the outer shell. Breaking the bean open will reveal individual seeds covered in a white, fluffy fruit:

Pull out an entire seed, white fluff and all. Put the whole thing in your mouth, removing the fluff with your tongue. Then spit out the cleaned-off seed, since it is quite bitter:

And that’s it. Repeat for each seed and enjoy eating your ice cream bean!

Living the Ice Cream Bean Dream

For the past 10 years, I’ve considered myself a fruit hunter. The type of person who travels around the world to try rare and exotic fruits. And being that I am The Fruit Adventurer, I have a list of fruits that it is my dream to try.

One of the fruits that has been on my fruit bucket list for a long time is the ice cream bean. So in the research I did leading up to my Guatemalan travels, I was so excited to read that they have the ice cream bean in Guatemala! Was this my chance to finally eat the ice cream bean?

The first few days of our trip had us chilling out in Antigua. I scoured Antigua’s markets, keeping my eye out for the ice cream bean. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found.

But luckily, as we pulled into San Pedro, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, I saw out of the corner of my eye the shell of a big, green bean on the ground. I knew the ice cream bean couldn’t be far away.

As we checked in, Maria at the front desk of our hotel gave us the lay of the land. “Oh and don’t forget,” she said. “Tomorrow is Sunday, market day in San Pedro.”

Bingo. On Sunday, we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny morning, and got ready to make a trek to the local market. We started the day off with breakfast at Cafe Las Cristalinas, a charming little restaurant with coffee plants growing right on the patio:

After breakfast, we climbed the hill into the local part of town. Right away, the hubbub of the market drew us in, and we were surrounded by vendors hawking household goods, meat, vegetables, and to my delight, an array of fresh, tropical fruit.

Within this feast for the eyes, I was searching for the coveted ice cream beans. And suddenly there they were, a mound of ice cream beans surrounded by a group of women picking through:

I watched the women for a couple of minutes to get a sense of what they were picking for. It looked like bright green, thicker beans is what they were going after.

Once I knew what I should be looking for, I jumped in and joined the throng, picking through the ice cream beans to get the best of the best.

After the market, we walked around the village square, enjoying the sites of San Pedro. Then we went for coffee at a lakeside cafe, and took in the stunning views of Lago de Atitlan.

There I had my first taste of ice cream bean. Fluffy white fruit, like cotton candy, that you eat off the seeds. It was very sweet and tasty, the fluff melting in my mouth, revealing a creamy, vanilla-like flavour with undertones of clover.

Finally, I was living the ice cream bean dream.

And I want you to live the ice cream bean too. So next post I will share with you where to find, and how to eat, this interesting fruit.

Cherimoya Pit Stop

“We had an abundance of fruit in Honolulu, of course. Oranges, pine-apples, bananas, strawberries, lemons, limes, mangoes, guavas, melons, and a rare and curious luxury called the cherimoya, which is deliciousness itself.” – Mark Twain

Four days after arriving in Guatemala, we decided it was time to move on from Antigua. We set our sights on Lake Atitlan.

Lago de Atitlan is a beautiful mountain lake, surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with small villages. Our major dilemma was deciding which village to stay in. We eventually settled on San Pedro, which was described in our guidebook as a laid back backpackers hub. It sounded like our kind of place, so we booked a shuttle and were on our way.

About two hours into the trip, the shuttle pulled into a gas station. Right away I noticed a young girl selling fruit. I hopped off the bus and made a beeline to check out the goods:

The fruit stand had strawberries, blackberries, mandarinas, oranges, granadillas and lemons. And if you can believe it, also for sale at this Guatemalan service station was what I consider a rarity, an exotic fruit called the cherimoya.

The cherimoya is a green, heart-shaped fruit with an outer skin that I can only describe as reptilian. The inner flesh is white and creamy. Also known as the custard apple, Mark Twain once called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.”

Of course I just had to buy one. When I pointed to the cherimoyas, senorita helped me pick one that was very ripe and ready to eat. The fruit was quite soft and was giving off a strong, fruity odor. I couldn’t wait to eat it. However, I would have to be patient.

I got back into the shuttle, and after another hour on the road, we turned off the main highway and drove past a sign saying Bienvenidos al Lago de Atitlan (Welcome to Lake Atitlan). I thought we were almost there and that soon I would be eating my cherimoya.

No such luck. The road to San Pedro was so windy and pocked with potholes that it took two hours to get to San Pedro from the entrance point.

