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Ice Cream Beans
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This item was last sold on : 05/05/17
The Ice Cream bean tree grows very quickly, usually fruiting within three years of germination. It typically reaches heights of 17 meters and develops a broad spreading canopy, ideal for shading other crops and landscaping. The yellow and white pompom-like flowers give way to the bean pods which ripen periodically throughout the year. Ice Cream beans can range from .3 to 2 meters long and have thick fibrous walls. The inner cottony pulp is sweet and snowy white with a flavor that is, not surprisingly, reminiscent of vanilla ice cream. The texture is that of a chewy cotton candy with a juicy finish. Large green or black seeds are imbedded in the pulp, and are inedible unless cooked.
Ice Cream beans are available year-round.
Ice Cream bean is botanically classified as Inga edulis, and a member of the Fabaceae family, the same as green beans, shelling beans and peanuts. The genus, Inga, is derived from its name with the Tupi Indians of South America and the species, edulis, means edible. It is not hard to imagine why the name Ice Cream bean was given to this sweet tropical fruit. The cotton candy-like edible pulp of the tree’s pods is unusually similar to that of vanilla ice cream. Not only are the beans a sweet treat, but the tree also improves soil fertility, provides lumber for construction as well as shade for other undercrops. The tree has a host of aliases in many South American native languages, including, guaba, inga cipo, guamo bejuro, pois sucre, rabo de mico, inga de metro and monkey tail.
The pulpy interior of the Ice Cream bean is a good source of dietary fiber, polyphenols, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories. The seeds should not be consumed raw, but when roasted provide a rich source of protein.
Ice Cream beans are generally eaten raw out-of-hand or sometimes used as a flavoring for desserts. To extract the sweet cottony pulp, split open the pods and separate it from the large inedible seeds. The textural integrity of the delicate flesh does not stand up to extensive cooking, but the semi-sweet vanilla flavor can be imparted into cream when slowly steeped. Ice Cream beans compliment all the flavors typically paired with vanilla. The pulp may be combined with chocolate, coffee, cream, custard, almonds, allspice, cardamom, caramel, cinnamon, clove, ginger and fruits, especially pear.
In Columbia, an alcoholic beverage made from the Ice Cream bean called cachiri is consumed at a festival of the same name. The native Indian women chew the arils of the bean (sometimes cassava root is substituted), spit the mixture it into a vat and allow natural formation to develop. Folk medicine also use the plant as an anti-diarrheal treatment.
The Ice Cream bean’s native range extends from Mexico in the north to the Amazon rainforest in the south. It has since been naturalized in tropic and subtropic climates throughout the globe. The trees are frost sensitive, but thrive in warm climates where sunshine is plentiful. Due to their fast growing dense canopies, Ice Cream bean trees are often grown to provide natural shade for cacao, coffee, tea and vanilla plants. They also naturally fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, enriching the surrounding earth and benefitting nearby crops.