Tropical Delights

Sometimes it is interesting to see some of our most common foods in their pre-processed earth-growing forms. Here is a fun look at a few of the food delights I have seen while birding in tropical countries.

The food plant I have seen the most in my tropical birding travels: bananas.

Genus Musa. Bananas grow in a wide variety of soils and are harvested in 135 countries.

The largest herbaceous plant, a banana plant is typically about 16 feet (5m) tall. There is a large pink flower or inflorescence that emerges from the plant where the bananas grow.

Although I would never venture into plantations on my own, local bird guides, familiar with surroundings and people, often take Athena and I into the fields.

In the Amazon, our guide led us through this banana plantation, below, as we headed for a bird blind. We were on a mission to spot macaws at the river bank. We took a shortcut through rows of these bananas. They are the most common cultivar, the Cavendish, the species most of us buy from the grocery store.

Lucky for us, we found the macaws too.

Interestingly, a few days after our macaw experience, our motorized canoe passed by these bananas being transported on their way to market.

This euphonia bird, in Belize, is eating the banana seeds he successfully wrangled out of the banana.

While the banana is one of the most recognizable food items in the world, there are few people who would ever know that these red pods are what chocolate is made from.

Years earlier, while birding in Belize, we first saw yellow pods hanging in the trees. In a flash, our guide Glen had kicked off his shoes, climbed a tree, and brought down a yellow pod. None of us knew what it was.

It is a cocoa pod. They come in various colors, depending on the species and maturity.

As Glen opened the pod, he enthusiastically explained he had done this frequently as a kid. It was impressive how quickly and deftly he climbed up that tree.

Making chocolate starts with the pod. They are cut from the tree with a machete, and the beans are extracted from the pod. There are 30-50 beans in each pod. The beans go through an elaborate process of fermentation, drying, roasting and more.

We tasted the beans, but it was nothing like chocolate. In fact, for one like me who is a chocolate lover, I chose to forget the taste.

Coffee, like chocolate, also goes through a lot of processing.

It starts in the field with a worker, like this Mexican man with his basket and machete. We were in this plantation marveling at parrotlets, soon after dawn, when he came through to start his work day.

Shade-grown crops, like this coffee plantation (below) in Belize, are an environmentally sound way to grow crops. You can see there are tall trees in the same land parcel as the short coffee plants. This way the coffee can grow without obliterating the surrounding forest.

These toucans, in this field, were happy about that.

This is one of the coffee plants up close. You can see the coffee berries in clumps in the center.

Between exporting and explorers, there have been many centuries of trading and transporting exotic foods. In tropical islands like Hawaii, we see many unique foods that originated in Southeast Asia like star fruit and rambutan.

While birding in a historic churchyard on the Big Island of Hawaii, we came across these star fruit.

When you cut a cross section of the fruit, the pieces are star-shaped.

Rambutans, too, are a plant that originated in Southeast Asia but also grows well in Hawaii.

Friendly surfers on a Kauai roadside sold us tasty rambutans.

It is a red tropical fruit with soft, hair-like spikes, seen in the center of the plate below. Easy to find all over Hawaii.

Pineapples and papayas are also easy to find all over Hawaii, both originally from the Americas.

This gecko is waiting for the day when the papayas will be ripe.

We are lucky in my home state of California where conditions provide a rich variety of crops. But I will have to cover that another time.

Whether you’re traveling or birding or simply cruising your own back roads, there are often crops or plants around us providing food to humans or other earth-dwelling inhabitants.

Cheers to a marvelous planet on which we live, providing sunshine, soil, rain and oxygen.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

74 thoughts on “Tropical Delights

  1. A colourful treat, I enjoyed your WordPress fruit salad this morning, reading it as I drank a cup of coffee. Interesting to learn how many processes there are from bean to chocolate. I read an article yesterday about how caffeine is a hidden addiction for millions of people, and decided I am definitely an addict. Cheerfully so. I’m over fond of avocados and coconuts now I think about it. Oh well…
    Thanks for this, Jet, another enjoyable piece praising the natural wonders of our planet!

    • Oh how delightful to read your comment, pc, thank you. I am so glad I could provide you with this fruit salad this morning with your breakfast. It is really fun to see these luscious foods in the fields, gives an appreciation for how much goes into our lovely foods. Sending you my best wishes and smiles for a fun weekend, pc.

  2. Great photos! I remember the first time I tried Cocoa pods in Costa Rica. It was pretty interesting to learn about how that pod becomes the common chocolate.

