Limoncillo was brought to the island in pre-Columbian times and thrives in the Caribbean.It is small round fruit about the size of a lime. The color is green to yellow and has a hard, thin, leathery skin. Inside the skin you will find a yellow to pinkish, cantaloupe colored almost slimy, translucent flesh. This bittersweet layer of flesh is covering a large brown, hard seed. It is a real treat and the flavor is quite nice, even though there is a little work to removing it from the shell and the seed. But it is worth it and sort of fun to eat.
How to eat Limoncillos – First you have to crack the skin. Usually a little finger nail or a bite will achieve this, and it does make a little crack sound. Then push the insides into the mouth. Make sure not to get any of the juice on your clothes. It does stain. Proceed by moving the fruit around inside the mouth, manipulating it so as to remove the somewhat slimy flesh from the large seed in the center. It does not look pretty at first but once you master this the flesh removal process can go fast. After the flesh is removed spit the seed.
When spitting be careful, they are a little large and can hurt (I like to aim them at the garbage can and see if I can hit it. Makes it a little more challenging. LOL/jeje!). The next step is to start the process all over and go for another.
It is also used to make juice, jellies and other tasty items.
The fruit is usually available in July and August. It can be bought on the street in bunches connected by small branches tied with a little twine or grass. A must try!
Tamarindo / Tamarind is a fruit originally from Africa where it grows wild. The tree is a slow growing type of evergreen that can get quite large. The fruit is sweet with a very ugly appearance. It was introduced to Central America around the 16th century and it has thrived ever since. Though ugly in appearance, they taste much better than they look (when I first saw this fruit it looked to me to be a dirty pod type thing). The pod is ugly and does not look appetizing. The fruit is the same, quite ugly. Yet when you get past its ugliness and taste the sweetness its appearance seems to change to not be quite so unattractive.
The tamarindo fruit grows in pods on the tree. This pod has a brown shell covering the brown fruit that in turn covers the seeds inside. When the pod is mature it turns a dirty brown. It is filled with seeds, usually between 3 to 6. These seeds are surrounded by a brown, fibrous pulp. When it is ripe the shell of the pod is sort of brittle and can be removed easily. It breaks off and sometimes just falls of when touched roughly. The inside, surrounding the seeds, is the sticky pasty pulp. This is the edible part. It is sweet and yet sour, acidy and pungent. It is high in Vitamin B and Calcium and can make you a bit relaxed or even tired.
Tamarinds are good eaten fresh and plain. In Dominican Republic the pulp is used to make a wonderful beverage that when mixed with sugar and water is very refreshing. It can be used for cooking and makes a great sauce, jelly and candy. You can also find it in many stores throughout the country in bags with the shell already removed.
Moringa can be found in most of the markets and on the streets of the Dominican Republic. People will be walking around carrying what looks like a bunch of weeds selling them to eager customers. They want to use this fast growing plant for its miraculous healing attributes. It is one of the most nutritious trees in the world.
Much of the plant is edible by both humans and animals. The leaves are rich in protein, minerals and Vitamins A, B and C. According to Wikipedia feeding the high protein leaves to cattle has been shown to increase weight gain by up to 32% and milk production by 43 to 65%. The seeds contain 30 to 40% oil that is high in oleic acid, while degreased meal is 61% protein. The defatted meal is a flocculant and can be used in water purification to settle out sediments and undesirable organisms.
It is said to help relieve symptoms of AIDS, reduce high blood pressure, lower blood sugar, increase breast milk production, help cure anemia, to help with diarrhea and dysentery.
Noni Fruit can be found in the markets throughout Dominican Republic. The tree grows wild throughout the country as well. The plant bears flowers and fruits all year round. It is very stinky when it is ripe with a sort of smelly foot or even vomit odor. It starts out green then ripens to a yellowish-white color and is semi-soft to the touch. If you can get past the stink of the fruit is edible either raw or cooked and the many seeds can be roasted as well.
People say the juice of the Noni fruit is very beneficial providing energy and is also said to be a great antioxidant and boosts the bodies natural healing process.
For me, I have tried to eat the fruit. I have tried juicing the fruit even trying to mask it with other sweet fruits to hide the taste and smell. A friend told me that after time he got used to eating Noni right off the tree and he likes it. I figure that there are other fruits that have the same benefits that do not smell like rotting flesh or stinky feet so I will pass but really, you should give it a try and see how you feel about Noni fruit. (FYI – Noni is also sold in pill form for those who want the nutrition but cannot handle the smell)
Almendra / Almond is an edible nut grown on very large tropical trees. These trees are great for sitting under on very hot days as the shade them make is wonderful, just watch out for falling nuts.
These trees produce flowers that are both male and female in the same tree. The fruit turns from green to yellow and then to red when it is ripe. The outside red covering is soft and has to be removed to get to the hard shell inside. This shell needs to be cracked open to get to the single seed inside.
