The ice cream bean tree is native to South America and has a variety of uses including timber, shade, medicine, and food. It grows well in warm climates and is becoming increasingly popular in Southeast Asia, Australia, and even Miami.
Are you considering growing a tree? Maybe you found the pods at a restaurant or market? Whatever the reason, you may be wondering what do ice cream beans taste like? Keep reading to discover its flavor, texture, and culinary uses.
What does the ice cream bean taste like?
The ice cream bean looks like a giant pea pod and can be torn apart using your hands. Inside lies a white, fluffy pulp that looks like white cotton candy (aka candy floss). Its taste is sweet with a distinct vanilla ice cream flavor. Some varieties will have additional flavor notes, such as cinnamon. The texture of the flesh is light, chewy, spongy, and creamy. Chewing or sucking transforms the pulp into a juicy consistency.
Housed underneath the pulp is a line of seeds that are shaped like lima or red beans. They range in size depending on the variety and age of the plant. The seed can be used as a vegetable in cooking but should be roasted or boiled first. Its flavor is similar to that of a chickpea.
How to eat ice cream beans
The edible flesh of the ice cream bean is conveniently stored inside a thick long pod which provides excellent protection. It is the kind of snack that could easily be tossed into a backpack without getting damaged.
A pod is simple to tear open and the insides can easily be plucked out with the fingers. Snacking on the raw pulp is a popular way to eat ice cream beans in countries like Ecuador, Columbia, or Peru.
Although it won’t stand up to extensive heat, there is a range of other culinary uses for the ice cream bean including:
- Press the pulp to extract flavorsome juice or blend with other tropical ingredients for a smoothie.
- Mix the flesh into coffee, chocolate, cream, and desserts.
- Process the fruit into alcohol.
- Use the pulp with avocado and sugar to whip up a delicious vegan vanilla ice cream.
Best flavor pairings: coffee, allspice, cinnamon, almonds, caramel, cream, chocolate, pear, banana, apple, and ginger.
Where to buy
Once harvested, the ice cream bean usually won’t last more than a few days. This short lifespan means you’re unlikely to find it in grocery stores or at markets far from where the trees grow.
You’ll find them at some markets in South America and other warm parts of the world like Southeast Asia and sections of Australia. There are also a limited number of trees being grown in Florida.
If you can’t find ice cream beans where you live, then try online; businesses like Miami Fruit will ship them within the United States when in-season.
The ice cream bean may sound like a fast-food snack, but it is a surprisingly nutritious food. A 3 ½ oz serve of pulp contains 60 calories and has low levels of natural sugar. It is also a good source of antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber. The cooked seeds are a useful source of protein.
6 fast facts about the ice cream bean
- Its scientific name is Inga edulis, and the South Americans call the plant guaba. Other names include cuaniquil, guama, joaquiniquil, and inga de metro. The tree is a part of the legume family.
- The plant can reach as high as 96 feet (30m) and will produce twisted pods, known to grow up to two meters in length. Its preferred habitat is near large rivers like the Amazon, swamps, and thicketed areas below the high water line.
- The ice cream bean tree grows fast and besides providing food, offers welcome shade in hot, tropical climates for people and other plants.
- Immature pods are green initially, then turn into a yellowish-brown shade once matured.
- Gardeners have discovered the tree assists other plants by adding nitrogen back into the soil.
- The seeds and bark can help alleviate rheumatism and dysentery. The leaves may be useful for headaches.
Many types of tropical fruit are called “unique” and they can be difficult to substitute for in recipes. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find an ingredient that is more unique than the ice cream bean. What other natural food, growing from a tree, has a flavor that compares to ice cream and a texture that’s light and fluffy like cotton candy?
We think the ice cream bean is a delicious, fun food to try if you get the opportunity. You won’t get any awkward flavors or aromas and we’re sure that any child would be willing to eat it.
While the ice cream bean has several uses in the kitchen, it isn’t ideal for cooking as it doesn’t stand up to heat well. We think it excels as a snack for eating out of hand.
Are you looking to grow an ice cream bean tree at home, or have you found the pods available for sale where you live? Please let us know in the comments below.