Living in Costa Rica With Our Favourite Fruits and Vegetables.

It’s no secret amongst expats that making dietary changes, when moving to Costa Rica, can make financial and healthy transformations in our lives, but my wife and I have found this process to be more “trial and error” than “plan and go.”

Like many expats, we came to Costa Rica to live more simply, to eat more healthfully, and to suck more of life’s marrow before life, itself, got too far on.

Life in Los Angeles was not without its healthy bits, we ate well most of the time, and exercised regularly, but found in Costa Rica that the familiar fruits and vegetables skewed from the known. The usuals, like broccoli, a mainstay in my diet in LA, didn’t disappear, but the cost to keep it in my regimen had a negative impact on my budget compared to other options.

At the same time, we also found ourselves at markets in various towns, staring down the outstretched arms of a vendors bearing strange fruits. Being the ever-adventurous duo that we are, in kind, we have tried anything offered along the way. And by “we, ” I mean driven be “me.” Sorry about the cow-tongue, honey.

These facts combined led me to find out more, to try to better understand my Tico-fruit offerings, to better incorporate them into my health and financial planning, and I would like to share what I have found with you.

Most of my research has been online, but I will include my field experience and other takeaways as we go. For the items I have missed on this list, as it is a small but varied country, I send the apt reader to Wikipedia as a starting point. For the following I have summarized the more salient points.

Chinese Suckers?

If you have travelled to Asia, you have likely encountered the Rambutan, and this time of year you will find these most places throughout Central America, known by locals as Momonchinos, meaning “Chinese sucker.”

It’s a noun in this case, not an adjective, and this time of year (August and September) these suckers are in season. The white fruit inside “the hairy fruit,” as one friend of mine calls it, is sometimes sold as a lychee in the States, and is removed from the fruit by digging ones thumbs into the side and peeling away the skin.

Mostly red is how they are found in Asia but wilder varieties will grow yellow, so in Costa Rica, where all good things come together, don’t be surprised if your hairy-fruit is a little of both. What I found is that bigger is not necessarily better when selecting yours from the oxcart.

Each one of trying an almond-shaped seed at its core. Bigger outside tends to mean bigger seed in the middle, which means they are a little easier to manipulate in my mouth. I have found smaller ones with no discernible seed at all.

Nutritionally these little treats don’t offer much more than a healthier alternative to a real sucker, made up of sugar or HFCS, generally frowned upon by most healthy people. They are however, lower in calories than some of the other things we will cover here, so I feel no guilt popping these into my mouth as fast as I can dislodge them from their hairy home.

The nutritional Values per 100 gram 3.5 oz serving, break down as such: 82 kcal (calories), 20.87 g Carbohydrates, Dietary fibers: .9 g, Fat .21 g, and Protein .65 g)

Carambolas?

When I was 14-years old, visiting my father in Daytona Beach one year, he brought me into the kitchen for me to try something he had cut up: “It’s a star fruit” he proudly gestured to it for me to try. “Star” because cut in cross-sections, these fruit are five sided star shapes, known as Carambola in more sophisticated circles.

I later found these in California too but at a steep price compared to other options.

Here, the Carambola, is found everywhere all the time. They are affordable and range from lime green in color to sunshine yellow. Like the Rambutan, these make a nice alternative snack, but that is where the similarity ends.

This snack is more for the sour-patch kid variety of person. Until they ripen, a very short period of time before they rot, these are tongue-buckling tart. They do, however, compared to the Rambutan, present a fuller nutritional profile, packed with antioxidants, potassium and vitamin-C, and even have a little more protein than the Rambutan.

Actual nutritional values per 100 gram 3.5 oz serving stack up as such: 128 kcal (calories), 6.73 g Carbohydrates, Dietary fibers: 2.8 g, Fat .33 g, Protein 1.04 g.

Mangosteen

There is another snack-able in Costa Rica, that can take a little more searching to find, but is worth every effort for the kill: the Mangosteen. At a glance this fruit looks more like a vegetable, a beet, or some sort of spud. They are a very dark purply color, rough on the outside and sometimes scratchy and brown, but appearances couldn’t be further from the truth.

Inside their ruddy exterior, these shell-like casings house something more like a albino-orange that has been cross-bred with wild berries. The fruit, contrasted against the deep exterior, sometimes wears pinkish centers where it houses its seeds. The seeds themselves can be so small they are undetected, and large enough to fill almost the entire center.

Past its tropical-sugar flavor and aroma, the Mangosteen boasts some good statistics on nutrition, including high level of antioxidants and calories with almost no fat and low protein. It breaks down like this, (per 100 gram 3.5 oz serving): 305 kcal (calories), 17.91 g Carbohydrates, Dietary fibers: 1.8 g, Fat .58 g, Protein .41 g.