Finally, we pulled into San Pedro, welcomed by hippies selling bracelets and bbqing on the streets. Oh, and of course we were also welcomed by the stunning Lago de Atitlan:

We settled into our hotel, and at last I was able to eat my cherimoya. Using my trusty fruit adventurer tool kit (a small, sharp knife and a portable spoon) I cut the cherimoya in half to reveal the white flesh, dotted with black seeds:

I scooped the fruit out of each half with my spoon and ate the custardy treat, being careful to avoid the seeds:

It was very tasty indeed. Notes of pineapple, pear, banana and strawberry. Creamy texture. Super sweet, delicious, tangy custard taste. Almost like pineapple ice cream.

Eating the rare and exotic cherimoya, purchased from a gas station, was such a lovely exercise in contrast. I love Guatemalan pit stops. You can get a tank of gas, take a bathroom break and pick up some exotic fruit all in one place!

5 Uses for Lime

I think the lime is a bit of an underrated fruit. Probably because it is sour and most people don’t eat it on its own. Plus the lemon often steals the limelight when it comes to sour citrus.

I used to think lemons and limes, same dif. But over time I’ve come to appreciate that the lime is different than the lemon. The difference is subtle and hard to put into words, but it’s there. To me, the lime has a more tropical flavor, and a tangy note to its overall taste.

In any case, our green citrus friend has an amazing flavor that packs a punch, and it can be used in all sorts of dishes, desserts and drinks.

Since it’s St. Patrick’s day, I’ve decided to honor one of my favorite green fruits with a blog post. Without further ado, here are five uses for the lovely little lime.

Mojitos

Ah the mojito! Although the mojito originated in Cuba, I think it makes a perfect St. Patrick’s Day drink. It’s green and fresh and a lighter alternative to all that green beer. To mix up this tasty beverage, place a couple of sprigs of mint in a glass, and then squeeze the juice of half a lime into it. Cut the half lime into wedges and add to your glass. Pour in 1.5 oz of rum (a shot and a half). Use a spoon or fork to muddle the mint and lime wedges, and to mix everything together. Next, mix in 1 tablespoon of sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Top off with ½ a can of soda water, and a few ice cubes. Voila, you’ve got a delicious green drink.

Thai Curries

I love cooking Thai cuisine, especially the tasty curries. And limes are absolutely key to making an authentic Thai curry. First off, the secret ingredient that separates an OK curry from the most delicious curry at your favorite Thai restaurant is the Kaffir lime leaf. When cooking any Thai curry, add 6-8 Kaffir lime leaves to the pot (lime leaves are available in most Chinatowns and ethnic grocery stores). Also, once you are done cooking the curry, you absolutely must squeeze the juice of one lime into the pot. It will make all the difference.

Central and South American Cuisine

I’ve traveled extensively in Central and South America, and one thing I’ve noticed is that limes are ubiquitous in this part of the world. So it’s no surprise that limes feature heavily in the dishes of the region.  Tacos, burritos, ceviche, grilled meats and fish, salads, soups, drinks. I could go on and on, but almost every Central or South American dish is taken to the next level by squeezing lime juice over it.

Key Lime Pie

Limes are great for savory cooking, but don’t discount this versatile little citrus fruit when it comes to dessert. In my opinion, the mother of all lime desserts is the key lime pie. I’ve tried several recipes over the years, but now my go to key lime pie recipe is Meredith Steele’s. According to Meredith, the key lime pie was invented in the early 20th century, on Florida’s sponge fishing boats. So why not treat yourself to a taste of the Keys with this lime-filled dessert.

Try Lime with Miracle Berries

Have you ever heard of the miracle berry? It’s a small, red berry that blocks your sour taste receptors, so that when you eat anything sour, it will taste sweet. A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pack of Frooties, which are miracle berries in tablet form. I invited some friends over, and we tried limes, lemons, cherries, blackberries, kiwis and more with the miracle berry. My favorite by far was the lime! The miracle berry makes lime taste like candy. It removes the sourness so you can really experience the lime’s flavor, and it is amazing.

Do you have any other ideas for what can be done with limes? Share your ideas in the comment section!

An Afternoon in Valhalla

After spending a couple of days in Antigua, Guatemala, I was beginning to long for a real fruit adventure. The kind of fruit adventure where you travel into the countryside to visit a farm or go trekking into the forest to find fruits growing in their natural environment.