    • It’s an enlightening experience to come across cocoa pods, isn’t it, Mark S? I am glad you have had the opportunity, and how great that you have had CS adventures. Thanks so much for your visit today.

    • Thanks, Jan, I agree, it is amazing how some foods are developed. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of fresh wonderful fruits in your Hawaiian travels, too. Thanks so much. I hope you’re staying cool today….

    • What a pleasure, Walt, to receive your warm words. It was great fun sharing a few of the delightful foods in the tropics. I am hoping your trip to CR will present you with great foods, too. Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I hear the coffee there is espec. wonderful. Many thanks and cheers to you.

    • It’s incredible how chocolate and coffee can be generated out of beans, and since you have been around the production of both, Mike, you must have some good stories. My warmest thanks.

  3. This is fascinating, Jet. I really enjoyed the way the bananas grow and the photos of the birds, the macaws especially. I’ve experienced seeing the cacao pods and trying the white stuff inside. No one in our group was willing to try, so I did but yes, chocolate is so much better. πŸ™‚ As we know from sci-fi movies, you really need to avoid large pods, particularly if they’re slimy, which cacao pods aren’t (but the insides sort of are.) Thanks for a delightful post.


    • I had a good LOL, Janet, with your comment and the wise warning to avoid large pods. I’m really glad you enjoyed the tropical delights today, thanks so much for your visit and fun comment.

    • It was a great day and great time watching the macaws, Cindy. They come into the river banks in that one spot to extract the clay, which has minerals they need. Thanks very much, my friend.

  4. I definitely need a redo in Belize!! πŸ˜€You’ve seen so many delightful birds, and critters in the tropics, and the fruits!!! I didn’t know cocoa pods were red!! I learn something new every day from bloggers.
    Thanks for teaching me something new today, Jet!

  5. I love all fruits! Most of them are mentioned in this post. When I was just a kid I always questioned the reason why a 90% of all trees were not fruit trees instead of just regular trees.
    Your post is excellent, as always. Thanks, Jet. πŸ™‚

    • Oh so wonderful to have you stop by, H.J. I love all fruits too, and what a bonanza when we get to the tropics where they’re fresh and warm and so tasty. Funny that when you were a kid you believed almost all the trees should be fruit trees. Seems like a logical thought to me, too. Many thanks and cheers to you.

  6. I feel kind of dumb for not knowing this since I eat one almost every day, but I did not know bananas grew in that orientation. I pictured them hanging down instead.

    • I agree, Diana, the way bananas actually grow is eye-opening. Unless you see them under the banana leaves, you would never guess they grow that way. So how wonderful that I could share this new fact with you today. Thanks so very much for stopping by.

  7. So much familiarity. The birds and fruits and trees. I guess tropical (or sub-tropical) areas
    paint much the same picture. There are wonderful differences Jet. The cocoa for one.
    Such a delight to learn about. Thank you very much Jet and Alexander.
    Love to you both! Eddie

    • I am glad to hear you enjoyed the Tropical Delights, Eddie. I know you live in Florida where you enjoy much of the same delights, so I’m glad you still enjoyed these. It was a pleasure to compose it, and equally as fun to share it with you, dear Eddie. Thanks very much.

  8. Of all the things I miss about Liberia and West Africa generally, the fruits rank right up there. Bananas arrived by the whole stalk, carried on the head of a small boy; they could be had for two dollars. Usually, two or three of us would split a stalk, since the bananas tended to ripen at the same time. I miss the papayas most. They were called paw-paw (totally unrelated to the American version) and some could be as large as watermelons. We often cut the big ones in half and used them as containers for fruit salads, much as people do here with watermelon. Your cocoa-pod fetcher reminded me of the boys who’d climb trees to get coconuts for us; they could scramble like monkeys, and charged a nickel a coconut.

    The other thing I remember is palm wine. The process of getting it was simple: climb a palm drive in a tap, and hang a bucket. Eventually, you’d have enough watery liquid to pass around to everyone. What was interesting was that fermentation took place continually. The first ‘wine’ was quite light, but after a couple of days, it would be yeasty enough to use in bread baking. In the villages, no one worried about what fell into the bucket, and there were times when little creatures needed to be strained out with the teeth!

