Inga feuilleei (after Louis Feuillée), commonly known as pacay or
ice-cream bean, is a perennial tree that contains a podded fruit
cultivated often for its edible white pulp surrounding large seeds.
It is a legume tree native to Central and South America. All legumes
have their seed encased in pods, a few of which are eaten as
vegetables, green beans and snow peas, for example. A few lesser
known legumes produce sweet pulpy fruits such as carob, tamarind,
and honey. Similarly, trees of genus Inga also produce sweet pods, a
favorite snack of Central and South Americans.
Pacay is a legume, meaning it is a relative of green beans, snap
peas, alfalfa, lentils, and peanuts etc. Being in this family, it
bears an unusual fruit for a tree that resembles a giant bean pod,
with a sweet, refreshing, cotton-like edible fiber on the inside.
The pods are generally narrow, straight, and sometimes as long as a
person's forearm. They can easily be cracked open to expose the
white, sugar-rich pulp, similar to cotton candy, surrounding the
seeds. In English they have been called “ice-cream beans” due to the
sweet flavor and smooth texture of the pulp. Naturally growing Inga
trees produce abundant root nodules, which fix nitrogen, thus adding
nitrogen to the soil rather than taking it away, hence benefitting
the land by increasing fertility levels. Inga feuilleei is a legume
tree that is medium to large in length. Its height can reach an
average of tor taller and will stand temperatures as high as
30 degree Celsius when mature, which is normally a few months after
pollination. At low temperatures, these trees are often damaged.
These trees are generally occur near river banks, so it has year
round irrigation. Inga species are dependable, they produce in
abundance, and they provide sustenance in bad times. This family can
produce food without occupying the farmland used for food crops,
because they can grow on sites neglected by agriculture. They grow
rapidly, are tolerant of diverse soils, and are resistant to disease
and fire. These trees are easy to establish, spread their shade
quickly, and provide fruit for years. The fruits of the trees are
quite edible and are often consumed by people of regions where this
fruit grows. In Mexico, coffee-plantation workers can double their
annual salary by selling the pods from the Inga trees used to shade
the coffee plants. In Central America, the seeds are cooked and
eaten as a vegetable. In Mexico, the seeds are roasted and sold
outside theaters to moviegoers.
Aside from pacay another common name for this species is “guama."
Well known for its sweet taste, the pods have been around for a long
time. They have been depicted in ancient ceramics. The Incas had
pacay pods carried to their mountain capital of Cuzco. Pedro Pizarro
reported that the Inca emperor Atahualpa sent to Francisco Pizarro a
basketful of guamas as a gift.
Pacay is cultivated mainly for its fruits; the fruits of other
Inga species in areas such as the Andes are by-products of trees
whose main purpose is to shade plantations of coffee and cacao.
Examples of these species include: I. edulis, I. vera, I.
adenophylla, and I. densiflora. The fruits of I. densiflora are sold
in markets and fruit stalls, especially in Colombia. In regions such
as the Andean mountains, the tree produces crop twice a year.
Pacay and other inga trees have important futures. They are
multipurpose trees and are potentially valuable additions to
gardens, orchards, fields, hedgerows, or wayside wastelands
throughout most warm parts of the world. They also have outstanding
prospects as urban trees for much of the tropics. They are a source
of snacks for the owners and cash for the enterprising.