The fertile soil of Nicaragua creates a true paradise for the production of delicious fruits. They come in a lot of different shapes and colors, varying in flavor and use. The many different Nicaraguan fruits, be it either a regular type or a tropical variety, offer foreigners as well as locals an inexhaustible source for delicious foods, fresh drinks, and other culinary experiences.
Below follows an overview of many different fruits that grow in the woods or that are produced on a commercial basis on Nicaraguan soil. The list is long and we will therefore be adding more and more fruits over time.
Mangoes are a popular fruit in Nicaragua (as well as in other parts of the world), and they are available year-round, although the harvest peaks in the months of March and April. There are several variations of mangoes available in Nicaragua, differing in color, shape, and taste. All mangos are green when they are unripe, and they turn yellow, orange, or reddish as they ripen (the pulp is first white and then turns yellow before becoming orange). It is most frequently eaten as a hand-fruit, making it a great fruit for street vendors to sell. Mangoes can be a little sour when they are not totally ripe (at this stage they are eaten with a little salt), but they become sweet when they are ripe.
During the harvesting season (when there are sheer numbers of mangoes available) the fruit is also used for other purposes like making jam. They are an important source for vitamin A (when they are ripe) and vitamin C (when they are unripe).
People are known to be allergic to mangoes, and this reaction is commonly caused by handling the fruit, not necessarily by eating it. Another interesting detail is that imported mangoes are generally ripened in transit. People who have never eaten mangoes that ripened on the tree will find that the fresh Nicaraguan mangoes have a different taste.
The large mango trees – a great garden tree for its beauty and its shade – can produce hundreds of fruits during one season, and all of these fruits ripen during a short period of time. These trees can be found throughout Nicaragua and they start producing mangoes 6-8 years after planting the seed (less if they are grafted).
Nicaragua knows many different types of bananas, varying in color, shape and size. As a result of the abundance and wide availability of this fruit, it provides for a cheap snack, which needs no preparation whatsoever. However, there are several other ways in which Nicaraguans consume their bananas. A tasty drink is prepared by combining banana and milk. In the department of Carazo, overripe bananas are furthermore used to create vinegar. This same type of banana can also be baked and served with hot cheese.
The different varieties of bananas that are produced and sold in Nicaragua include the common, yellow banana that is a well-known fruit throughout the world, but also other, more unusual varieties like the ‘banano caribe’, which comes in a yellow and in a red color, and the ‘guineo cuadrado’, family of the regular banana, has a rather rectangular shape. This banana species is mostly used in cooking.
This remarkable fruit also grows in a remarkable way (and so do all of the different varieties). The banana plant is actually an herb (its stem is not woody at all), but due to its size and shape often mistaken for a tree. It normally reaches height of about 3 meters, and its large, green leaves (up to 3.5 meters in length) give the plant a very tropical image. Banana plants have one big, purple flower and each plant produces one single bunch of bananas.
One of the most interesting aspects of this plant is that it is cut after producing the bananas, and new plants will appear around the original plant. The plants have no seeds; new plants will simply grow around existing plants. A field of banana plants therefore often looks rather unorganized with many small groups of plants close together. These plants start producing bananas when they are 12-18 months old, and they prefer a tropical, humid climate.
Even the banana plant can be used for several purposes: the large leaves are great for packaging food or other items and the old stems can be processed to produce paper!
Plantains are related to bananas and their appearance is similar. People unfamiliar with plantains will easily mistake it for a large banana. Size is indeed basically the only difference from the outside, but the fruits’ taste and uses differ significantly.
Plantains, called platano in Spanish, are mostly used for cooking, although the fruit can also be eaten raw if it is ripe enough. Still, most people prefer to rather eat the softer regular banana in raw form than the plantain, and most uses of the plantain fruit involve frying or cooking. In Nicaragua, plantains are a major staple food in Nicaragua, and they are eaten throughout the country.
The most common form to consume plantain is as fried chips. These so-called tostones are a wildly popular snack or dinner-supplement, and they are made by slicing unripe, green plantains and then frying them in oil. The slices are normally quite thick before they are fried, and right after finishing the frying, they are flattened to a width of around 4 mm. They are then fried again until they are crispy. These flat but thick plantain chips are salted and served with a small piece of cheese on a cocktail stick. Another possibility is to slice them very thin which creates more chips-like tostones. Slicing them lengthwise is another option (fried plantains in this shape are called tajadas). Cooking plantains in water is also possible.
