For fresh fruit lovers, Costa Rica might be considered heaven on earth.
One need not go far to find heaps of fresh bananas, pineapples, papayas, mangos, coconuts and dozens of other fruits that just do not taste the same as those shipped thousands of miles to markets around the world.
However, there are also some fruits that look strange and almost as if they have sprouted hair that looks like a 60s mop-top.
Though lesser known, these fruits are some of the most delicious produced in Costa Rica.
Though they may appear strange, here are some of the tastiest, most convenient, uniquely Costa Rican fruit snacks out on the market.
By far the most exotic looking fruit available at almost all Costa Rican outlets is the mamón chino. This fruit is about the size of a golf ball and looks like a deformed sea urchin that has grown red or yellow hair instead of spines.
Technically the fruit and the tropical evergreen tree on which it grows is called a rambutan, and it is native to Malaysia. The chino part of the fruit’s Costa Rican name stems from its Asian origin. Its Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum.
When peeled, the fruit has a cloudy-white flesh very similar to the flesh of a grape. Inside is a brown pit that looks like a pecan. Although this pit can be eaten roasted, it is not advisable to eat the pit raw as it is mildly poisonous.
Over the years, the Costa Rican government has encouraged farmers to grow this fruit for various reasons including to prevent farmers growing other crops that can be ravaged by diseases. Although the fruit has yet to gain popularity in the United States, a previous A.M. Costa Rica report said Costa Rica exports 1,800 metric tons to its neighbors. That story is HERE!
The quickest way to get to the fruit through the inedible peel is to simply bite off a piece of the skin and peel it from there. Then one simply pops the crystal-ball colored oval into the mouth, biting gently and sucking to pry flesh that tightly clings to the pit. It takes time, but the sweet, juicy succulent fruit comes off after a few minutes of sucking. This is where themamón comes from, loosely translating as “sucking.”
In Costa Rica there are two varieties both of a different color. The red is common across all tropical countries, especially Asia, while the yellow one is more unique and especially common in Costa Rica. Both are generally available between July and November. Although prices have gone up, mamones chinos are usually available for 500 colons per half-kilo. About $1 a pound
Earlier this year there were plans to make the fruit into a flavor for ice cream and yogurt. The story is HERE!
Another fruit that may seem foreign is the jocote, a small fruit that ranges from green, to yellow or red and is also about the size of a deformed golf ball.
This fruit is from a deciduous tree native to the tropical regions of North and South America. Although it also goes by many names including the Latin Spondias purpurea, its regional name, jocote, comes from xocotl, the Aztec word for fruit.
An A.M. Costa Rica report in March said Costa Rica produces 2 million tons of jocote each year, and at that time a new jocote processing plant was under way to use the flavor in a variety of processed foods. That story is HERE!
The region of La Uruca de Aserrí, a prime jocote-producing region in Costa Rica, regularly holds a festival to honor the fruit. Residents make jam or use the fruit in desserts. That story is HERE!
The fruit is eaten when both its skin is green and unripe as well as when it has matured and turned red or yellow. Both have a tart flavor but unripe jocotes are slightly more so. Regardless of color, the skin is edible. It’s usually available for 500 colons per half kilo.
The first bite hits the tongue with a wave of sourness that gradually subsides into a semi-sweet flavor with a chalky texture. As one scrapes the soft yellow pulp off of the large pit inside, each bite seems to get progressively sweeter except for the ringing twinge of acidity that lingers on the tongue from the initial bite.
Unlike with the mamón chino, no amount of sucking will get flesh of the jocote off the seed and one must scrape it off with the teeth. More on jocotes can be found HERE!
Finally another fruit that may seem strange to newcomers is known as cas in Costa Rica. Very similar to the jocote, it is a small, greenish yellow, spherical fruit, but inside there is a juicy center with dozens of small, white seeds that are edible if chewed hard enough.
Although the fruit may seem strange, it is actually a type of guava which has become a relatively common find in United States markets or is at least a fruit that Gringos can recognize. This variety is just slightly bigger than the jocote.
In fact, dozens of guava varieties grow in Costa Rica including cas, regular guava, pineapple guava, strawberry guava and others. A more detailed analysis of the different kinds of guava available in Costa Rica is HERE!
Unlike its sweeter relatives, biting into a cas will result in a punch of sour and is only slightly more pleasant than sucking on a lemon. Although the entire fruit can be eaten, peel, seeds and all, it is largely uncommon to eat this fruit by itself.
People here treat cas like people in the United States treat lemons: When life gives Costa Ricans cas, they make cas-aid. Juice made from the fruit is very common at all varieties of Costa Rican restaurants, especially sodas.