When it comes to jocotes, you have to decide: Do you want to eat the small, oblong fruit when it’s a sweet, ripe, sunflower yellow–or when it’s immature, still green, and mouth-puckeringly tart? I know, tough call. But here in Guatemala, it’s your choice to make.
A member of the cashew family, jocotes (pronounced hoe-ko-tes) grow on small, shrubby trees in the tropics. They’re in season now and are mostly eaten out of hand.
In the market, they’re sold out of big baskets when golden and mature. Beneath their smooth, leathery, edible skin, they’re juicy and sweet and have a citrusy flavor that’s reminiscent of oranges and mangos. Their soft flesh, which nearly dissolves on the tongue, surrounds a large, inedible seed. They’re a messy endeavor to eat (their juice will drip down your arms, and you will have an obnoxious pile of seeds to deal with when you’re done), but they’re still rather addictive.
Surprisingly, though, juicy and sweet is not how everyone prefers them. Last weekend, Shon and I crossed Lake Atitlan to visit my favorite shopping destination, San Juan La Laguna. Our goal was to buy gifts for our upcoming visit to the States, but we were quickly distracted as storefront after storefront enticed us not with gorgeous, hand-woven textiles, but with baskets of emerald green jocotes and big bowls of salt.
Apparently, many a Guatemalan señora prefers to eat the fruit when it’s still hard and tart, along with a dash salt. To us, this sounded odd, but in the name of research, we decided to take a break from shopping and give the tradition a try. We bought six unripe jocotes, plus a handful of salt, and dug in.
Ew. Ew. Oh, and ew. It turns out unripe jocotes have the ability to suck the moisture right out of your mouth. They can make your face spasm into contorted ugliness. They are acidic and unpleasant. And, as far as I can tell, no amount of salt could ever save them.
But the choice–whether to eat jocotes unripe or ripe–is still yours to make. It’s like having to choose between a lemon meringue pie and lemon Lysol; between eating vanilla ice cream and eating a vanilla-scented candle. Somehow, you have to decide.