August 31, 2009
First I should probably tell you what is going on and why I am suddenly in Costa Rica. I am doing a study abroad program with Duke’s Organization for Tropical Studies. It is an intensive program focused on hands on learning: we learned about basic flower morphology and then dissected flowers, we learned about fruit types and then had a FRUIT LAB!
They provided over 60 native fruits for us to taste and describe. Some were absolutely delicious like the spiky mamon which you have twist open to uncover the milky, sweet flesh around a large almond-looking seed. The sour ones were my favorites, especially naranjilla. It is pretty easy to tell this is in the tomato family because of the formation of the seeds and the smooth, shiny skin. The skin of this species is rather bitter, but peeled and sliced naranjillas would add a unique kick to a caprese salad, especially paired with a sweet balsamic. Some other good sours were star fruits and cas, a berry in the Myrtaceae family.
I also got another taste of chayote, the vegetable I was introduced to at a restaurant in San Jose. Looks like I was spot on when I said it tasted like a cross between a cucumber and broccoli–it is in the Cucurbitaceae family (like cucumbers and squashes).
We also tried some not so good fruits. There were a lot of starchy root vegetables to sample, and while sweet potato (this kind was white!) was a hit for sure, along with malanga from the Aracea family, others were rough and tasteless. Tasteless sure beats noni. This white gooey fruit with big black seeds tastes like decaying fish or blue cheese depending on who you ask. Sadly, it was given to us by the Rubiaceae family, the same that gave us the sacred coffee bean.