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.
More posts on forest gardening + perennial food crops are here…
Have you grown or eaten ice cream beans? Got any tips on cultivation or recipes to share? We’d love to hear…
They are delicious
What a remarkable sounding tree! Another legume with consumable fruit.
I am probably too frosty (-6C last winter but can go to -9C) here to even think about trying to grow one though I am onto my second banana bunch now and have had 2 pineapples in the last 3 years.
A question; is the “white fluffy stuff” wet or dry?
Enjoy your great find.
“white fluffy stuff” is more wet than dry. Have not heard of any weed potential up here in the wet Wet tropics on the southern Atherton tablelands (altitude 750m, so light frosts possible in the area but not on our place, though I know they grow in frostier areas). Grow easily and vigorously, we’ve planted them randomly between our fruit trees and chop into them once or twice a year as a great source of mulch, sadly this means no beans but they are easy to source locally.
Yes, this is a yummy plant, but is widely known to be a weed in NSW. You can find details of it easily on various weeds committee websites. It is weedy down to the Hunter and possibly will naturalise even further south in ideal climates. It is distributed by birds and bats, so probably a good one to avoid, if you can.
It’s SO unfair that we don’t have these in Canada! Anyone up for sneaking some ice cream beans in their suitcase the next time they visit rellies in the Vancouver area??? 😉
That is not Inga edulis. Looks to be Inga feuilleei or another Inga sp. Inga edulis has 3′ long or longer rounded pods. The flavor of edulis is also better, but feuilleei is also good.
Hi, I am in Hazelbrook in Blue mountains and my young icecream bean trees seem very little bothered by frost (which can be fairly hard at this time of year in my mostly exposed garden up on the ridge). The only one that is struggling is growing in grass and very exposed and dry. The others in average garden soil and location are very exhuberant.
interesting + excellent news 🙂
Hi 🙂 How do i know when they’re ready to pick off the tree? I’m keen to eat them when they’re good and ripe – there’s so many around here right now!
pick a few, and you’ll soon get a feel for it 🙂
Inga is also used for alley cropping, planting trees in rows with 50cm to 1m spacing and 4m between the rows. The inga is cut at chest height each year and the leaves and small branches are used as mulch for 3 rows of crops in between the inga rows.
After the crop is harvested the inga is allowed to close up the canopy again and the trees are cut again the next year…
Awesome, thanks Andew 🙂