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!

Fruit Recap

As I sit down to write a recap of all the fruit I tried in Guatemala, I can’t help but reflect back on my recent travels there. I often find that after I come back from a trip, I need some distance to really process everything I’ve seen and done. Guatemala was no different.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I really enjoyed traveling in Guatemala. This was my first foray into traveling with a baby, and our trip was much slower than what Mr. Fruit Adventurer and I are used to. While on the road, that sometimes got us down. But in hindsight, there were many advantages to going at a more leisurely pace.

In the past, our travels involved staying in one place for 3-4 days, and rushing to see all the sights and do all the things. This time around, we stayed in each place for about a week, so we got to enjoy some everyday living in Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Flores.

It was so nice to have time to visit the markets everyday and get to know the people working there, and to enjoy daily coffees in the local cafes. We also had a lot more local interaction on this trip, since all the Guatemalans wanted to meet our baby. And in the end, we got to see everything we wanted to see, the highlight being the amazing Mayan pyramids at Tikal.

Of course a huge bonus for The Fruit Adventurer was that I had a lot more time to sample the local fruits! Guatemala is a beautiful country with both tropical and more temperate mountainous regions, so there was a huge variety of fruits to try. As I write the list I’m shocked by how many fruits I ended up eating, some of them multiple times!

Here are all of the fruits I had the pleasure tasting in Guatemala:

Granadillas – My new favorite fruit!

Nispero – Much smaller than I thought they would be

Avocados – The size and shape of a baseball

Mangos – Heaven is a mango eaten close to the tree

Mandarins – The sweetest oranges I’ve ever tasted

Pink pomelo – Smaller and sweeter than the Asian variety

Pink bananas – Dark pink peel, slightly pink on the inside, and an overwhelming tropical flavor

Tiny yellow bananas – About the size of my thumb, incredibly sweet

Cherimoya – Sweet fruit with the consistency of custard

Ice cream bean – Huge green beans with fluffy white fruit on the seeds

Mamey sapote – Creamy, orange fruit with texture of an avocado

Mora – The biggest blackberries I’ve ever seen

Strawberries – Similar flavor to the ones from California, but smaller and sweeter

Guavas – So sweet with a heavenly perfume

Fruit Success and Failure

Before leaving for Guatemala, I wrote a post on 5 Guatemalan fruits I was excited to try. Those five fruits were mangosteen, nispero/loquat, ice cream bean, mamey sapote and jocote. Well, I scored 3 out of 5 guys.

I easily found the mamey sapote and the surprisingly small nispero. And I’m so happy I finally got to experience the famous ice cream bean, a fruit adventure dream I’ve had for a long time. I also discovered many other exciting fruits I’m just dying to tell you about! So over all my Guatemalan fruit adventure was a huge success!

But unfortunately I did have some fruit failures. I was really pumped to try Guatemala’s national fruit, the jocote. But try as I might, I just could not find it! My guess is the jocote was not in season, so my jocote fruit adventure will just have to wait until another time.

While I’m mildly sad about missing out on jocote, my biggest fruit failure on this trip was that I never got my hands on mangosteen. And it wasn’t from lack of trying. Mangosteen is one of my favourite fruits, and one that you cannot get in Canada (easily and inexpensively, at least).

I was so looking forward to a reunion with my old fruit friend in Guatemala, but as the days flew by, I had to stare reality in the face. There was a very real possibility I was going to be denied mangosteen.

I searched high and low, and even took my mangosteen mission into the grocery stores in Antigua. I asked after the mangosteen to Mayan ladies selling fruit on the streets, in parks, and in bustling markets, but they all just shook their heads.

On the last leg of our journey we headed to the tropical department of El Peten, and I wondered if mangosteen would be waiting for me in the markets of Flores, but no such luck. I even hoped against hope that I would run into mangosteen in the jungles of Tikal. Nope. And with that my mangosteen dreams were dashed.

I have since read that the season for mangosteens in Guatemala is June to October. Well lesson learned! For any future travels, I’ll be sure to research the season of fruits before I get all excited about trying them…

On the bright side, there were lots of other new and exciting fruits I did get to try for the first time in Guatemala. And I even have a new favorite fruit! My next few posts will recap all the wonderful fruit I did get to experience, including a few fruit surprises and special fruit places.