    • A truly engaging account of your tropical delights in Liberia and W. Africa, Linda. The many different ways the various fruits were harvested and consumed, as well as how they were transported and sold was fascinating. In all my travels, I have never heard of palm wine. Thanks so much for taking the time to share these images and record them so eloquently. Much appreciated.

      • Having lived in Liberia like Linda, Jet, (I was in the Peace Corps), I would have to add the marvelous pineapples we could get. They were incredibly sweet but we often had to soak ours in a bucket to persuade the ants to move out. We (meaning my first wife and me) also loved the oranges, which came in their natural shade of green. During the height of the season you could buy one for a penny, “One cent, once cent!” the market women would call out. And I will never forget the large avocado trees. The Liberians called alvocados ‘butter pears.’ Heavenly. –Curt

      • Hi Curt, Thanks for your colorful description of the fruits you enjoyed in Liberia. Interesting how you got the ants to move out of the pineapples, the color of the oranges, and the name of “butter pears” for avocados. I have never heard of that name for avocados, but it fits perfectly. Many thanks.

  9. what a great post and a wonderful tour around the world! this reminds me so much of the Philippines. i grew up enjoying these tropical fruits which were grown literally in our backyard!

  10. I so enjoyed this interesting and entertaining post that underlines how we should not take our fruits or coffee or chocolate for granted. I do hope that the birds around the fruit plantations do not fall into the ‘pest’ category and can cohabit with the farmers?
    I have read about shade-grown coffee and so was charmed to see the photos of this apparently environmentally friendly way to grow coffee. I guess the beans are harvested by hand? What a lot goes into making the coffee we enjoy each day.
    I was also particularly smitten by the macaws.
    Thanks for this unusual post,

    • I was happy you enjoyed the tropical delights, Carol. The plantations where we have gone through have always been pleasant, and birders and birds are harmoniously regarded. I have read that beans are harvested by hand and mechanically, too, and am guessing those that I featured in Belize photos are hand-picked, because the only real machinery we saw around there was a school bus taking the kids to school. I really enjoyed your thoughtful response, Carol, thank you.

  11. A fun tour of some tropical fruits, a few of which were new to me. They all look temptingly delicious in Athena’s photographs and your words accompany them enticingly as well, Jet.

    • Thanks very much, Steve, for your warm comment. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and that I introduced you to a few new tropical fruits. Much appreciated.

  12. I wish your post would reach all schools – middle grade through high school. A lot of children have no idea where their fruit (and chocolate and coffee) comes from and what it looks like in a natural state. The photos and text are perfect, informative, and beautiful to look at. Some of the photos/fruits reminded me of our (many times) tour of the Kauai Botanical Garden, which I assume you and Athena have explored as well.

    • I think there are adults and children who are not familiar with foods in their natural state. It’s hard to imagine some of it, especially when we don’t see the pods or fruits around us. It’s interesting. I have visited the Kauai BG and am really glad you have, too, Pam. My warmest thanks for your lovely comment today.

  13. Very interesting! I love all the unusual tropical fruits we get in Hawaii. It looks as if you enjoy them when you’re there, too.

    • I’m happy you have had time in Hawaii and enjoyed the fruit there, too, Nan. Having a son and his family there is a great way to enjoy the Islands. I find the tropical fruits have a way of drawing me into the magic that is Hawaii, add to that the rattle of palm leaves, the sweet fragrance of plumeria, the lap of ocean waves and all the incredible sights, and it takes only five minutes to settle into paradise. Thanks so much, Nan.

    • It’s been a tough year and a half, having to cancel trips and stay put, hasn’t it, Amy? I, too, hope you are able to re-book your tropical trip another time soon, and until then I’m glad I could share the tropical delights with you here. Thank you for your visits today.

  14. Falling behind AGAIN!!! Loved learning about the chocolate that I love so much comes to be. I can’t help but wonder if that startling red is meant as a warning: Beware! If you try this, you will be addicted for life!!! Love your barefoot guide climbing the Cocoa tree… Luckily I’m not fond of most other tropical offerings. Just give me chocolate and I’ll pass on all the rest! πŸ€—

    It’s always such a pleasure to visit with you and Athena. Even if I’m so often late to the party.πŸ₯³

    • I was glad to hear from you, Gunta, and you’re not behind as far as I’m concerned. It’s just lovely to “see” you whenever you stop by. Your comments give me a smile every time. I chuckled at your interpretation of the red cocoa pods warning a person of chocolate addiction. ha ha. I really love chocolate too, my friend. Thanks so much for your visit, Gunta.

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