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Fruit of the Month: Guaba

Posted by Emma on: Jul 21, 2011

guaba fruit open
 - Costa Rica

It's not everyday that you can slurp white fuzz out of a foot-long seedpod – unless you're in Costa Rica! This delicacy is called pacay and is known as guaba in Costa Rica (not to be confused with guava).  Thanks to its sweet and velvety texture, it's also called the "ice cream bean." 

Native to Central and South America, pacay is not a really a fruit but a legume – a relative of green beans, snow peas and lentils – though its sweet pulp is more suited to snacking and dessert than as a dinner course. The plant's green pods are long, narrow and flat, measuring about a foot long, 1.5" wide and less than an inch thick. Crack one open to reveal a trail of white, cottony pulp surrounding black seeds. To enjoy, simply pop a section into your mouth, eat the pulp and spit out the remaining seed. 

Pacay trees grow to about 60 feet, and can withstand temperatures up to 86º F, making them an ideal crop in much of Costa Rica. In some areas, they are used as shade for coffee plants, while farmers often cultivate the trees for their delicious fruit. Many Costa Ricans grow pacay in their backyards, as the tree is hearty in many soil conditions, grows quickly, and has few agricultural requirements.  

In Costa Rica, guaba is a synonym for "chance" or "luck." For example, if someone is particularly lucky, they may be called "guabero." Likewise, an unexpected and fortuitous soccer goal may be recounted as "que guaba ese gol," or "what a lucky goal!" Additionally, and perhaps demonstrating a bit of wishful thinking, guaba is also used colloquially to refer to a man's sexual organ. 

Pacay has a long history in the region, and dates back to ancient civilizations such as the Incas. The tree's pods are often depicted in pottery and ceramics, indicating they were used as gifts of honor or as royal delicacies. Today, the black seeds are often used to create jewelry, usually necklaces or earrings common to street markets around Costa Rica.  

You can find guaba at the nearest supermarket, fruit stand or, most commonly, your local farmers' market. Available from January through June, these sweet treats are a bargain at less than $1 per pod. Crack one open, dig in and enjoy!

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