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.