I asked the front desk of my hostel if there were any fruit farms near Antigua, and they recommended Valhalla Experimental Station, a macadamia nut farm. I was told that Valhalla macadamia nut farm is a small, organic, sustainable operation that gives tours of the farm and lets you sample the nuts.

The lady at the hostel’s front desk said Valhalla was at most a 20 minute bus ride from Antigua. All we needed to do was take a chicken bus bound for San Miguel Dueñas and tell the driver “Las Macadamias.”

A macadamia nut farm is not exactly what I had in mind for a fruit adventure, but nuts are technically a fruit, and my interest was piqued at the possibility of venturing onto a chicken bus.

Guatemala’s chicken buses are decomissioned school buses, deemed unsafe by North American standards. Safety being less of a concern in Guatemala, the buses have been souped up and painted in bold colors to serve as the country’s public transit. I definitely wanted to experience a chicken bus before leaving Guatemala, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We got to the bus station across from the market and I asked one of the bus drivers how to get to San Miguel Dueñas. He pointed at a blue and yellow bus named Dorita:

We boarded Dorita and I said to the driver “las macadamias por favor.” The driver nodded his head, and soon we were off.

The chicken bus bumped out of Antigua and onto a country road, while I sat nervously hoping that the driver would remember to stop at Valhalla. Sure enough, about 15 minutes into the ride, I heard the driver yell “las macadamias, las macadamias!” We hopped off the bus and headed towards the farm entrance, walking along a dusty pathway lined with macadamia trees and lush tropical vegetation.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who offered to take us on a tour of the farm. First she showed us around the macadamia trees, and we saw the nuts in every stage of growth from flower, to fully ripe fruit ready to fall off of the tree:

Macadamia Flowers
Macadamia Fruit

Next, the tour took us to the farm machinery and we were given an explanation of the harvesting process. Once the macadamia nuts are picked, they must be husked, dried in the shell and sorted. Then they are cracked, sorted again, washed and then dried in the sun for several days:

Husking Machine
Sorting Machine
Macadamia nuts drying in the sun

The tour concluded with a sampling of the macadamia nut products, including hand cream, roasted macadamia nuts, and chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

I also indulged in the facial, which involved a lovely face massage using macadamia nut oil. Although complimentary, it is customary to tip the beautician:

Feeling relaxed and sporting a healthy glow from the facial, we proceeded to wander the grounds. We came across the most beautiful bathroom I have ever seen:

As we were scoping it out, we ran into Lorenzo, the owner of the Valhalla macadamia nut farm.  Lorenzo, a nutty American expat, talked our ear off, telling us about life in Guatemala and cracking all sorts of corny jokes.

As silly as some of the jokes were, one thing Lorenzo said has stuck with me: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” What a nugget of wisdom to be given in the middle of a Guatemalan macadamia nut farm. Lorenzo has definitely given me something to think about.

Finally, Lorenzo encouraged us to try the world famous pancakes, and so we proceeded to the Valhalla restaurant. The restaurant was open air, and situated in a beautiful garden. It was absolutely stunning:

As we waited for our pancakes, we enjoyed watching hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, and were treated to sounds of a volcano rumbling in the background.

The pancakes arrived, and they alone were worth the trip out to Valhalla:

Made with macadamia nut flour, and topped with macadamia nut butter, blueberries, crushed macadamias and honey, the pancakes were like nothing I’ve ever had before, and you will just have to go to Guatemala to try them.

With our bellies full and our heads bursting with new macadamia nut knowledge and Lorenzo’s wisdom, we waited by the side of the road for a chicken bus to take us back to Antigua. As one came around the bend, we waved it down, and like magic it stopped to pick us up. Much easier than having to locate a bus stop!

A trip to Valhalla is a wonderful ½ day trip to do from Antigua, Guatemala, and is a worthy fruit adventure. I highly recommend it.

How to get to and from Valhalla Experimental Station by chicken bus:

  • Head to the Antigua bus station, which is located just south of the Mercado de Artesanias (Artisans Market)
  • Take a bus going to San Miguel Dueñas
  • Tell the driver “las macadamias” and he will drop you off right at the entrance of the farm
  • To return to Antigua, simply go back to the farm’s entrance and stand by the edge of the road. When you see a chicken bus heading your way, wave your hand and the bus will pick you up.
  • The bus ride will cost 4 Quetzales each way