Fruit varieties in El Salvador: Tropical, unique, and sometimes even fuzzy

Since our delicious trip to Colombia in May 2019, so exactly five years ago, I hadn’t been this excited to try local fruit while traveling. El Salvador, being in Central America, has a warm, tropical climate, which then makes it a great place for delicious fruit that you cannot get (or at least, get easily) in the U.S. While they have the usual fruits you’d expect, such as mangoes, pineapples, and papayas (all were extremely sweet and delicious!), we also came across and tried some new and unique ones we’d never previously tasted.

Paternas: This is one of those fruits that may appear strange to you as a Westerner if you’ve never had it. It strongly resembles petai or “stink beans” in its pod-like structure, which is HUGE. When you split the green pod open, a row of white seeds is revealed. The seeds are all covered in a soft, white, almost fuzzy marshmallow-like coating. When you eat these, you’re meant to use your teeth and scrape the white fuzzy fruit off the seeds. While the seeds should not be consumed raw (they’re quite hard), Salvadorans like to have the seeds boiled and then eat them as a snack with salt and lemon juice. This was not our favorite, as it was a bit of work and not much flesh, but it did have an interesting sweet flavor, plus a unique fuzzy texture.

Mamones (mamon for singular): These are very sour, tangy round fruits the size of extra-large cherries with a huge pit inside. When you crack through the hard green shell, a pale salmon-pink colored flesh is revealed that is similar to that of a lychee. Some are more sweet than sour. Overall, I’d compare them to those hard warheads candies that rotted my teeth as a child: you suck on them and then spit them out. While you can certainly gnaw on the flesh, it will cause a bit of extra work for you later when you floss. Somehow, I managed to get through about three pounds of these mamones (Chris only ate about 5-6), which cost just $1 at the local market in Centro Historico! When I saw them, I remembered we had them on the road from Medellin to Guatape in Colombia. There, they are known as mamoncillo.

Mamey: These appear like the mamey in Mexico, but are a completely different fruit (Mexican mamey fruit is called sapote here in El Salvador). They have a hard, brown exterior that is rough, almost like a cross between sand paper and a mature brown coconut. Once it’s peeled, a deep red-orange flesh is revealed. It tasted like something between a mango and a papaya, with faintly sweet flesh. Some pieces were softer, while others were crunchy. We got a large bag of mamey already peeled and cut up for us at the market for $1.

Nances: These look like yellow or orange colored cherries and are of a similar size. I got a bag of these fruit from a road side fruit vendor, and I have a feeling they were not quite ripe, unfortunately. Though I have read that locals eat nances both ripe and unripe. The fruits we had purchased were already warm in a bag, and when I opened it, this very different, almost fermented smell started coming out that was reminiscent of durian in terms of its pungency. When I bit into them, they were extremely chalky in texture. I wish I had the opportunity to eat these ripe, but alas, you just can’t try everything everywhere!

Mangoes: Clearly mangoes are not a new fruit for us, as we are THE mango family and always will be. But I do know that the mangoes grown and sold in El Salvador are not like the ones we get in the U.S. or have tried in India or Australia. Though I have read the variety is called either Indian or Creole mango, all I know for sure is that all the mangoes being sold at the markets and fruit stands are all a deep red color, with splashes of deep yellow and orange. Salvadorans love to eat their mangoes almost ripe and just ripe, so when you buy them pre-peeled and cut, they are usually one of these options (or even very unripe and green!). It must be a cultural thing, as in India, they love their mangoes extremely ripe to the point where they are so juicy that they drip down your arms as you eat them. Here in El Salvador, mangoes are usually served topped with different hot chili flakes, lime, or different savory/salty toppings. But when we had ours twice, I only wanted the ripe plain mangoes and specified this to the vendors. Even the semi-ripe mangoes had a strong sweet fragrance that made my mouth water. These mangoes were ultra delicious: they had this really pleasant, firm, almost meaty texture when you bite into them. Then, when you start chewing, the flavor is strong, potent, and in-your-face. It reminded me of the flavor and sweetness of the Filipino dried (and sugared) mangoes I used to have as a treat when I was a child that my grandma would often buy for us. They were so addictive; both times we had them, I was so sad when I was on my last bite.

Coconuts: We stopped at a road side stall and I asked for coconut water from a fresh coconut. Here, the coconut is usually already cut open, the juice poured into a plastic bag with the young coconut meat shaven, then stored in an ice chest until it’s purchased. But when I went up to the stall, I asked if I could have a freshly cracked one. The vendor happily agreed. She went to another ice chest where she had fat green coconuts stored, hacked it open with a machete, proceeded to pour the glorious juice into a bit pitcher, shaved the thick coconut shavings out, and then placed it all (a bit precariously!) into a big plastic bag with a straw. To drink this, you needed to hold the bag and the straw; there was no placing the bag down on any surface, otherwise the juice would be lost! It was cool, sweet and incredibly refreshing. The young white coconut flesh pieces were so satisfying and meaty.

Papaya: We had this in juice form several times, and it was delicious and sweet, unlike the miserable hit-or-miss papayas back in the U.S. I happily ordered this during our times eating out. We also enjoyed it as part of the breakfast buffet at our hotel, where it was a welcome end to brekkie. I could eat this papaya every single day and be totally satisfied.

Fruit in El Salvador has been an adventure in itself. I always think of people who live in regions of the world like here and Colombia and wonder to myself: if they have the chance to come to the U.S., they must really feel sorry for us and how pathetic our fruit is. I still remember our guide in Guatape, Colombia, and how he said he’d been to the U.S. and found what we call “orange juice” absolutely atrocious.

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