If you’ve never heard of an ice cream bean and you’re sitting there scratching your head thinking – what in the world is an ice cream bean? – don’t worry, you’re not alone.
While immensely popular in its native habitat in South America (villages even hold competitions to see who can find the biggest ice cream bean pods and monkeys love them), it doesn’t enjoy the same celebrity status in Australia where it grows wild in the tropical north.
It’s a shame because the white, spongy flesh inside the seed pods is delicious!
So named because the flavour has been described as similar to vanilla ice cream, I’m more inclined to describe it as kind of like a custard apple.
It is soft and spongy in texture, and the juice that comes out once you chew it, is quite sweet.
The pods that contain the edible flesh look like vanilla beans on steroids! Most are well over one metre long and dangle in clusters from the tree.
The ones to pick are those that are just starting to turn from yellow to brown – if they ripen too much they will start to ferment.
When this happens you’ll know by the smell, it’s quite strong!
Immature pods are green.
When ripe, simply tear open the pod to expose the white flesh inside that encases large, shiny black seeds. The seeds aren’t edible, so don’t try them.
The flesh comes away easily and makes an a very tasty snack.
It’s the perfect tropical treat for a hungry forager!
Here in tropical North Queensland, you’ll find this large tree growing wild near waterways, roads and rainforest edges.
They fruit in summer (trees are laden with pods at the moment) and are a great snack if you’re visiting one of the wonderful rainforest creek swimming holes we have in the Wet Tropics region and there happens to be a tree growing nearby.
Just remember to please dispose of the seeds thoughtfully, as they are not native to this country and we don’t want to help them spread.
In South America, the indigenous people of the Amazon use it extensively for food, timber, shade, medicine and also to produce an alcoholic drink known as cachiri. It’s popular in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
It’s scientific name is Inga edulis and is also known as cuaniquil, guama and guaba.
Have you ever tried an ice cream bean before?
Post a comment below if you have. I’d love to know how they are eaten in other tropical countries where they have also been introduced.
Know any interesting recipes that use them? Then please share.
So there you go, you won’t be asking the question: “what is an ice cream bean” anymore!