In the tropics over 3,000 fruits can be found. Of these 3,000, the Western world has only seen 200. The Ancient tribes of many Indians were known to consume more than 2,000 different fruits which helped prevent many different types of illnesses which during their time did not even exist.
If you come to the tropics you better get ready to try some new fruits. Fruits are a perfect example of just how diverse the tropics can be. When we operate our Costa Rica family vacations one of the things we have our guides do is something we call "Fruit of the Day". This is a chance for you to try some of the most exotic fruits known to Costa Rica and much of the tropics. Here is a list of some of the main fruits we enjoy using for our "Fruit of the Day" and a few facts to go along.
Guanabana (Soursop) Annonaceae --- This is a very large fruit that can way up to almost 5.5lbs. It is a large green oval shape with spines. Each fruit is made up of 60 - 100 non-edible seeds (Good for making jewerly though). It is commonly used to make sweet juices, candy, and ice cream. Many studies show that this fruit is very affective in helping the body to cure cancer. It has been studied that certain properties in the leaves kill cancer cells while leaving other cells in the body unharmed. This fruit is high in carbohydrates particulary fructose. The leaves of the tree are used among many different Indians in the tropics for medicinal purposes. Some of the uses have been boiling the leaves in water to reduce fever and smashing leaves together and rubbing over irritated skin which helps faster healing and is known to help prevent scars. The water from the leaves after soaking them can be used to help with head lice also.
Granadilla (Passion Fruit) Passiflora ligularis --- This fruit is very similar looking to the Maracuya. It is used for making fruit drinks and often added to other drinks to increase sugar levels and flavors. When you find it at a fruit side stand in Costa Rica it is harvested with a little stick coming out of the top and makes you think of a grenade. This fruit is also known to be good for people with high blood pressure which comes from the alkaloids the leaves contain and the main one called Harman. This fruit has also been used to hyper children sort of like an indigenous ritalin. When the Spanish arrived the most common use of the passion fruit was for a sedative and used to sleep better. The name of the fruit was given "Passion" as the Catholic missionaries were able to describe the last days of Jesus Christ through the Passion Flower.
Maracuya (Purple Passion Fruit) Passiflora edulis --- Much of the information of the Granadilla holds true for this plant but one of the main characteristics about the Purple Passion fruit is that the peel of the fruit has shown up in studies to work very effectively on asthma symptons. This same peel contains high levels of flavanoid which has been known to reduce pain in Osteoarthritis patients.
Carambola (Star Fruit) Averrhoa carambola --- This is a fruit that gets it's name by when you cut it open and look into it you see the perfect shape of a star. The entire fruite is edible even the skin which is high in tannin and great for the digestive system. This fruit is low in sugar and high in vitamin C which is a very important antioxidant that helps the bodies fight colds and infections. This fruit is high in potassium which will help with muscle development and blood circulation. Although there are many positive benefits of star fruit it should not be consumed by everyone. If you have kidney problems this is not the fruit for you. If you are on certain prescription drugs the star fruit can magnify the affect and you should not eat it. Some other interesting facts is that it has been used to cure cross-eye (haven't seen this happen just heard about it) and it also is used to get the milk flowing in the cycle of breast feeding.
Maranon (Cashew Nut) Anacardium occidentale --- Do not bite this fruit until the nut is ready to eat. You often learn this the hard way and growing up in western society my first experience with a cashew fruit left me with a rash on the side of my body the size of a rugby ball that burned for days. It is a long process to get this fruit from the tree to the cocktail table which goes to show why they are so expensive. One interesting fact you might want to know during a Costa Rica family vacation is that the seeds can be ground down and used as antivenom for snakes (although in Costa Rica the antivenom comes from horses from the Clodomiro Picado who left us a stash in the San Jose town of Coronado). The fruit has also been known to be mashed down to liquid and fermented for a few days and you have alcohol.
Mango (Mango) Manguifera indica --- The mango is often the favorite of visiting Costa Rica. Most try it and love it. Just make sure you do not eat the skin of the mango as it contains "urushiol" which is the chemical in poison ivy. This fruit is eaten at anytime and is often very plentiful. Mango is high in a long list of phytochemicals which is what fights diseases for fruits and has been known to work well in humans also. The UN estimates that there is the production of 35 million tons of mangoes each year. Costa Rica is not extremely big on cultivating mangos but most months you don't have trouble finding one just hanging on a random tree. This is a very important fruit in many parts of the world as it is the national fruit of India and a perfectly ripe mango fruit stands for attainment in the Hindu culture.
Papaya (Papaya) Carica papaya --- We love Papaya and Costa Rica is the spot for getting your papaya. The hundreds of seeds on the inside of the papaya are used for grinding up and making pepper. Christopher called this the "Fruit of the Angels". This fruit is known to be excellent for the digestive system and it is all due to an enzyme known as Papain. This fruit has been labeled as one of the worlds healthiest foods and if I went through all of the positve affects and preventatives this fruit could give you then you would not have time to book a Costa Rica vacation with us.
