It’s the kind of thing you might dream as a kid to find in a back lane – a tree loaded with bean-like pods full of sweet, fluffy ice-cream-ish tasting fruit.
And guess what? They exist! Behold the awesomeness of the ice cream bean, or Guama – Inga edulis.
Originating from Central and South America and with many, many variations of pod length and colour, the ice cream bean seems to be beloved by kids (and adults) in every country that it’s grown.
In its various local lingos, its called the guama (and in Panama, I’ve been strictly informed that it is the correct ‘guava’ and what we call guava is… something else). My kid calls it the yum bean.
The pods are filled with black seeds (which are also edible – typically boiled and/or ground to flour – didn’t taste that great raw though) which are covered in a fluffy, white flesh.
It’s the fluffy white seed coating that everyone loves – you have to kindof suck/chew it off each seed, and yes it does taste like vanilla ice cream, in it’s smoothness and sweetness.
As a bonus, this tree crop is potentially nitrogen fixing, grows from seed and grows quickly.
It should be planted with caution in warmer parts of Australia though, as it is listed on various Northern NSW sites as a potential weed species.
Inga edulis – Ice Cream Bean
- Originates from Central + South America
- Important food crop of the Incas and many Amazonian peoples
- Germinates easily from seed (plant immediately after eating white bit)
- Grows quickly, with potentially nitrogen-fixing nodules on roots
- Grows in tropical + sub-tropical locations + suitable microclimates
- Doesn’t like frost, or drought (typical of many rainforest trees)
- Lifespan of approximately 30 years
- Reported companion plants: banana passionfruit
- Can be fermented to make chichuri – similar to perry
Seems like an excellent plant for anyone setting up a forest garden or perennial food supply in a suitable climate!
Growing + sourcing resources:
Considering how easily it germinates, asking around and getting some seeds (or seedlings from beneath an established tree) would be our first suggestion.
Check with your local community garden if you live somewhere that it would grow.
We got our hoard of ice cream beans home and our 6 year old promptly gobbled the lot of them with a look of I-can-barely-believe-it joy on his face (poor sugar-limited child that he is). Must hide some next time.
Yum! Well, rest assured that we are now stewarding many small black pots of soil and ice cream bean seeds out the back. Fingers crossed.
Big thanks to Ali from Happy Earth for leading me to the Port Kembla Community Laneway Arboretum, and to the Port Kembla community for planting good stuff for everyone.
Have you grown or eaten ice cream beans? Got any tips on cultivation or recipes to share? We’d love to hear…