Studying takes a turn for the delicious at Academia Tica’s fruit tasting class, where we sample some of Costa Rica’s most sumptuous offerings. After an hour at this mouth-watering table we know our mangos from our mangas, our guanabanas from our guabas, our nances from our elbows.
In Costa Rica fruit is a USD $1.5 billion a year industry, accounting for 84 percent of the country’s agriculture, according to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Pineapple production in particular increased 42% from 2009-2013, mostly exports grown on huge plantations.
Still, locally-grown small-scale fruit is easy to find at outdoor markets and roadsides. Fruity drinks and smoothies (called naturales and batidos respectively) can be found virtually everywhere food and drinks are sold. Local chains for these kind of beverages have flourished over the last couple of years.
Because it has rich volcanic soils, tropical climates and temperate zones, Costa Rica produces an astonishing variety of fruits, many indigenous to Central America and many imported from Asia. At this Tuesday’s tasing class, students try just a smattering of what’s in season.
- Guaba – Commonly known as a the the ice-cream bean, large green pods contain black seeds with a thick white juicy pulp that tastes slightly like vanilla ice cream
- Granadilla – Known as passionfruit in the English-speaking world. Easily peeled by hand, the edible black seeds are coated in a slippery, brain-like goo, which smells as sweet as it tastes. Its tangy cousin the maracuya is more popular for drinks and smoothies.
- Manga – the ultimate tropical treat imported to this hemisphere after thousands of years of cultivation in Asia, prolific in Costa Rica and much of Latin America, sweet, often fibrous with a stone like center.
- Mango – Small green cousins of larger, riper mangas
- Limon dulce – Sweet limes are another native of Asia. The flavor is sweet and mild, but retains the essence of lime. Less acidic than most citrus, can be bitten right into but more popular in drinks.
- Nances – Strong-smelling cherry-like fruits that are popularly used in regional wine called vino de nances.
- Pina – Pineapple is Costa Rica’s fastest growing export. Delicious but when produced on such a large scale, environmentally dubious.
- Sandia – Watermelon is prolific in Costa Rica. Originally from Africa and actually considered by botanists to be a special kind of berry with a hard rind.
- Papaya – A native of Central American, papaya has fed its inhabitants for thousands of years. The sweet orange flesh is also known to have numerous medicinal applications.
- Carambola – Descriptively known as the starfruit for its shape, this native of Asia has a punchy, acidic flavor.
Other fruits common in Costa Rica include the dietary staples plantains and avocados.