Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

It’s a shame that on an island full of fruit trees getting fruits has to be such a struggle. Other than bananas, Florida oranges, old Belize papayas and tasteless Chilean grapes picked a month before, local supermarkets don’t even come close to showing off the amazing variety of fruits that grow on the island. Hunting down local fruits takes a bit of persistence and a bit of luck, but eating fruits that, just hours before, were hanging on a tree is a healthy pleasure.

It all started with my neighbor. He has a weak spot for guava fruit and he would often stop by our other neighbor’s property in search of guava. He would pick these tasty fruits right from their branches as he loved their tart-sweet taste. I soon discovered my own love for guava but as there was nowhere to buy guavas on the island I had to scour the nearby woods on the lookout for guava trees.

Knowledge about fruit trees is not universal. It’s something one usually acquires from elders while growing up. In fact, some of the fruit knowledge can be lost, as in the case of Jackfruit growing on Roatan. Most native islander’s don’t even know the name, let alone the nourishment, that large jackfruit can provide. The English brought Jackfruit to the Caribbean in 1800s and some were planted on Roatan. The jackfruit tree, cousin to breadfruit, produces the world’s largest tree borne fruit weighing in at a maximum of almost 100 lbs. It can be used to make custards and cakes, but it is mostly neglected on the island.

Breadfruit is my favorite side to most meals. Why even have potatoes or rice if you can have a nicely sautéed, roasted, boiled or fried breadfruit. Breadfruit arrived here via Jamaica from South Pacific with British Captain Bligh in 1791. The British wanted to provide a source of high-energy food for the slaves and their answer was breadfruit.

Some of the fruit knowledge can be lost, as in the case of jackfruit

Beside coconuts, mangoes are probably the most plentiful fruit on Roatan today. The mature mango trees produce fruits by the bucket and during the season, the entire island fills with the aroma of sweet, decomposing mangoes. One of my favorite commuting experiences is to ride my car with open windows across a mango orchard in Corozal. There are probably a hundred mango trees there and when they are producing fruit in June and July the smell is irresistible. There are so many of them that crushed orange skins cover most of the road.

Noni fruit is quite abundant and recognized for its cancer fighting abilities. Yet most nonis end up rotting, never picked from the ground. I’ve seen it sold in stores in bottles at around $10 a liter. Small price to pay for a tricky tasting fruit that many say can keep cancer at bay.

An English woman friend insists that eating 13 papaya seeds daily will keep the doctor away by fighting stomach bugs and infections. The crunchy papaya seeds yield a peppery flavor. The fruit itself is known to help with digestion because of its high concentration of the enzyme papain. On Roatan papaya can grow to a healthy size, sometimes approaching the size of watermelons. They are sweet, fresh, and really healthy.

Occasionally one can stumble across a person selling mamey apple, an orange fruit with a taste of a crushed carrot. This is a delight. This Central American native plant is now grown all over the world: from Africa to the USA, but it remains a rarity on the island.

While not always easy to find, all these spectacular fruits are available on the island. I hope a farmers market or on-line fruit exchange will be viable soon. This could provide a win-win way for mango tree owners to swap for avocados and guavas.