Many of the tropical fruits that grow in Costa Rica change quickly and ripen just as the rainy season ends, but others, like the fruits below, ripen later in the summer. These mid-summer seasonal fruits include sandía, caimito, papaya, and guayaba.
Sandía / Watermelon (Citrillus Lanatus)
About: Watermelon is one of the Costa Rica’s most exported fruits, with a sweet and refreshing interior that fits into fruit salads, beverages, and is easily prepared as a standalone treat on a picnic or a day at the beach. Watermelon grows around the world and requires temperatures higher than 77 F to thrive, making it a primarily tropical fruit. The watermelon is a scrambling vine, which means that it spreads along the ground and foliage wherever it is supported, producing the large green or dark-green fruits along the way. In most areas of the world and Costa Rica, the watermelon has a rich red interior when ripe, although there are varieties that have a yellow interior as well.
Growth and Season: Watermelon are grown in well-drained tropical and subtropical soil, meaning that in Costa Rica they can be found and grown throughout the country in areas with moderate rainfall, like the Central Valley. Wherever they are found in the world, watermelons are at their ripest in the summer months, which means that Costa Rican watermelons are into full season around the turn of the new year.
Uses and Where to Find It: Thanks to its high density of water and vitamin C, watermelon is a refreshing treat for the warm sunny days of the Costa Rican summer. In Costa Rica, watermelon is often sliced and cubed for a fruit salad, sliced with the rind on to eat directly, or blended with a little of water and sugar into a replenishing and sweet drink. In town, you can find both jugo de sandía and fruit salads at Copper & Stone Gourmet Grocery.
Caimito / Star Apple (Chrysophyllum cainito)
About: Caimito, or Star Apple, is a tropical tree that originated in the West Indies and Greater Antilles before spreading to Central America. It is a fast-growing tree that reaches up to 20 m tall, with evergreen leaves that shine with a golden color from underneath. Fruits come in dark purple, greenish brown, and yellow, are 2-3in in diameter, and all varietals have a skin and rind that are both inedible. However, the inside of the fruit, with distinctive radiating star pattern, has a milky texture, is mild, slightly sweet and dense in nutrients and antioxidants.
Growth and Season: The caimito is hermaphroditic (self-pollinating), and tends to be adaptable to many different tropical climates, as long as the tree can avoid frost, meaning it can be found across Costa Rica. Caimito fruits come into season from January to March in Costa Rica.
Uses and Where to Find It: The flesh of the caimito has a sweet, mild flavor with a soft flesh, so the fruit is often served cut-open and chilled as an afternoon snack during the summers, eaten with a spoon straight out of the rind. Caimito is densely packed with nutrients like key antioxidants, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, B-6, and C, making it a good complement to breakfast, and a treat for after dinner. The best way to taste these fruit are through local farmers at ferias in the area.
Papaya / Papaya (Carica papaya)
About: The papaya, is the fruit of the tree of the same name, a 5 to 10 m tall, sparsely branched tree with spirally arranged leaves at the top of the trunk. The fruit itself ranges from larger (sometimes three or four pounds and almost 12in across) to smaller varieties (weighing less than a pound, and less than 5in across). From the outside, the papaya has a thin skin, then a layer of green or red-orange flesh (depending on ripeness) with a hollow interior filled with numerous seeds. The flesh is sweet, with a texture reminiscent of cantaloupe, while the seeds have a sharp, spicy taste, and are occasionally ground up and used as a replacement for pepper.
Growth and Season: Papaya grows best in dry tropical and subtropical climates, reaching full height and maturity in about 3 years, but cannot survive frost or any prolonged periods of standing water. As a result, they thrive in the coastal regions of the country with sandy, well irrigated soil, as well in mid elevations with the right blend of temperature and rainfall. It’s for this reason that papaya is most actively in season during the summer, where warmer temperatures and drier soil provides better conditions for them to produce fruit.
Uses and Where to Find It: Papaya is renowned for its high fiber and antioxidant contents, as well as its subtly sweet and adaptable flavor, which helps it complement meals from typical breakfast to late night snacks. In Costa Rica, one classic use of the papaya is the fresco de papaya, sometimes referred to as papaya en leche, a sweet, slightly thick beverage where milk is used for the fresco instead of water. It’s a slightly thick, sweet beverage that can both standalone or serve as an excellent base for a cocktail at the Beach Club. The unripe version of the papaya can also be grilled and used in salads and other cooking.
Guayaba / Guava (Psidium guajava)
About: The guayaba, known commonly in English as the guava, is the fruit of the flowering shrub by the same name, which has a tough outer rind and a soft inner pulp with a complex flavor like that of a less-tart mango, strawberry, and pear. Related closely to the myrtle, the guayaba ranges in size between a tree and a shrub, and also has bright white flowers.
Growth and Season: The guayaba has a wider range than many tropical fruits, and has shown to be frost resistant down to temperatures below freezing for short periods of time. As a result, it has been cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics, including as far north as parts of Florida, and a single tree can last up to 40 years if cultivated correctly. However, the guayaba does not resist standing water well, and as a result in Costa Rica the fruit tends to grow in mid-elevation and coastal climates.
Uses and Where to Find It: Thanks to its high levels of vitamin C, comparatively low caloric content, and subtly sweet and sour flavor, guayaba is often used as an ingredient in frescos, jams, jellies, and punches in Costa Rica, as well as a flavor for infusions to cooking. To find it in Las Catalinas, reach out town’s in-home dining team, who can use guayaba in a refreshing cocktail, a fruity dessert, or as a spread.
Taste These and More
Thanks to its wide variety of different climates, Costa Rica offers a gateway to taste many of the world’s tropical fruits grown fresh right in the country. To learn more about the many interesting fruits of the country, as well as how to prepare them, try one of town’s culinary experiences.