After ripening, the green plantains turn yellow, often covered with dark spots. These yellow plantains are known as maduros, and they are softer than the unripe ones (called platano verde in Spanish). These ripe plantains are cut lengthwise and baked in oil. This will create a much softer type of delicacy called tajada maduro. Even overripe, black plantains can be used for consumption. These are used to make stuffed pastry, referred to as empanadas de maduro.
Plantain plants have the same characteristics as the banana plants, and they grow in the same unusual way.
Among the most-liked fruits of Nicaragua, Sapodilla is a very delicately and tasteful fruit. Often eaten without the peel, it is actually not necessary to remove the rind before enjoying this delicious fruit.
There are different Sapodilla varieties in Nicaragua. Their shape can be round, oval, or oval-shaped with pointed corners. The fruit has a thin, gray rind. Sapodillas also vary in size according to the type, but most are a little larger than a baseball. There is also one variety that can reach a huge size, about three times as big as a regular Sapodilla.
The fruit’s pulp is yellow/pink, and it turns red as it ripens. Sapodillas are very sweet (10-14% sugar), and they are served as after-dinner fruits in Nicaragua.
Sapodillas grow throughout the country. The tree is very strong and heavy, and has also some architectural uses.
Jocote, also called Mombin, is a small fruit (2-3 cm in diameter) that can be eaten either when it is still unripe and green, or when the fruit has ripened and has a dark red color. There are two principal species of jocote, both with a large number of different varieties (the total number of varieties in Nicaragua is estimated at 50). One of the species is the yellow jocote, harvested during the rainy season mostly from July thru September; and the other is the red jocote, mostly available in the dry season.
The yellow jocote is grown in many different regions in Nicaragua, but mostly in the Pacific and Central areas. The unripe fruit is green, and it turns yellow as it ripens, and it is normally eaten with some salt. One of the varieties of the yellow jocote can also be cooked.
The other species, red jocote, is also present mostly in the Pacific and Central regions. The color of the unripe fruits varies between green and yellowish, before they turn dark red. Before ripening they are eaten with salt, but ripe fruits are sweet enough to be eaten plainly. They are also used as an ingredient for drinks and during Holy Week these fruits are used in a special fruit salad called Almibar.
During the harvesting seasons, jocotes are offered in abundance by street vendors at main traffic intersections or routes, often sold in plastic bags that include 20-30 jocotes and a small bag of salt that can be used to flavor them. Smaller bags are also sold on the street to pedestrians, again with some salt.
The tropical country of Nicaragua provides great sites for growing coffee. Coffee beans originate from the African-Arabian region, but high quality coffee has been harvested successfully in Nicaragua ever since its introduction in the nineteenth century. Nowadays, Nicaraguan coffee regularly wins international contests and is recognized around the world, especially in countries with coffee expertise.
The main type of coffee produced in Nicaragua is the Arabic type of coffee (coffea arabica). Different methods are used for cultivation to produce distinct tastes and qualities. Coffee trees reach a height of over 10 meters in the wild, but those used for bean production are cut, and between two and four meters high. The shrub has a straight and smooth trunk, and big, thin leaves. These leaves are perennial and have a bright green color, while the flowers are white and have a much shorter life (of about three days). The coffee bush usually starts giving coffee after three to five years; annually, production is just over two kilograms, which will be maintained for 30 to 50 years.
Coffee beans are small, round, and fall under the denomination of cherries in agricultural jargon, due to its similarity to this fruit. They grow from elongated racemes. In the initial phase, the bean has a green color, but it goes through shades of yellow and red during the next eight or eleven months of growth as well, depending on the conditions and type of coffee. The peel is smooth and relatively strong. There is yellow and sweet pulp on the inside, surrounding two seeds, which are separated by a groove. The beans are protected by a whitish layer and a thin yellow skin, known as endocarp. Coffee, as a drink, is the result of the application of different processes on the seeds. The peel, pulp and the rest are used as organic fertilizer or as food for livestock. The process of producing coffee can be executed throughout the year; however, the harvesting season lasts from October till February.
In Nicaragua, coffee is produced in mountainous regions, mainly in the central Pacific and the northern parts of the country. Large, medium-sized, and small plantations can be found. Most of the high-quality beans are exported (a small part under fair trade conditions), though it’s always possible to find good coffee on the national market as well. The low and medium quality beans are often used to produce instant coffee. In addition to the traditional ways of cultivation, organic coffee farming takes place in several regions as well. This product is of great importance to the national economy.