These seeds or nuts are not as big as the traditional cooking almond. These nuts are long and thin but they still taste great. You can purchase them along the streets and in shops in Dominican Republic. They usually are roasted and salted. If you go to Palinque Beach you can usually find someone always selling these nuts in small bags that they picked and roasted themselves to make their living.
Papaya/ Lechosa is a fruit grown on large trees in tropical climates. There are male and female trees and their offspring are the sweet fruit papaya. Here in Dominican Republic it is called lechosa. It is a large fruit green when unripe. When the fruit is ripe and ready for eating it is soft and yellow with some darker spots here and there. It is best eaten plain and is quite juicy. One of the best ways to serve it is to blend it with some milk or carnation and ice. This is really tasty. The little black seeds inside are sometimes eaten, they have a little of a spicy taste. They are used as a substitute for pepper when dried and ground.
Sweet papaya known in Dominican Republic as lechosa
Mavi also spelt Mabi (pronounced Ma-Vee or sometimes Ma-Bee), is a staple in the Caribbean. This drink is made from the bark of the Mabi tree is also known as mabetree, soldierwood or seaside buckthorn. This bark is rich in glucosides (what is that you may ask? wikipedia definition here) The bark is removed from the tree and boiled to make a tea. Sugar, usually raw or turbanado sugar is best as it has a little hint of molasses to it. Many make this tea into the fermented drink by adding some yeast and letting it sit for a few days uncovered. It can also be made into a non-fermented drink as well. It is said to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and to make men more potent.
In Dominican Republic Mavi is usually made locally and can be purchased in the Colmados and corner markets. It can be found in most any type of bottle as the maker uses what is available. It is very refreshing and can be sometimes potent so beware.
Aguacate/ Avocado The Avocado of Dominican Republic is usually quite large and has a much different taste than the ones on the grocery shelves that most people are accustomed to eating. When this creamy, nutty flavored fruit (yes it is a fruit not a vegetable) is in season it can be found in abundance in every market, on the streets and in most restaurants.
Dominicans use this beautiful green colored fruit on salads or just eaten plain with a little límon/ lime-lemon to accompany any meal, soup or stew. Make a sandwich using this fruit on some pan de auga and you will be quite pleased. Aguacate is also used in many cosmetic preparations. Just remember, it is fattening (about 75% of an avocado’s calories come from fat) so don’t over indulge. Avocados have more potassium than bananas, have the highest fiber content of any fruit and are rich in B, E and K vitamins. They are also known to lower the bad cholesterol and help with the good HDL levels.
Guineo/ Banana (the sweet type of fruit you can eat raw) – Platano/ Plantain (the hard fruit that is very starchy and needs to be cooked) are some of the most recognizable fruits of the world.
Here in Dominican Republic we love our bananas. These large, big leaved plants can produce many fruits. They taste better here in Dominican Republic
because they are ripened right on the plant and not picked green like the ones shipped to other destinations. Choose a red, yellow or green banana/ guineo that can be eaten without cooking. Try a green to yellow platano that needs to be cooked to be eaten either plain or served in many imaginative forms. A fresh sweet yellow banana, nothing tastes or smells better. For platano cooking information check out our recipes page.
Piña/ Pineapple The pineapple can be found growing in Dominican Republic. They are vine ripened so this makes them taste so much better than ones you get outside of the country. They can be purchased in almost any spot in the country. Vendors always seem to have them either whole or cut for you to enjoy right on the spot. Do not be afraid to eat the core as it is soft and sweet just like the outside fruit.
Mango is a well-known fruit that grows on a tall tree. The tree does make lots of fruits that are very sweet and juicy. There are many different varieties of mangos grown in DR
The mango makes for some messy eating and it is well worth the mess. I suggest eating it with a knife instead or just biting into the fruit. This way you get all the juice in your mouth and not down the arm. Also the pulp is very stringy and if you don’t have dental floss or a toothpick handy you will be
digging at your teeth all day trying to remove the little fibers from between and this can get annoying. These fruits are wonderful and refreshing so please do not pass them up. They make a wonderful juice with some ice, milk, and a little sugar in a blender. I live to freeze this milk shake type drink for a freshening icy treat.
Yuca (pronounced jooka in Dominican Republic) is also called manioc or cassava root. The botanical name is Manihot esculenta. Not to be confused with yucca which is another plant entirely. Originally from brought South America, it is a woody evergreen shrub ranging in height from 6 to 8 feet tall. It grows well in tropical areas. The leaves can be used ground and are also used as herbal remedies. The new flowers can also be eaten. The roots or tubers, remind me of a giant, long, hard potato mixed with a deformed pithy carrot, are picked by hand. The entire shrub needs to be pulled from the ground and the tubers removed and there are usually many of these tubers on a plant. This root is 2 to 3 inches around and can be from 6 to 12 inches (I’ve seen longer) long. It can even look like a kid size, deformed baseball bat. One plant can produce many tubers. The tubers of the sweet yuca are a little smaller that the bitter variety. It grows fast, is plentiful, and can grow from the roots left in the ground or by placing one of the tubers back into the hole where the plant was pulled (just like a potato).
