Inga spectabilis
(Fabaceae) 

 

Common Names 

English: ice cream bean

Spanish: guamá machete, guamá gigante

 

Origin and Distribution 

Ice cream bean is native to Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.  It is cultivated as a curiosity throughout the tropics.

 

Botanical Synonyms 

Mimosa spectabilis, Feuilleea spectabilis, Inga fulgens, Inga lucida and Inga smithii.

 

Description

Medium size tree, to about 45 feet (14 m) tall, with a spreading crown.  Small branches angular.  Compound leaves with four pairs of elliptical or obovate leaflets, 4-9 inches (10-23 cm) long and 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) wide.  Leaf veins prominent.  Perfect flowers composed of numerous white stamens and a thin central pistil.  The pods are large, up to 24 inches (61 cm) long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, bright green when immature and becoming yellowish green at maturity.  Edible white arils cover the shiny, dark brown, 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) long seeds.  The pulp is very sweet, somewhat fibrous, and melts in the mouth like cotton candy.

 

Inga spectabilis (ice cream bean)

 

Propagation and Culture

Ice cream bean is propagated by seeds, which germinate and grow quickly.  Trees begin to flower and fruit at about 4-5 years of age.  Well adapted to the wet tropics, and growing well on different soils, the ice cream bean can be found from sea level to 3,600 feet (1,097 m) elevation.  Fruits in Puerto Rico from July through December.

Cultivars and Related Species

There are no named cultivars of ice cream bean.

Estimates of the number of Inga species vary from 200-400.  Other important species are Inga edulis (ice cream bean, guaba, guamo bejuco, rabo de mico), Inga cinnamomea (shimbillo pairajo, vaca paleta), Inga capitata (ingape, guamo negro), Inga fagifolia (inga de macaco), Inga macrophylla (pacae, inga peba), Inga punctata (shimbillo quebradero) and Inga pilosula (shimbillo enano).

Uses

The sweet pulp of the ice cream bean is eaten fresh.

 

Nutritional composition per 100 g ice cream bean pulp
(values are for Inga edulis
     

Carbohydrate 13.6 g
Fat  0.1 g
Protein  1 g
Calcium  24 mg
Phosphorous  18 mg
Iron  0.4 mg
Thiamine 0.05 mg
Riboflavin 0.1 mg
Niacin  0.5 mg
Vitamin C   1.4 mg

This nitrogen fixing legume tree is used to provide shade in coffee and cocoa plantations, and can also be used as a support to grow crops such as vanilla, black pepper and pitahaya.  Various Inga species have medicinal, food and other uses:  leaves and seeds are used medicinally for treatment of diarrhea and rheumatism, the lumber is used in construction, seeds are consumed, and the bark is used in the production of tannins.

 

Inga spectabilis (ice cream bean) pulp and seeds

 

 

 

 

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