Panama Produce: Panama’s Top 5 Weirdest, Healthiest, Most Delicious Fruit

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Panama Produce: Panama’s Top 5 Weirdest, Healthiest, Most Delicious Fruit

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Many people think that Panama is unfriendly to vegetarians and vegans. Pork and chicken figure prominently on Panamanian Tipico menus (along with rice and beans, of course—the beans often simmering alongside chunks of fat from an unidentified animal source). And the truth is, the concept of vegetarianism and veganism isn't fully embraced here, but with all the fresh produce in Panama, it's easy to be a vegetarian.

We have a farmer's market with organic produce, tempeh, organic goat cheese, greek yogurt and more. Boquete restaurants feature vegetarian fare, including: Mike's Global Grill (felafel sandwich), Georges' Grill (Egyptian antipasto) and Big Daddy's Grill (veggie taco, burger). The franchise Organica also calls Boquete home (there's one right next door to the Boquete Habla Ya), with all sorts of gluten-free, cruelty-free, msg-free, high fructose corn syrup-free, colon-blasting, green-powdery products.

You can also order smoothies at pretty much any Boquete restaurant. The ones mixed with milk are called batidos. If you want it mixed with just water, ask for a liquado. Ask for it 'sin azucar' if you want a healthy blended drink, otherwise you'll get hummingbird feed.

But you have another excellent, fresh, locally-produced option that supports Panama's farmers and your digestive system....and you don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it: Fruits and vegetables from Boquete, Volcan, Cerro Punta and surrounding areas. Alongside the more common (and delicious!) tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya, mangoes and bananas, Panama has some super exotic (read: weird) fruit. (Not as weird as the durian, a fruit so pungent and thoroughly offensive that it is illegal to consume in public spaces in China. My friend back in Toronto bought one from an Asian market, cracked it open in his apartment and 20 minutes later emergency services took an axe to his door because a neighbour called in a gas leak. My favourite description, courtesy of Anthony Bourdain, chef and confirmed durian fan: “Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”)

Benjamin's, the most popular stall in Boquete's makeshift market (the permanent market is under construction). Down the lane next to Café Central Park, last stall on your right.
Benjamin's, the most popular stall in Boquete's makeshift market (the permanent market is under construction). Down the lane next to Café Central Park, last stall on your right.

Peculiar Panamanian Produce

The top five weirdest fruit found in Panama, in no particular order. None of these fruits will get you arrested.

1. Rambutan (Mamón Chino)

Mamón Chino or Rambutan

In Panama, this fruit is commonly referred to as 'Mamón Chino' (which literally means Chinese sucker). It is sold with the fruit still on the branches, like Mother Nature's lollipops. It is related to the lychee.

Flavour: Delicious, tangy, alien invasion-y, sweet/sour with a grape-like texture
Season: August, September
How do I eat it? Peel off the red fuzzy exterior, pop it into your mouth and eat/suck around the pit
Reported health benefits: In traditional medicine in Malaysia and Indonesia (the home of the Rambutan) it is used in diabetes and hypertension treatments. Also purported to boost energy, blast parasites and free radicals and has antiseptic properties

2. Naranjilla

Naranjilla

'The Little Orange' or Solanum quitoense (Nightshade from Quito). Found growing wild all over Boquete. Visit the Panamonte and try their award-winning El Salto cocktail, made of Naranjilla and mystery ingredients (it is a secret recipe, after all).

Flavour: Sour, tangy—must be blended in an umbrella drink or smoothie with sugar or other fruit. Use sparingly. Wikipedia says the citrus flavour is sometimes described as a rhubarb and lime combo. Perhaps because I've only ever imbibed the juice of this fruit with alcohol, I didn't catch those subtle flavours.
Season: Pretty much year-round
How do I eat it? Cut in half, scoop out the insides and blend it up!
Reported health benefits: High in vitamins C, B and A and antioxidants. Stress-buster. Promotes strong bones, hair and nails

3. Tree Tomato

Naranjilla

Delicious and vitamin-packed, this fruit is called Tamarillo in most Central American countries but here in Panama we call it Tomate de Arbol. Turns smoothies a great pink colour that fades as you drink it.

Flavour: Tangy – must be blended in a smoothie with other fruit. One per blender is fine
Season: Pretty much year-round
How do I eat it? Cut in half, scoop out the insides and blend it up!
Reported health benefits: High in Vitamins A, B6, C and E – and is rich in iron, potassium and antioxidants

4. Marañón Curaçao or the Rose Apple

Marañón Curaçao

This fruit has nothing to do with cashews (marañón), roses or the Caribbean island. The best time to eat the Rose Apple is when it's freshly picked and crunchy. Otherwise, people put them in jams, chutneys, or smoothies with other fruits or they lightly sauté them for dessert. They are very delicate and perishable, so are not well-known outside of growing areas.

Flavour: Sweet, astringent, slightly bland on its own
Season: June – August
How do I eat it? In a smoothie with other fruits, fresh-picked in slices with the skin, as a jam, chutney or candied
Reported health benefits: Lowers cholesterol, used in diabetes treatments, lessens fever

5. Guanabana

Guanabana

Also called soursop. Comes with its own song. (Simply replace 'mahna mahna' with guanabana.) Miraculous healing properties have been attributed to this fruit and its leaves. Tumor shrinking, parasite blasting, this fruit is to be respected. So only eat a bit at a time.

Flavour: Tangy; sharp, then sweet. Not pretty, but delicious.
Season: June – August
How do I eat it? Basically, you're going to scoop the guts out, like you would a pumpkin during its metamorphosis into Jack-O-Lantern, and then separate the seeds from the slop. So, wash your hands thoroughly, cut in half and start digging. Each section has one big seed—pop the seed out and then either eat the guts immediately or set them aside in a bowl for later
Reported health benefits: Studies link this fruit and its leaves to shrinking tumors and fighting cancer. If parasites are suspected, Panamanians swear by this fruit!

FIND MORE ABOUT TYPICAL FOOD IN PANAMA...

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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.


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