The pineapple, despite its big and rough exterior, is well-known throughout the world for its sweet and succulent taste. Nicaraguan pineapples are somewhat different that those usually eaten in other countries: the fruit’s flesh is a paler yellow than usual, and a little more firm. The taste is also different.
In total there are 7 different pineapple species grown in Nicaragua, all rich in vitamins A, B, C, and natural sugars.
Pineapples are most commonly eaten in a fruit salad or served on its own, but other options include transforming it into a juice or using it to tenderize meat. However, the fruit is also used to produce jams, vinegar, alcohol, and wines, and it can be used for food preservation.
The plant of the pineapple is quite odd, especially to people who have never seen how this fruit grows. First, the pineapple plant will only have 30 or so pointy leaves that appear from a central stem. Then, a small pineapple will appear in the center of this plant, slowly growing in size until it can be harvested. The plant is grown mostly in humid, tropical areas.
The papaya is one of the largest fruits found in Nicaragua. Ripe papayas are yellow from the outside with orange flesh inside. The fruit is often cut in pieces and used in a fruit salad along with other fruits. The unripe, green papaya can be combined with mango to create sweets. It is also possible to make papaya juice or jam.
There are several papaya species grown in Nicaragua that vary in shape and size, but most of them are fairly large. This fruit is normally long and rounded. Its pulp is rich in vitamins A, B, and C.
The papaya tree is remarkably thin and fragile for such a large fruit. Papayas grow in the top of the tree, right below the leaves. In fact, the papaya is considered to be an herb fruit, because the tree lacks a woody structure.
The ‘trees’ are fast-growing and in less than a year it will be possible to produce the first papayas, and in the next year the tree can already produce up to 50 papayas. The fruits are harvested when they are still green, and they are then ripened in the sun. Despite its size, papayas are delicate fruits and they must be handled with care. If a harvested papaya wets, it will turn bad.
The orange is one of the best fruits for making a healthy, delicious fruit juice. Although there are some other uses for oranges, it is the juice that makes this fruit so popular in Nicaragua and in many other countries. Nicaraguans generally prefer to sweeten their orange juice by adding some sugar, sometimes reaching a level that is too sweet for foreigners. It is also possible to eat fresh, peeled oranges. Street vendors have hand-tools to easily peel the orange’s rind, and peeled oranges are frequently offered on the street.
Orange pulp (like all other citrus fruit) provides a lot of vitamin C and minerals like calcium. Although there are several varieties and different hybrids produced in Nicaragua, the fruit is always round and its color transforms from green in the beginning to orange or yellow as they ripen. The pulp is also orange when they are ready to be consumed.
The medium-sized orange trees have spines and can produce 500-1500 fruits every season.
Another type of orange that is consumed in Nicaragua is known as the ‘Sour Orange’ (citrus aurantium). This variety is similar to its sweet relative but its rind is more wrinkled and they taste rather sour. Sour oranges are only used as an ingredient in other food and drinks.
The bitter taste of lemon is often used to enrich the taste of drinks or of other food like fish. The same fruit can be combined with water, some sugar and a little bit of salt to produce lemonade. Lemons are citrus fruit and therefore contain high levels of vitamin C and minerals like calcium. Lemons are green at first, and they turn yellow when they ripen.
There is one lemon species that is much sweeter than regular lemons. This variant, called sweet lemon, can be peeled and eaten by itself like mandarin oranges. It is larger than regular lemons (about the size of an orange), and they are only available around the end of the year, therefore often being consumed during the Nicaraguan December celebrations.
The lemon tree is a medium-sized tree that has many branches with spines. Generally, lemon trees produce fruits almost year-round.
This citrus fruit is similar to the orange. Mandarin oranges are round but a bit flattened at top and bottom. The rind transforms from green to orange and yellow, and is easy to peel off. Mandarins can be easily taken apart into smaller pieces, and these segments can be added to a fruit salad or eaten by hand.
The fruit itself is juicy and sweet, ideal for a fruit juice. In addition to the regular citrus characteristics (high levels of vitamin C and minerals), mandarins are also a good source for vitamin A.
Different mandarin varieties are present in Nicaragua. The tree is medium-sized and they have spines during their early stage.
