Cacao is a tall tropical tree that can reach 4 to 12 meters tall. The cacao tree produces an average of 150 fruits every year. These fruits are long oval pods called cacao pods. The pod color varies from yellow to orange.
Inside this pod are an average of about thirty cocoa beans. A white glutinous pulp covers each bean. The pulp is quite tasty when you pop it into your mouth and suck on it.
During the first drying, the entire seed with pulp is placed in the sun to dry. When dry the white pulp can easily be removed. The second drying is to dry the seed itself.
You can see these beans drying in many places in the country, even along country streets. The beans are laid out on tarpaulins or in large covered beds. They are constantly being moved to get them to dry. As the beans dry they are being picked over to clear out the inferior beans.
The dry beans are then cleaned, roasted and crushed into a powder. When you pass by cacao drying you can get the wonderful sent of the aromatic bean drying in the sun. With each step of the drying process, the smell gets more intense.
Dominican Republic is the perfect place for the cultivation and development of cacao because of the rich, fertile soil and the favorable climate. Individual farmers and large corporations grow cacao trees alike. The best cocoa beans in the country are grown in the Cibao Valley, San Francisco de Macoris, and Santiago. Dominican Republic produces two types of cocoa beans, the Hispaniola (about 4% production) and the Sanchez (about 96% production) varieties.
Cocoa beans/ Cacao is a very nutrient rich and complex food. Cacao is considered by some experts to be the best antioxidant food, having the highest source of magnesium of any food. Chocolate contains A1, B1, C, D, E vitamins and iron. The cacao beans are also used to produce cocoa butter that is used in many cosmetic applications. The Aztecs considered the cacao tree as a paradise tree.
The Dominican Republic is currently one of the chief producers of organic cocoa in the world when they started marketing their product as early as the 1980’s.
There is a Museo de Cacao on Calle el Conde and also on Calle Arz. Meriño in the Colonial Zone. They sell many different products made in Dominican Republic (including the Vino de Cacao pictured above)
Some of the many fruits and vegetables that grow in the Dominican Republic and their descriptions. Try a ripe yellow banana, a sweet, juicy pineapple or a tree-ripened mango. All are just too wonderful.
Lechosa / Papaya is a fruit grown on large trees in tropical climates. There are male and female trees and their offspring are the sweet fruit papaya. Here in the Dominican Republic it is called lechosa.
It is a large fruit green when unripe. When the fruit is ripe and ready for eating it is soft and yellow with some darker spots here and there. It is best eaten plain and is quite juicy. One of the best ways to serve it is to blend it with some milk or carnation and ice. It is called Batida de Lechosa. This is really tasty. The little black seeds inside are sometimes eaten, they have a little of a spicy taste. They are used as a substitute for pepper when dried and ground.
Mavi also spelled Mabi (pronounced Ma-Vee or sometimes Ma-Bee), is a staple in the Caribbean. This drink is made from the bark of the Mabi tree is also known as mabetree, soldierwood or seaside buckthorn. This bark is rich in glucosides (what is that you may ask? Wikipedia definition here) The bark is removed from the tree and boiled to make a tea. Sugar, usually raw or turbinado sugar is best as it has a little hint of molasses flavor to it. Many make this tea into the fermented drink by adding some yeast and letting it sit for a few days uncovered. It can also be made into a non-fermented drink as well. It is said to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and to make men more potent.
In Dominican Republic Mabi de Bejuco Indio is usually made locally and can be purchased in the Colmados and corner markets. It can be found in almost any type of bottle as the maker uses what is available. It is very refreshing and can be sometimes potent so beware.
The Avocado of Dominican Republic has a variety of types and flavors. It is one of our most imported fruits. We import both organic and non-organic versions of the fruit.
Some avocados are dry and not as sweet and others have a much different taste than the ones on the grocery shelves that most people are accustomed to eating. When this creamy, nutty-flavored fruit (yes it is a fruit, not a vegetable) is in season it can be found in abundance in every market, on the streets and in most restaurants at a very reasonable price.
Dominicans use this beautiful green colored fruit on salads or just eaten plain with a little límon/ lime-lemon to accompany any meal, soup or stew. Make a sandwich using this fruit on some pan de agua and you will be quite pleased. Aguacate is also used in many cosmetic preparations. Just remember, it is fattening (about 75% of an avocado’s calories come from fat) so don’t over indulge. Avocados have more potassium than bananas, have the highest fiber content of any fruit and are rich in B, E and K vitamins. They are also known to lower the bad cholesterol and help with the good HDL levels.
Guineo / Banana (the sweet type of fruit you can eat raw) – Platano/ Plantain (the hard fruit that is very starchy and needs to be cooked) are some of the most recognizable fruits of the world.
Here in Dominican Republic we love our bananas. They can be purchased in almost every corner store (Colmado) and in the streets. A sweet banana is a very nice fruit to refresh yourself and get some of the sugar your body might need on a hot day.
These large, big leaved plants can produce many fruits. They taste better here in the Dominican Republic because they are ripened right on the plant and not picked green like the ones shipped to other destinations. Choose a red, yellow or green banana/ guineo that can be eaten without cooking. Try a green to yellow platano that needs to be cooked to be eaten either plain or served in many imaginative forms. A fresh sweet yellow banana, nothing tastes or smells better.
The pineapple, simply called piña here, can be found growing in Dominican Republic. The ones sold in the streets here are usually vine ripened. This makes the piña taste so much better than ones you get outside of the country.
They can be purchased in almost any spot in the country, especially when they are in season. Vendors always have them either whole or cut for you to enjoy right on the spot. Some vendors cut them in a spiral way that you can hold like a lollypop. Do not be afraid to eat the core as it is soft and sweet just like the outside fruit.
The Mango is a well-known fruit that grows on a tall tree. The tree makes lots of fruits that are very sweet and juicy. There are many different varieties of mangos grown in DR.
The mango makes for some messy eating and it is well worth the mess. I suggest eating it with a knife instead of just biting into the fruit. This way you get all the juice in your mouth and not down the arm. Also, the pulp is very stringy and if you don’t have dental floss or a toothpick handy you will be digging at your teeth all day trying to remove the little fibers from between and this can get annoying. Another way to enjoy an overly ripe mango is biting through the skin and just sucking out the juice. It may sound strange but you should try it. It is very satisfying.
Mango fruits are wonderful and refreshing so please do not pass them up. They make a wonderful Batida (blended frozen drink) with some ice, milk or carnation, and a little sugar in a blender. I love to freeze this milkshake type drink for a freshening icy treat.
The bread man usually walks carrying a large basket, pushes a cart, rides a bike or motorized vehicle. He has fresh baked bread and at times pastries from a local panadería / bakery. He is heard yelling out “Pan, panadero” (Bread, Bread Man).
Normally el Panadero is out very early in the morning providing the fresh baked goods for breakfast and making deliveries to the local stores and shops. Normally the evening Panadería has a large basket with a variety of breads for dinner or a snack.
This type of vendor sells pan de agua / water bread, both hard and soft. There is sweet bread that is a wonderful with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. My favorite is the garlic bread. It is covered with garlic, salt and oil. Fattening but so wonderful.
Some of the new-fangled bread vendors now have a motorized cart – motorbike with a nice variety of breads, sweets and even cold sandwiches. One of our local Panaderos has a large display case on the back of a motorbike with all sorts of goodies.
Panaderos in Colonial Zone:
*There is usually on that passes by the park San Jose (in front of the statue Montecino) around 6PM. You can get some great garlic bread or a little ham sandwich from him.
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