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!

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

Granadilla, My New Favorite Fruit

The granadilla came into my life on Day 2 of The Fruit Adventurer family’s trip to Guatemala. We were sitting on a bench, eating ice cream in Antigua’s Parque Central. Vendors kept approaching us, pushing everything from jewelry, wooden flutes, scarves and textiles. We said “no, gracias” more times than we could count.

But then, a lady with a basket of fruit on her head approached us. You know me… I was into what she was selling. She had some oranges, but what I was really interested in was an orangy-green fruit shaped like an egg. I pointed to it, and she said “Si, granadilla.” I immediately entered negotiations and wound up with five granadillas for 5 Quetzales.

The fruit lady showed me how to eat the granadilla, and now I will share this fruity wisdom with you!

To eat a granadilla, you hit the granadilla over a hard surface to crack the shell, just like you would crack an egg:

You then pull open the outer shell to reveal an alien-looking mass of gelatinous seeds:

You slurp the seeds up out of the shell, and swallow the cool, sweet, jelly-like fruit:

And that is all there is to it!

After the lady showed me how to eat the granadilla, I followed suit. And I was in love. The granadilla is my new favorite fruit! It is a cool and refreshing treat on a hot day. It’s very portable and easy to eat, so it makes a great on-the-go snack. And best of all, it is sweet and delicious, tasting like a passionfruit without any of the sourness.

I don’t know if it was because I was now on a granadilla hunt, but I encountered them everywhere in Guatemala. In many ways, my trip to Guatemala was all about the granadilla. Whether I was enjoying city life in Antigua, relaxing by Lake Atitlan in San Pedro or climbing the Mayan ruins at Tikal, I was always eating a granadilla.

Now that I’m back home, I’m missing the granadilla like crazy. I have to get planning my next trip so that I can taste those cool, gelatinous seeds again.

Are there fruits that you miss when you are not traveling? Do you wish you could get your favorite fruits at home? Or is it better to keep them waiting for you in far off lands, as an incentive to travel? Let me know in the comments!

How to Open an Avocado

Since we went through the many amazing ways to eat an avocado yesterday, today the Fruit Adventurer will provide a how-to on opening and preparing an avocado.  

So without further ado, here is how you open an avocado:

1. First, make sure the avocado is ripe. This is very important, as an unripe avocado is no good in my opinion! When the outer peel has turned dark brown or black, and the avocado feels slightly soft to the touch, it is ready. The easiest way to open an avocado is to cut it, so grab a cutting board and a sharp knife.

2. Carefully cut the avocado in half, lengthwise. You will encounter the pit about 2/3rds of the way down. Carefully cut the flesh around the pit. Once finished cutting, gently pull the two halves apart, releasing one half from the pit. The avocado should be a greeny-yellow colour. If the flesh is brown or black, it’s gone bad.

3. Next remove the pit from the half that is still holding it. Take your knife and slowly wedge the knife tip into the pit. You need to be very careful and ensure you get a good grip on the pit, or you could cut yourself! Once the knife tip is secure in the pit, hold the avocado half and twist your knife to release the pit from the avocado. At this point, if you are making guacamole, remove the flesh from the skin on both halves with a spoon.

4. To slice an avocado, slice the flesh while it is still inside the skin. I cut horizontally but you could also cut vertically if you want longer slices. And for cubes, cut horizontally and vertically.

5. Lastly, scoop out the slices or cubes with a spoon, and voila!