A little tour of the CATIE botanical gardens:
Showcasing examples of plants from all over the world but there are also plenty of native crops such as coffee, cacao and banana.
There are so many interesting fruit treats to try when wandering through the gardens. Cocoa beans are found inside the orange leathery cacao pods (the fruit) which hang off the plants. Before I came here I thought I’d be drowning in seriously good chocolate, but sadly its very expensive and hard to come by because it is all exported (3000 colones a bar in gift shops). A similar thing happens with the coffee too. One of our neighbours, Alex has a friend who makes his own chocolate and he passed over a few dark slabs on the bus. It was made with honey which contrasted so well with the bitterness of the pure chocolate. I loved.
Anyway, if you take the beans out they’re covered in a slimy film and when you suck them they taste nothing like chocolate, but are very sickly sweet and gelatinous. The beans were very precious to the mayans and aztecs and could be used to trade things with. The wealthy also used the beans to make a chocolate drink which you’d glug to show how frivolous you could afford to be.
My favourite fruit in the gardens are the bell-shaped water apples which are not costa rican at all but originate from south-east asia. They taste very sharp and are so tangy they’re almost spicy. It’s fun to try to knock clumps of them off their branches with rocks.
Landy, the most well-travelled of us volunteers brought back a mystery fruit to the house one evening and made us all try it. It was orange and resembled a passion fruit inside but the gooey seedy mass was grey. The goo was very citrusy and the seeds were tart and tangy but crunchy like sunflower seeds. We later found out the fruit is called granadilla and is sold all over the place. I really liked the flavour, they reminded me a lot of white gummy bears.
One small tree to the side of the main trail, about half way down has tiny red mini pumpkin-like fruit sprouting from it. The guy we work for didn’t know they were edible until one of his mexican volunteers started munching on them and revealed they are popular here, often enjoyed as a base for jams and used a lot in flavouring. I think they are called brazilian cherries or cayenne cherries. They have the same flavour as spicy red peppers, but are slightly more bitter and intense. I don’t like them that much but everyone else grabs a handful and snacks whenever we pass.
The farms nearby where we track some of the farther away birds have vast sugarcane plantations. They are ready to be harvested about now and the bottom of the stalks are becoming a blackish purple. Being from the city it’s easy to forget where our bags of sugar granules come from and it was crazy to chop open a cane with a machete and chew on the syrupy sap.
Almost everyday someone spots a new fruit for us to sample and the local people are always eager to share their information. Its amazing how much cool stuff grows and is made here.