The tamarind tree is a large tree that is native to Africa that can reach up to 20 meters in height. After the tree was introduced in Latin America, it became popular for its durable wood and the shade that it can provide.
Tamarind fruit grows in oddly shaped, brown pods (with a length of up to 12 centimeters) that hold a soft substance and hard seeds. To use tamarind for consumption, the seeds and the soft substance are used to create a thick, brown mass that is packed in a plastic wrap. This is then combined with water to create tamarind juice. This juice has a strong taste and it is said to be good for cleaning the digestive system.
Tamarind trees start producing seed pods after about 6 years. They flower from May until June, which can extend until August. The pods finish growing between December and March.
Breadfruit is a big, oval-shaped fruit that grows on a large tree. This fruit originates from Malaysia and it was introduced to the Caribbean Coast in Nicaragua by the English. It is therefore mostly found at this side of the country.
The name of the fruit comes from the flavor that is similar to the taste of bread, and in some tropical countries this fruit is even used as a substitute of bread. The fruit has a thick rind like pineapple which has to be removed before processing the fruit. The white flesh is seedless. Breadfruit can be served cooked, fried, or baked, and if the fruit is well-prepared it really looks like a slice of bread. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, calcium, and vitamins A and B.
The passion fruit, known in Nicaragua as calala, grows on a perennial climbing plant that can easily cover a large surface. When ripe, it is a green/yellow fruit with a smooth rind that will start to wrinkle after harvesting. Fruits are cut in half and boiled in water to create a sweet-tasting juice.
The plant of the passion fruit is a popular plant among certain butterfly species to lay their eggs.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the pitaya fruit (also written as pitahaya, and also referred to as dragonfruit) is the fact that is grows on a cactus plant. The cactus will first produce flowers that will later transform into these bright purple fruits that can weigh up to 300 gram and that contain small, black seeds. Pitaya fruit is mostly used for creating rather thick juices (often enriched with some lemon juice), but the fruit’s flesh can also be eaten plain (cut into small pieces) or in fruit salads. Some experts contribute anti anaemic characteristics to the pitaya fruit.
There are several pitaya varieties in Nicaragua, and they can be found in almost every region. The cactus plant, which can measure up to two meters, normally grows on rocky terrains or on trees. They can often be found at the top of high trees where seeds developed after being left there by birds.
This large, round fruit is easy to process and has a rich, sweet taste. Cantaloupes have a thick, beige rind that can not be eaten. The soft, orange flesh can be easily cut into smaller pieces.
Hundreds of seeds are found in the center of the cantaloupe. The spread-out cantaloupe plant can produce several cantaloupes and that are grown directly on the ground.
The watermelon belongs to the same family as the cantaloupe – also from an herbaceous plant – but it is a much larger fruit with a different taste. Watermelons have a smooth, green rind and dark red flesh. This flesh is very watery – not surprisingly for a fruit with this name – and it can be eaten plain or in a salad, or transformed into a drink.
Spanish lime is a small, round fruit that grows in bunches. The green, smooth rind protects a round seed that is wrapped in a yellowish, juicy pulp. Mamoncillo can be eaten as hand-fruit, simply sucking the pulp out of the rind (which is very easy). A delicious juice can also be made from mamoncillo. This juice is great against stomach aches, but one should be careful drinking it: spilling mamoncillo juice on clothes will result in a brown spots that can hardly be removed.
The tree of this fruit is large (20-30 meters) and it grows throughout almost whole Nicaragua in patios and at farms. Fruits are mostly harvested from June to August.
Avocados originate in Mexico and Central American, and they have been cultivated and used in this region for several centuries. Its name comes from the Aztec word “ahuacatl”. This fruit has high nutritional value, containing lots of proteins and fat. Furthermore, aphrodisiac qualities have been attributed to this fruit.
Avocados are long, round fruits with one end being thinner than the other. The rind is green but will turn purple as it ripens. Avocado pulp is very soft and buttery, colored greenish at the outer side and yellow more to the inner side. The seeds are round and are always found in the wider end of the fruit’s body. Avocados can be eaten as hand-fruit, directly out of the rind, and it can be used for salads, cocktails, and some plates like the traditional “guacamole” (made from avocado, eggs, lemon, onion, and salt).
In Nicaragua there are several commercial varieties of avocados, plus some other local varieties. They can be found throughout the country and almost year-round as the different varieties ripen at different times of the year.
