So you’ve been diagnosed with the Costa Rica re-location fever… No need to panic, this is quite common among North Americans these days. Just be aware that side effects of moving to Costa Rica may include : Waking up earlier, enjoying a slower pace of life, uncanny happiness in day-to-day life, a lessened importance of political climate in your home country, heightened appreciation for the natural world, weight loss, healthier dietary decisions, plentiful vitamin D & Vitamin C, and excessive use of the phrase, “Pura Vida”
Granted, moving to Costa Rica isn’t the right decision for everyone, but it seems that everyone that makes the leap and gets through the 1-year trial period ends up happier, healthier, and more connected with nature. The answer is obvious; when you’re living in Costa Rica, you’re enjoying the outdoors, you’re always burning calories, and the foods you’re eating are produced in-country with minimal steps from farm to table. In all senses, you’re more connected with nature in Costa Rica and this connection is epitomized in the quantity and quality of fresh fruits you’ll consume in this tropical country.
So let’s talk about fruit…As a quick refresher in evolutionary biology, seed bearing fruits are nature’s way of generational sustainment and reproduction. Through the process of evolution and natural selection, trees that produce favorable tasting fruits successfully pass their genes to subsequent generations by fruit-consuming species. As generations passed and tiny genetic mutations occurred, the fruits evolved alongside the consumer’s preferences in taste which has brought us to where we are today with a variety of deliciously sweet fruits. Surely we’ve all had the experience of biting into a perfectly ripened peach, plum, mango, etc. and thought to ourselves, “This tastes like candy!” For this, we can thank the natural intelligence of our planet co-evolving alongside fruit consuming species over millions of years.
Costa Rica is located around 10 degrees north latitude and is optimal for growing tropical fruits year-round. The most popular fruits you’ll find in Costa Rica are mangos, watermelons, papayas, and bananas. These mainstream fruits are exported and usually end up in a Food Lion, Wal-mart, or Publix in North America. However, not all fruits from Costa Rica are grown for export. There are several lesser-known fruits that grow in Costa Rica that typically stay within the borders that many foreigners have never tasted or heard of.
Here are 8 exotic fruits in Costa Rica that you must try on your next visit…
Mamon Chinos – The direct translation would be “Chinese Suckers”. The playful and quirky appearance make Mamon Chinos an exciting fruit to try for the first time. The appearance can be deceiving from the outside with its brilliant red color and long prickly hairs, but the soft red exterior is easy to break open with your nails or cut with a knife. Once peeled, the inner layer resembles a translucent white grape. The flavor is mostly sweet and a little tart with a medium sized seed in the center. Mamon Chinos are inexpensive fruit from Costa Rica and are sold on the side of the streets for a quick grab and go snack. The best time to find Mamon Chinos is between June – November (rainy season)
Pitahaya – Otherwise known as Dragon Fruit, this bright pink and purple delicacy is absolutely stunning. The dragon fruit mixes well with almost every fruit and even though the flavor isn’t overwhelming, it’s the perfect accompaniment in fruit salads to add some color and texture. The simplest way to eat Pitahaya is by cutting the fruit in half and eating the fruit with a spoon from the natural bowl it provides. A little drizzle of honey can go a long way as the fruit itself doesn’t have much taste but it does possess a bounty of health benefits. Pitahaya grows on a cactus that commonly wraps around mature Cenizaro trees and is most prevalent during the rainy season.
Platano – With the appearance of a large banana, the platano is a versatile fruit that can be served in different forms depending on the ripeness. Green unripened platanos are used to make smashed plantains which are generally pan fried, salted, and served with ceviche, guacamole, or refried beans. A ripened platano is known as Platano Maduro and doesn’t require much to extract the sweet caramelized flavor. Platano maduros are usually served alongside gallo pinto for breakfast and can be oven baked, pan fried, or deep fried. My preferred method of consumption is to slice the platano into long strips and bake them at 420 F for 20 minutes. Cooking platanos in a pan can be sticky and deep frying them adds unnecessary grease and fat. Oven baked with a little cinnamon is a delicious and healthy way to enjoy the platano maduro with an easy cleanup.
Cas – Also known as the Costa Rican Guava, the most popular way to try this fruit is in a fresh glass of its juice. “Jugo de Cas” is the most traditional way to consume the little green fruit and you can order this drink at almost any typical restaurant (Soda) in the country. With a smooth but tarte taste, Cas is abundant in antioxidants and vitamin C and a powerful drink to boost your immune system.
Jocotes – These small fruits can be found growing wild throughout Costa Rica and can deliver different types of flavors depending on their ripeness. Ranging from an unripe green to a ripened orange/ red hue, jocotes are desirable at any time. In their green stage, they are tart and make your mouth pucker. A dash of salt is added to balance out the flavor. During their riper sweeter stage with an orange / red hue, Jocotes are perfect as is and have a juicy yellow interior with a medium sized seed to suck around. At this mature stage, the flavor is reminiscent of a ripe mango.
Guanabana – Also known as Soursop, this spiky fruit often weighs around 5 pounds and is known for its many health properties, including its uncanny ability to combat cancer. The spiky skin may seem intimidating, but Guanabana is one of the most refreshing fruits from Costa Rica with flavor notes of a creamy pear-pineapple-kiwi combination. Many times the seeds are removed and the fruit is blended into a juice or smoothie which is an easy and delicious method of consumption. I personally love eating Guanabana raw by cutting it open and enjoying the creamy white flesh while spitting out the seeds
Tamarindo – Tamarindo is not just a popular surf town in the northwest province of Costa Rica, but actually a delicious seed-pod fruit that’s native to Africa and cultivated in the subtropical regions of America. Tamarindo has a long, brown pod-like shell that protects the sweet and sour fruit. The fruit is usually consumed as juice with a brown color with a flavor of acidic sweet tea. The fruit can also be eaten raw by breaking open the pod and sucking the tart brown meat that surrounds the seeds.
Manzana de Agua – With its origin story from Jamaica, Manzanas de Agua looks like an elongated apple with a stark white interior. They are less dense and more watery than the apples typically consumed in North America. The fruit is known to improve memory and brain functioning due to its high levels in B12. Interestingly enough in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, locals use it to make wine
Your life will change when you spend significant time in Costa Rica. Not only your day-to–day habits, but also your mindset about community, yourself, and your diet. There is much to learn from the simple and happy lives of the Costa Rican locals (especially for the “always busy” North Americans). Of all the lifestyle changes that you’ll experience from living in Costa Rica, eating natural foods that are produced locally is a small change that will make a big impact on your health and well-being.