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The Caribbean’s natural bounty is legendary, with tropical fruit and vegetables that grace tables and kitchens around the world. Across a million square miles of ocean you’ll find every shade of the familiar and the exotic.
Here are some of the best Caribbean products, including details on how they may be prepared:
Breadfruit – High in protein, fiber and potassium, easy to cultivate and versatile in its uses, breadfruit has been touted as the latest ‘superfood’. It’s ubiquitous across the Caribbean and can mashed, boiled, steamed and fried – the challenge is that it’s frankly pretty bland. Luckily butter and salt work wonders, as do the region’s vast array of spices.
Fungi – If you think you know this one, think again. Pronounced ‘foon-jee’, it’s cooked cornmeal, similar to polenta, and one of the staple dishes of Antigua. It’s often served with okra and saltfish, another Antiguan staple.
Mamey – Appearances can be deceptive and the brown skin of this fruit looks like a nut. Delve inside however and its pinkish flesh tastes somewhere between a mango and sweet potato. It’s versatile too, usually eaten raw, but increasingly used in sweets from mousses and flans or even milkshakes. Found from southern Mexico to Costa Rica, it’s a particular favourite in Cuba.
Mango – To the surprise of many, mango is officially the world's most commonly eaten fruit. Originating from South Asia, there are more than 2,000 varieties with hundreds in the Caribbean. On the tiny island of Grenada there are 77 varieties alone. It needs no introduction to professional or home chefs, while the nuances between the varieties mean it can be used in countless ways.
Genips - Also known as Spanish limes, genips are tiny fruit that grow on trees up to 90 ft tall, meaning people often climb up or throw sticks up to knock them down. When the fruit fall, you break the thin green skin and eat the peach-colored flesh off the white seed. Slightly tart when ripe, you don’t want to eat it when unripe.
Taro - Taro is a light purple vegetable that can be roasted, baked or boiled, with a naturally sweet and nutty flavour. Both the leaves and stems of young taro plant can also be boiled and eaten. As Taro can be grown in flooded conditions, such as paddy fields, it is again found across the Caribbean and on the island of Dominica they call it Dasheen, using it one of their most popular dishes, Callalloo.
Bilimbi – This non-native fruit – they’re originally from Indonesia – are nevertheless commonly found in back yards in Jamaica. They look like small cucumbers or squash, but is a very sharp and juicy pulp with a handful of yellow seeds. It can be used as a souring agent in cooking, often in the place of tamarind, while in Costa Rica it’s served in a relish alongside rice and beans.
Cassava – One of the more familiar Caribbean vegetables, cassava is also known as yucca and manioc elsewhere in the world. It’s grown for its starchy root that can be so bitter as to be used to ward off animals. Proper boiling loses any toxins however, allowing it to be cooked like potatoes, especially when deep-fried. Its most well-known rendition comes from cassava that has been dried, when it’s known as tapioca.