The mammee apple is a large fruit, often round or a little oval-shaped. The thick rind is rugged and coffee-colored. The pulp is rather soft and has an orange/pink color. This can be eaten fresh or it can be used in salads or marmalades. The fruit has a reputation as aphrodisiac and being difficult to digest.
The mammee apple tree is large and can reach a height of up to 25 meters. It is an evergreen tree with shiny leaves, and the shape of the tree is a pyramid-like. In Nicaragua this tree is common in the Pacific region, mostly in the Carazo plateau, where it is used as a curtain to break the wind at farms. It is mostly harvested from May to August.
Sapote is family of the sapodilla fruit, but the sapote is larger. It has an oval shape and it can measure up to 18 cm in diameter. The rind is thick and has a reddish coffee color. The pulp, which is red or orange, is very soft and sweet, and there are two long, black seeds inside. It can be eaten by itself, right out of the rind, and the inner part of the seed can also be used for confectionery called ‘cajeta de zapoyol’.
The medium to large sapote tree originates in Central America, and different varieties can be found throughout the country. It produces fruits year-round, although the peak season occurs from April to August.
Star apples are related to sapotes and sapodillas. The fruit is round and the size of a regular orange. Depending on the variety, the rind can be green with white pulp, or it can have a purple rind with pulp of the same color. It can be eaten fresh, or it can be used to produce jellies or marmalades.
The rind should always be removed as it contains high levels of latex. If the fruit is cut transversely, the start-shaped pulp can be observed, which is girded by the rind. The inner part of the seed is also edible, and it is used as an ingredient for confectionery.
The star apple tree is large and very decorative with two-color foliage (the leaves have a green upper part and a brown bottom part). It originates in Central America and the Antilles, and harvesting takes place mainly between February and April.
The coconut is a true icon of tropical beaches and perhaps the most cultivated fruit in the world as a result of the great variety of uses. It can be found throughout Nicaragua, and not only at the beaches of the Pacific or the Caribbean, but also in cities and rural areas, at farms and in patios.
Coconuts are round, although they can be somewhat angular. They are green at the beginning, later turning yellow and finally brown. The husk is very thick and fibrous and contains coconut water and white coconut meat.
The strong and fibrous husk is used to create artisans. The fibers can also be used in several other ways.
The refreshing coconut water is rich in sugar, calcium, and vitamin C. It can be drunk directly from the coconut, or it can be served in a glass. It can also be mixed with rum to create interesting cocktails.
The white, soft pulp (coconut meat) adheres to the inner side of the husk. It is a great source for oil, proteins, sugar, minerals (calcium and iron), and vitamins (B1, B2, B3, and C). It can be eaten fresh, directly from the coconut using a spoon. In Nicaragua, this is also used to create ‘cajetas’ (some type of candy) and at the Caribbean Coast it is dried to be used in the kitchen as a substitute for oil.
The beautiful coconut palms can be medium-sized or very high, depending on the variety. Coconut trees grow coconuts year-round, producing about 8-15 coconuts per month. The palms are also used to create shade or as ornamental trees. Commercial production of this tree takes place mostly at the Caribbean Coast.
Cashews are extravagant fruits that have many different uses. They originate in tropical America, and the cashew fruit has one small but tough external nut. The fruit itself has a smooth exterior, similar to paprika. Scientifically, the small seed is the real fruit and the paprika-like ‘fruit’ is the peduncle (part that unites the fruit and the tree). In Nicaragua there are two types of cashew: yellow and red ones.
The seed, or nut, is the most valuable part. It is roasted to create a delicious, dry nut with high levels of oil and protein. During the peak season, there are many market vendors offering packages of cashew nuts, and in Managua there are street vendors selling them around traffic lights.
The paprika-like fruit of the cashew (in fact not the fruit) can be eaten as fresh fruit or it can be turned into a juice. It has a rather acid but tasteful flavor, and the juice should not be spilled because it can create hard-to-remove stains in clothes. This part of the cashew is also processed to create sweets and jellies, and it is fermented to produce wine and home-vinegar. It contains high levels of vitamin C, superior to levels in most other fruits.
This fruit grows on medium sized trees that start producing cashews after two years. This tree is found mostly at the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, and in certain parts of the Caribbean Coast. The peak season runs from December to April, with the highest peak near the end of this period.
References: “Frutas en Nicaragua”. Barbeau, Gérard. Editoral Ciencias Sociales, 1990. Managua, Nicaragua.