What is an ice cream bean?

Icecream bean 2

If you don’t know what an ice cream bean is, don’t worry . . . you’re not alone.

While immensely popular in its native habitat in South America (villages even hold competitions to see who can find the biggest ice cream bean pods), it doesn’t enjoy the same celebrity status here in Australia, where it grows wild in the tropical north.

It’s a shame because the white, spongy flesh inside the seed pods is delicious!

So named because the flavour has been described as similar to vanilla ice cream, I think it’s closer to that of a custard apple.

It’s soft and spongy in texture and the juice that comes out when you chew it is quite sweet.

The pods that contain the edible flesh look like vanilla beans on steroids! Most are well over one metre long and dangle in clusters from the tree.

Icecream bean 5

The ones to pick are those that are just starting to turn from yellow to brown. If they ripen too much, they will start to ferment.

When this happens you’ll know by the smell, it’s quite strong!

Immature pods are green.

When ripe, simply tear open the pod to expose the white flesh inside that encases large, shiny black seeds. The seeds aren’t edible, so don’t try them.

The flesh comes away easily and makes a very tasty snack.

It’s the perfect tropical treat for a hungry forager!

Icecream bean 1

Here in Tropical North Queensland, you’ll find this large tree growing wild near waterways, roads and rainforest edges.

They fruit in summer (trees are laden with pods at the moment) and are a great snack if you’re visiting one of the wonderful rainforest creek swimming holes we have in the Wet Tropics region and there happens to be a tree growing nearby.

Just remember to please dispose of the seeds thoughtfully, as they are not native to this country and we don’t want to help them spread.

In South America, the indigenous people of the Amazon use it extensively for food, timber, shade, medicine and also to produce an alcoholic drink known as cachiri.

It’s popular in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Its scientific name is Inga edulis and is also known as cuaniquil, guama and guaba.

Have you ever tried an ice cream bean before?

Post a  comment below if you have. I’d love to know how they are eaten in other tropical countries where they have also been introduced.

Know any interesting recipes that use them? Then please share.

So there you go, you won’t be asking the question what is an ice cream bean? anymore!

Thanks for reading this story and I hope you enjoyed it.

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  1. Sandra Dibbs

    I live here in the Wet Tropics and would like to try the Ice Cream Bean…are there any publicly accessible plants in the Port Douglas/Daintree region that you know of?


    • justin day

      No, I’ve never spent much time in your area. They are pretty common along the banks of small creeks and cane farm drains in the Cassowary Coast region. I’d start looking in those areas.
      Thanks for your comment and let me know if you have any luck finding them.



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