Situated in the Caribbean with a tropical climate and fertile soils, fresh fruit can be found growing throughout Cuba. What makes Cuban fruit particularly special?
Firstly, almost all of the tropical fruit on the island has been grown locally. As in very locally, probably within the region you are staying. In some places you can visit, such as Viñales, these fruits might have all been grown within a hundred metres from where you are seated.
Secondly, it is usually organic. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Cuba stopped receiving subsidised pesticides and insecticides. That means that today there are usually no chemicals used in the cultivation of the fruit.
On top of this, the fruits are very delicious. And healthy, of course. What more could you want?
There’s just one main catch. As the fruit is almost always locally sourced, you are at the behest of the harvest seasons. This means that when a fruit is not in season it is rarely going to be available to eat fresh, although you can still find most of them made into jams, pulps, or frozen for smoothies.
Fruit will be on virtually every menu you come across, especially as fruit salad, fruit juice, a cocktail ingredient, a breakfast item or used to flavour a desert. Additionally, fruit is sometimes used on main course dishes.
If you’re on the go and want to buy some fruit as a snack, you have a couple of options. One is to find a nearby "agromercado" (agricultural market). Alternatively, in bigger cities you’ll notice various people walking around with carts loaded with fruit. For both options, you’ll be buying at the local rate. Remember to confirm the price and the currency before paying. Most fruits are absolute bargains.
Here are 10 fruits to try during you visit.
Guava on its own can be delicious, but the seeds and texture may be a bit off-putting for some visitors. Sweetened with a little sugar, it can readily be enjoyed as delicious fruit smoothie. Guava is often turned into "timba", a guava paste used to flavour a whole host of sweet treats.
Mamey Sapote ("Mamey")
Mamey is grown in abundance in Central America, the Caribbean and some parts of Florida, but few other places. Seize the opportunity and try a fruit that, whilst probably unfamiliar, is likely to be appreciated. Mamey can be eaten on its own (though rarely is) and tastes particularly delicious when used in freshly made milkshakes (batidos), and also as an ice cream flavour.
This native fruit is most often found in its juiced form. Whilst soursop can be drank purely for pleasure, it’s also used for its medicinal properties, thought to be effective in helping combat a whole host of maladies.
Avocados in Cuba tend to be large, and due to the climate don’t take long to ripen in the warm air. The avocados in Cuba are a different variety to the hass avocados commonly found today in British supermarkets. More robust and with a lower fat content, they are usually served in chunks or slices on the table as an accompaniment to a meal. Unlike in nearby Mexico, it’s less common to find avocados mashed into a guacamole. Note, avocados are in season from June to December. Therefore if you are visiting between January and May, it is unlikely you will see many.
Grown year-round in abundance, Cuba is never lacking in bananas. They come in different sizes, the small ones tend to be particularly sweet. Whilst many Cubans slice bananas and use them as an accompaniment to main course meals, as a visitor you may find that bananas serve well as a snack. For just a few cents you can buy them on the street and give yourself a little boost.
The sister fruit of banana, though in Cuban Spanish carries the same name as banana - "plátano". To distinguish the two, banana can be called "plátano fruta" and plantain "plátano vianda". Unlike bananas, it is not recommended to eat plantains as they are. Instead, they need some form of cooking. One popular accompaniment made from plantain is "tostones". These are small pieces of plantain that are fried, crushed and re-fried. The result is very addictive - you have been warned!
Papaya ("Fruta Bomba")
Papayas in Cuba tend to be enormous. One papaya can easily feed a dozen people. It’s a very frequent ingredient in tropical fruit salads and as a fresh fruit item at breakfast. Note, if you are staying in Havana, or anywhere in Western Cuba, remember it goes by the name of "fruta bomba" and not "papaya". If you call it "papaya" it may generate a smile or a giggle, as the word "papaya" can have other connotations...
This can be very refreshing on a hot day, the watermelons tend to have a lot of seeds, but you should soon adjust. As with many of the other fruits, it is often available as a juice, and can occasionally be found as an ice cream flavour too.
When pineapple is served fresh, it often still includes the starchy core. Many people eat the core as well as the flesh, it is full of nutrients and fibre, though a tougher texture and a taste that is not so sweet. Pineapple is used to great effect in a lot of Cuban cocktails, sometimes in a frozen daiquiri always in a Havana Special. Pineapple is also used in cooking main course meals, and in more upmarket restaurants you’ll often find some type of pineapple chicken on the menu.
Mangos come in a range of sizes, from super small to super large. As well as being a very popular flavour for juices, smoothies and ice creams, it is also made into "mermelada de mango", a mango jam. Note, in Cuba the word mango can be used in a different context in which it means "a very attractive man", more on that here.
There are dozens more fruit that could be listed - from citrus fruits to plums, Cuba has a great supply, so enjoy!