Costa Rica is a paradise for fruits lovers because many different species of fruits grow virtually all over the country. Some of these fruits are known to retirees including banana, watermelon, guavas, mango, papaya, cantaloupe, blackberries, pineapple and coconuts. However, there are dozens of exotic varieties of fruit that are consumed locally not as widely known or common in other parts of the world .
Cost-conscious retirees will be please to know that all types of fruit are reasonably priced in Costa Rica. All one has to do is visit one of the local ferías de agricultor (farmers market) on any given weekend to observe Costa Ricans and others stocking up on their weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. If the locals shop there you can bet that the prices are very good and that you will get a lot for your money. If you want to live affordably do as the the ticos do.
I always include a visit to the ferías as part of my monthly retirement tours. All of my guests love walking through the large outdoor market and observing the large variety of fruits and vegetables, many of which they have never seen before.
Prior to visiting the feria my guests receive a 45-minute language and culture lesson about Costa Rica’s fruit at the Epifinía Language Institute. During the class they actually have a chance to sample about 20 varieties of the country’s exotic fruit. A very animated female language instructor conducts the lesson and explains how each type of fruit is eaten and its nutritional as well as medical benefits.
Here are some of the many exotic fruits which are found in Costa Rica: Caimito, Granadilla, Zapote, Limón dulce, Níspero, Guánaba (soursop), Guayaba (Guava), Jocote, Manzana de ague (water apple), Maracuyá, Mamones, Pejibaye, Tamarindo, and Carambola (Starfruit).
The bright, juicy, peach-colored flesh of this heavenly fruit is tender and succulent, although the taste, shape and color can vary according to the type of mango. The large, round orange-red variety is known in Costa Rica as “manga tomi” and offers a sweet, but slightly tangy taste with a bit of a stringy texture. The smaller, kidney-shaped variety, known locally as “mango pata” is softer and sweeter. Craving something tart? Try a green, unripe “mango sele,” which is often sold at roadside stands, sliced and served with lime and chile.
Does lying on the beach, sipping coconut water while the waves crash under a bright sun sound like bliss? In Costa Rica, this is easy to do. Young, large coconuts that are still green (known as “coco pipa”) and are filled with a clear, semi-sweet liquid are often sold at beach towns along the coast. The meat inside this unripe fruit is soft and delicate. The smaller, brown, ripened coconuts (known as “coco playero”) reveal a harder and thicker pulp beneath their woody shell. This meat is often used in Costa Rica’s Caribbean rice and bean recipes.
Granadilla (pronounced grah-nah-dee-ya)
The orange-hued shell on this passion fruit can easily be broken into two pieces with one’s fingers. Inside are small, grayish, edible seeds enmeshed in a jellylike substance. The filling looks uninviting but is sweet and delicious.
Maracuyá (pronounced mah-rah-ku-já)
This slightly larger variety of passion fruit has a more durable, yellow skin and is mainly used for making juice. When sliced in two, its interior reveals a bright orange, pulpy nectar filled with edible seeds. If eaten with a spoon, it’s best to sprinkle some sugar on top, as it is very tart and acidic.
Guayaba (pronounced gwy-ah-bah)
Known as “guava” in English, the texture of this round, fragrant fruit is similar to that of a pear. Its thin rind – which may be slightly bitter – and tiny, edible seeds can be eaten along with its soft flesh. The inside of the fruit is sweet, but not too sugary, and is either off-white or deep pink.
Mamones (pronounced ma-mó-nais)
These small, green circular fruits can be cracked open with one’s teeth. The most common way to eat them is to suck the peach-colored pulp that coats the large seed inside. They taste a bit like limes, and have many names throughout the Caribbean: quenapa, genip, guaya, lemoncillo and Spanish lime.
Guanábana (pronounced gwa-na-ba-na)
This large, green fruit, similar in size and shape to a football, is most often used to make a creamy juice. When sliced open, pouches of white, soft flesh can be pulled from the fruit like string cheese, leaving the large, black seeds behind. Its taste is unique and seems to hint at a combination of flavors: think pineapple – banana – coconut.
Tamarindo (pronounced tam-ar-een-do)
Don’t confuse this Tamarindo with the beach town in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region. These long, curved shells – which resemble brown pods – are primarily used in Costa Rica for making juice. The brownish-reddish flesh found inside is both sweet and sour. It is also sometimes used to make paste, syrup or jam.
A common gripe about living in Costa Rica is the repetitive food. There’s a certain comfort in always being able to stop by your local soda and enjoy an inexpensive casado with nutritious black beans, rice, salad, and possibly a wedge of avocado, but it can also get tiring to eat gallo pinto with every single meal.
Yet there’s one aspect of Costa Rican cuisine which is always varied and delicious: the fruit. Whether they’re native or exotic, Costa Rica is home to dozens of fascinating fruit that can keep your diet fun and interesting. Some tropical fruits like banana and pineapple, which make up big portions of the country’s agricultural exports, are already well known outside the tropics, but there are dozens of other fruits that are not as widely exported and best enjoyed at the local market or even right off the tree. Listed below are some of the most memorable and flavorful tropical fruit of Costa Rica.
Few people realize that cashew nuts, such a famous and widespread food commodity, come from a tree with at least an equally delicious fruit. Bright red, yellow, and orange, the cashew fruit looks something like a swollen jalapeño pepper, maybe a little squatter. Great eaten fresh or made into juice.
Related to the marañón, the jocote resembles its cousin, but in a smaller, rounder version. The seed is large and the fruit has relatively little flesh, but is nonetheless deliciously tart and sweet. Some of Costa Rica’s monkey species seem to enjoy munching on jocote even more than people, although they’re still a commonly sold by fruit vendors.
Carambola might be a little more recognizable to visitors from northern lands than some of the other fruit featured on this list, but it remains an underappreciated tropical specialty. The fruit change from a leafy green to an intense yellow when mature. They can range from sweet to a little sour, and are a nice addition to a salad as star-shaped slices. Carambola also makes great juice.
With a deceptively dull scaly brown skin, the inside of the zapote is a rich burgundy with one slick black seed running the length of it. The pulp is great eaten by itself, and sometimes also turned into ice cream. A wedge of zapote also makes an excellent desert without any accompaniment.
Enjoying Costa Rica’s range of interesting fruits is a great excuse to interact and support local vendors, enjoy a part of the botanical exuberance that makes the region so compelling, and generally just get to know the country better. And the list above is only a sampling, so the dedicated explorer of tropical fruit will soon discover many more exciting varieties to savor and enjoy.