Macadamia (Macadamia) Macadamia integrifolia --- If you want to get a good look at plenty of Macadamia you might want to consider doing an immersion in our Costa Rica Spanish school in Sitio de Mata. It is here in the Turrialba that you find the plantations. You will not find a large market for these on road side stands like other fruits. Macadamias that aren't harvested, fall off trees and rodents like to go eat them. When a field is full of rodents getting fat off of tasty nuts it makes for the perfect area for snakes to hang out looking for that fat rodent. These nuts unlike almonds or cashews are low in protien but high in fat. This is also the common powder substance used by law enforcement to mimic crack cocaine rocks when doing a drug bust or sting.
Tamarindo (Tamarindo) Tamarindus indica --- If you decide to join us on a Costa Rica whitewater rafting tour we always offer a nice cold glass of Tamarindo at the end of the trip as it is very refreshing. The fruit looks similar to a bean and is a type of legume but much larger than most beans. One interesting fact about this fruit is that the pulp is used to carve furniture. If you eat enough of Tamarindo it can get rid of worms and also in excess it is a powerful laxative.
Guaba (Ice Cream Bean) Inga edulis --- This is commonly known as the Inga and when dealing with kid friendly family vacations the word Ice Cream Bean makes it much easier to get them to try a new fruit. If you join us on the Pacuare River tour we know the perfect tree that is located on the right side just after a nice class IV rapid where everyone can pick their own Guaba. It is shaped like the Tamarindo but is green in color. But without a doubt the best part is that this fruit actually taste like vanilla ice-cream coming off a tree.
Mamon Chino (Rambutan) Nephelium lappaceum --- If you are visiting Costa Rica in the months of July or August you are in luck. There happens to be a farmer in Sarapiqui who has a tree that bears fruits in the early months of the year and is a common characteristic of what fruits will begin to do with climate change according to the farmers comments when asked why he had these. They are not just going to sit around, a fruit tree is going to look for better weather just as we do. The Mamon Chino is probably the fruit the guides enjoy doing "fruit of the day" most with. On a Costa Rica vacation if you leave the country and you had the opportunity to try Mamon Chino and you did not, then COME BACK! It is well worth it even though you feel like you are biting into an eye-ball. These can be addictive and with one tree able to fruit 6,000 of these little guys you can find yourself eating them all week as they are delicious.
Mangostan (Mangosteen) Garcinia mangostana --- Well there is nothing like Mangosteen and that is why they are so hard to find. I guess this is a perfect example of not quantity but quality. The mangosteen is known as the best tasting fruit on the planet. The best tasting comments are just opinions of some. This fruit is hard to find but you can sometimes find private homes that have a few mangosteens and even in the fruit markets they have been seen. If you get the chance go ahead and try it. It is a delicious fruit but don't expect large amounts. You might want to get a Papaya to fill you up later.
Guava (Guayaba) Psidium guajava --- This is a very nutritous fruit and very easy to eat as all you have to do is grab it off the tree and bite into it. Just check for worms as it is very delicious and other insects enjoy eating it also. That is how ancient mythology thought that the Spirits came out at night to feed on Guava. The skin is considered the more nutritious part of the fruit. It has been known to help prevent acne and even prevent cancer. The leaf extract of the Guava tree has a number of medicinal uses such as curing coughs and helping diaraeha.
Aguacate (Avocado) Persea americana --- You have probably tried this one and if you come to Costa Rica plan on trying it again. One of the more common fruits in Latin America the Avocado is in salads and of course in guacamole. It has been proven to help with breast and postate cancer. It has also been known to help with cholestrol and high blood pressure.
Mountain Apple (Manzana de Agua) Syzygium malaccense --- This is a very easy fruit to eat that you just grab off the tree and take a bite. Again you want to make sure the fruit you grab is not the second serving of another little critter. This fruit contains oleanolic acid which is an anti-HIV acid. This fruit gets its name because it is and tastes just like water mixed with just a little bit of apple. This can be seen popular on fruit stands around the country and a tree can bear up to 700 fruits.
Cacao (Cocoa) Theobroma cacao --- You might not know it when you see it but chances are this is your favorite fruit on the planet and has been for years. If you are visiting Costa Rica on a family vacation it is worth showing the kids where all those chocolate candies got their start. It got a bit of a different start than you might expect as when the Spanish arrived to the America's the Cacao fruit was a very important part of the Mayan culture. The pronunciation that he Mayans had was Cha-Cha-Agua which sounds like "caca-agua" in Spanish and if you know a little bit of Spanish you will know that translates into poop-water. Sure enough if you try a Cacao fruit that will be your first impression because without the long process of fermentation and additives the fruit is bitter and tastes horrible.
We hope you join us for a Costa Rica family vacation and allow us to show you the many magical wonders the tropics has to offer as we hope to take you on some of the best Costa Rica adventure tours and also educate you on the many fruits of the tropics.
Source: Costa Rica Natural History - Daniel H. Janzen, The Institute for Traditional Medicine Database