The two main types of Yuca are the bitter and the sweet. The bitter needs to be rinsed well to remove the poisons and the sweet can just be boiled or eaten raw if so desired.
The tuber is brown on the outside and has a white to cream colored hard flesh on the inside. They don’t have a long shelf life so make sure to put them in the fridge and use them within a few days. As soon as the white flesh is exposed to air it will start turning black. Usually the roots that are purchased in the stores are covered in wax or frozen.
Pealing is a real chore (you can cheat by put them in the microwave for a few minutes or boiling with the skin on for a short time as this can make the pealing process a little easier). First make sure you have a sharp knife, as this tuber is quite hard and difficult to peal. Since it is so hard cutting it into smaller sections makes the job easier. As you peal the sections make sure to keep the pealed sections in water so they don’t turn brown. Peel the brown outside layer and the thin layer that is between the skin and the flesh. I find it is easier to boil the tubers in salted water for a short time to soften them up a bit, and then peal them. You can remove the core if it is yucky and stringy, if not leave it.
The sweet yucca, after it is cooked, can be eaten as is. I like to pan fry the cooked pieces and get them a little crispy. They are also great cut into strips and deep fried like french fried potatoes. They can be used like a potato and are good in stews and soups. These starchy tubers are an important ingredient in Sancocho. Yuca can be used to thicken up soup just as a potato does. Get some yuca recipes here
The original inhabitants of the island, the Taino Indians, made a bread using the bitter yucca root. Casabe or Cassava bread is made much the same way then as it is now. It is a Dominican cuisine staple and is a much-desired accompaniment for many typical Dominican dishes. With the commercial preparation of this traditional bread it is again becoming an everyday and readily available food. In the past this bread was made by the locals and distributed only locally by the homemakers that worked hard to make this labor intensive staple. This was a way to make money for their families. Now it is made commercially and is readily available throughout the island. It is even shipped to USA and elsewhere.
To make the Casabe the bitter yucca root must be prepared correctly, as the root is poisonous (containing hydrocyanic acid). The outside brown skin and the hard white layer underneath are pealed away. The core is also discarded and only the inner white flesh is used. The inner white flesh is grated using guayos. Then is soaked. The juice must be squeezed out either in a long canoe type vessel called a matapee or wrung out in a towel to remove the poisonous starch. It is then dried slightly in the open air. Then it needs to be pounded and sifted to make a flour. This flour is then spread on a large, heated, flat round iron pan or mold about 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Then it is baked atop a special shaped oven, called a buren griddle, until set using moderate heat. It is then flipped over and cooked until done and left to dry in the sun until it is crispy.
Casabe bread is high in vegetable fiber, starch, calcium and Vitamin C. It has a very low fat content and is also low in protein. It is can be eaten by persons who are gluten intolerant. This thin, hard round bread can keep for many months without getting stale or moldy. It is used to accompany many Dominican dishes. It is a must have with Asopao/ Soup and Sancocho (I like to just drop it in and let it get soft). It is great baked with a little green (olive) oil and salt. It can be used like a tortilla chip and dipped into just about any dip one could imagine because of its subtle flavor. Slap on some jam and use it like bread. Toast it and use it for dunking in coffee, tea or cocoa. There are so many ways to use this versatile food.
Cacao/ Cocoa the cocoa we all know and love either hot, cold or made into wonderful sweet goodies and even liquors. Almost everyone loves chocolate in some form or another.
Cacao is a tall tropical tree that can reach 4 to 12 meter height; the cacao tree produces more or less 150 fruits every year. These fruits are long oval pods called cacao pods. The pod color varies from yellow to orange. Inside this pod are an average of about thirty cocoa beans. A white glutinous pulp covers each bean and is quite tasty when you pop it into your mouth and suck on it. This pulp leads to the first fermentation when placed in the sun to dry. You can see these beans drying in many places in the country, even along country streets laid out on tarpaulins or in large covered beds. They are constantly being moved to get them to dry. Then they are picked over to clear out the inferior beans. These dry beans are then cleaned, roasted and crushed into a powder. When you pass by cacao drying you can get the sent of the aromatic bean drying in the sun. With each step the smell gets more intense.
Dominican Republic is the perfect place for the cultivation and development of cacao because of the rich, fertile soil and the favorable climate. Individual farmers and large corporations grow cacao trees alike. The best cocoa beans in the country are grown in the Cibao Valley, San Francisco de Macoris, and Santiago. Dominican Republic produces two types of cocoa beans, the Hispaniola (about 4% production) and the Sanchez (about 96% production) varieties.
Cocoa beans/ Cacao is a very nutrient rich and complex food. Cacao is considered by some experts to be the best antioxidant food and has the highest source of magnesium of any food. The chocolate contains A1, B1, C, D, E vitamins and iron. The cacao beans are used to produce cocoa butter used in many cosmetic applications. The Aztecs considered the cacao tree as a paradise tree.
Dominican Republic is currently one of the chief producers of organic cocoa in the world when they started marketing their product as early as the 1980’s.