Yuca

If you are looking for more substantial options at the market, less along the snacky-variety, and more along the, what-the-heck-is-that long brown thing variety… then you may be staring at a Cassava or “Yuca” as the Ticos call it.

The Yuca is found worldwide as it is easy to grow, needing very little nutrients in the soil to grow, can grow year round, and has many applications. It is referred to as a starchy-tuberous root, that the Expat will translate as, “like a potato.”

In fact, with its bitter to mildly sweet flavor, Yuca is often prepared in similar ways: baked, fried, mashed, and more. My first trip to Costa Rica years ago landed a plate of these in front of me, after requesting french fries, and forever altering the course of my frenchy-fry desires.

Traditional ‘Merican diners may find the Yuca taste, or its fibrous quality, too far off of the good old spud to truly enjoy them, but for many they are the interesting twist on a tired old side-dish.

Like the potato, nutritionally, these are a powerhouse of energy. They are a better source of protein than the snacks listed above, rich in starch, and bring a few other nutrients to the table: calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin-C.

The rough nutritional values (per 100 gram 3.5 oz serving) are as follows: 670 kcal (calories), 38 g Carbohydrates, Dietary fibers: 1.8 g, Fat .28 g, Protein 1.4 g.

Pejibaye

Taking a cue from the former, starchy and fibrous in his own right, the Pejibaye (pronounced pe-hee-by-ae) is a bit of a national icon for Costa Ricans, although not found here exclusively. The first time I had it, the Pejibaye was introduced to me as “traditional Costa Rican food,” and to this day, while I can’t place the exact combination of flavors it stimulates in my mouth, “Traditional Costa Rican” just about sums it up.

The Pejibaye you may know as a Peach Palm. The fruit is orange golf-ball sized hazelnut-shaped bits, which grow from palm trees. They are generally boiled, peeled and eaten in Costa Rica, but can be used in making flour or other starchy foods.

The flavor is nutty, a mash-up of a Yuca and summer-squash, but drier in your mouth. To offset the dryness most of the time they are served with a dollop of mayonnaise. They have a seed in the middle that comes out easily after being boiled, but present when bought whole so like the Mangosteen and Rambutan, don’t just bite into to these bad boys.

The nutritional values demonstrate a nice balance for a starch, albeit a little lower on fiber than one might expect (per 100 gram 3.5 oz serving): 196 kcal (calories), 41.7 g Carbohydrates, Dietary fibers: 1 g, Fat 4.4 g, Protein 2.6 g.

Chayote

Last, but not least of all, and certainly not even the whole tip of the iceberg, my replacement for broccoli, the Chayote. Other than its reported medicinal uses, this last one brings the final word in versatility.

Beyond its acidic skin (you will want to peel that off) the Chayote is your “I can be anything you want” food.

Comprised mostly of water, with texture and flavor somewhere between an apple and a cucumber, it can be sweetened, savored, diced, julienned or baked. These adapt well to any environment, making few alteration to the flavor, bringing texture, volume and nutrients to the party.

Slice them and soak them in lime juice with some hot sauce salt and pepper to make vegetarian ceviche, dice them into a salad fill you up at mealtime, or swap them for apples in your next apple pie to save a few colones.

The Chayote is not a good source of fat, protein, or calories, but they do brag more amino acids and vitamin-C than most. The Chayote nutritional values are like this (per 100 gram 3.5 oz serving): 80 kcal (calories), 4.51 g Carbohydrates, Dietary fibers: 1.7 g, Fat .13 g, Protein .82 g.

Obviously this list could go on and on, but these are a few of my favorites, which have made the regular shopping list.

I am always interested in trying what I haven’t tried yet so please send me suggestions if you have one I must try. I strongly encourage people to try these mentioned and others, creating variety, and augmenting your palate along the way.

I also encourage you to do your research when you find things, as the list of possibilities may be broader than you imagined, which in the long run could not only save you money but enrich your overall health.




Written by VIP Member Damon Mitchell who spent over 10 years in the fitness industry before he moved to Costa Rica in search of a better work/life balance. Currently he lives in Playa Tamarindo in Guanacaste, where he and his wife Cristina are owner-operators of Pizza&Co pizza express, located in Plaza Conchal 2.

Daily, Damon runs on the beach or works out at Tamarindo Fitness Center, keeping fit by doing a combination of old-school weight lifting, calisthenics, TRX, stability ball work and just about anything he can do to create new and fun exercises. Most recently he is learning to surf.
You can email Damon here if there is anything specific about staying fit and healthy in Costa Rica you would like him to cover in his next article.

Living in Costa Rica With Our Favourite Fruits and Vegetables.

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