Ice cream bean, guama, guaba strange food in Central and South America
Ice cream bean, otherwise known as guama or guaba, is a very strange looking and tasting legume that grows wild throughout Central and South America. As it is a legume, a row of large seeds are enclosed inside of a long pod that is generally one to two feet in length. The white, porous pulp that surrounds the seeds is the edible part.
The first time that I experienced this food was in the jungles of Guatemala. I was working at the Finca Tatin and as the owner returned from a trip to Livingston I noticed one of his sons standing victoriously in the bow of the boat holding two large green pods.
“What is that?” was the question ask about the one and a half foot long greed pods upon their landing.
“I don’t know but it’s good,” the kid answered.
We then immediately broke the pods open on the dock and began eating.
“You eat the white part,” the kid informed me.
The white part looked more like mold that completely covered something than the edible part of a plant. It looked like cotton candy turned malicious and vile. The white pulp was stretchy, very porous, a little sticky, and completely enclosed each seed inside of the pod — it looked more like something eating the inside of the plant rather than the part of the plant that I was suppose to eat. This ice cream bean was an odd fruit for sure.
I tore out the white covered seed and put the entire thing in my mouth. It was my intention to scrap the pulp off with my teeth and tongue sort of like how you eat a Rambutan, but I ended up biting through the seed. Sour, spit, spit. I popped out another seed and, this time, I ate it as it was probably suppose to be eaten: I peeled off the mucusy, sticky white layer with my teeth and only ate what was edible.
Once in my mouth I had the opportunity to fully contemplate what I was eating. The pulp had the consistency of, as my other friends have put it, an insect’s nest — definitely not a common texture for food fit for human consumption, — but it tasted sweet.
My friends Laney and Jamison describe eating ice cream bean or guama in Colombia as follows:
This is Guama,
and it is freaking weird.
It is like holding a giant bean pod.
Then you crack it open and it looks like a bug or a spider has spun a web or nest all over the fruit inside.
Then you pick it up and still think maybe its an insect nest.
Then you walk outside to find a local and ask them if this is what the fruit is supposed to look like.
After an unconvincing ‘yes’,
you put it in your mouth and think, “Oh my God I just put an insect nest in my mouth.”
But unless these insect babies taste sweet and the nest was spun around a giant black seed, you can safely assume you are just eating a very weird fruit. –Guama in Colombia
In all, the food to shuck ratio of guama, or ice cream bean, is drastically in favor of what is discarded: there is very little food volume in one of these pods — the seed, the pod, almost everything besides a think white mucusy pulp is thrown into the garbage.
But eating this food is an event — “I once ate something that looked and felt like a spider’s nest in Guatemala” — something to be remembered. And this is probably one of the most sought after elements of trying new foods when traveling.