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Sea Grapes at Sandy Pt., St. Croix/SBPR

Taste of the Caribbean: Don’t Be Afraid to Savor Sea Grapes

Taste of the Caribbean: Don’t Be Afraid to Savor Sea Grapes

If there’s any one West Indian fruit that could use an image makeover or some good PR it’s the much maligned sea grape. It’s not ugly or smelly, or anything like that. The tree upon which it grows isn’t a nuisance either. In fact, when tamed, the tree makes a rather attractive hedge (see photo below).

No, this fruit’s main image problem revolves around a lie long held in some parts of the Caribbean: sea grapes are poisonous.

Not sure where the lie started, or when, but I clearly remember being scolded by my elders during childhood visits to the beach in St. Croix over the supposed dangers associated with consuming these ubiquitous island treats. Instead of eating the sea grapes, my brothers, friends and I would pelt ’em at each other. This may have been better than using sand, but I’m straying way off course here…

Truth: sea grapes are perfectly safe and wonderful to eat.

Well, actually the ripe ones are wonderful eat. You’d know ’em by their dark reddish, almost burgundy color. Green ones like those pictured above are better left for kids’ pelting games.

You’ll find sea grape trees primarily along sandy shores, like these we found in Barbados last year…

Credit: Patrick Bennett

These sea grape trees were manicured down to a nice manageable size. Left to their own devices, though, they could explode to heights in excess of 30 feet!

Sea grape trees are extremely hardy, wind resistant and tolerant of salt, which is why you generally see ’em along the shore lines, working to provide shade, reduce sand erosion and beautify coastal areas.

Oh yeah, and feed beach-goers!

Sea grapes ripen in the late-summer/early-fall months, producing fruit that tastes very little like the regular grapes we all know from the grocery story, wine and this little cocktail. The taste is a mix of sweet and acidic flavors that I wouldn’t say is my favorite (this is), but it works when you’re enjoying a late-summer beach lime and need a little nourishment.

And I do mean little.

Each “grape” doesn’t have much fruit content at all. The majority of each sea grape is actually one large seed, so this isn’t the most filling fruit around either.

Still, it’s not a bad treat, and one you certainly should not be afraid to try next time you’re in the islands between August and October… no matter what the elders say!

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  • one_hottstuff

    Well look how I learned something here today

  • Deborah

    Who knew?  I was always told they were inedible too.  Must try them next time I’m there when they’re ripe.  Thanks Steve!

  • Randeaux

    I lived at Gentle Winds in 1974 and I would bring the ripe grapes to the bartender there and he would make jelly. Very tasty as I remember.

  • Gwkant

    Funny.  The only place I remember eating sea grapes was also at Gentle Winds.

  • As kids, we figured out they were safe by daring each other to eat them after also being told they were “dangerous” fruit LOL

  • Molokoï

    Here in Martinique, we used to eat that. By the way cool article

  • FatDumbandHappyYank

    Wow…that`s funny , we ate them all the time in the Bahamas. I never heard that they were poisonous.. and they make the best jelly. Good article guys. 

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  • Jackeline Ubiles

    OMG, uvas de playa. Back home in PR, we ate huge amounts of those when in season.

  • Richie Buntin

    Those Elders in St. Croix must have been just joking. I lived in St. Croix from 1979 to 81 I move there from St. Kitts at age 14. where I lived in St. Kitts ad a huge walk of sea grape trees and when they were in season a group of us kids boys and girls use to make the pilgrimage to that area to pick sea grapes. we would get at lease 4 bags full each, the whole family would partake for 2 or 3 days on those grapes. I am now 49 and this is the first time I have ever heard the were poisonous, must be a St. Croix thing.

  • Richie Buntin

    Oh what I think got mixed up is theirs another tree the mainly grow by the sea shore, its a much taller tree and in St. Kitts it is called Mangineel, the so-call fruit on this tree if the milk from it gets on your skin it will plaster it and give you bad rashes with infected boils, like ringworms looking. when someone have stuff on then like that even with out getting it from that tree we say the mangie. the fruit looks like a huge punsaratte.

  • STXlady

    Whats the difference to the sea grape “vines” growing along the shores of STX VS the sea grape tree. Our new beach front is covered and they seem to be invasive trying to spread right to the Caribbean Sea…..

  • suzi

    We live in Miami, by the bay and have 2 large sea grape trees in the yard (they must have been trimmed into that style). They are beautiful. Our mail man always stops and eats the sea grapes this time of year. So we tried them…delicious! My daughters and I got a ladder today and picked a bucketful. We’re putting them in baggies to share with the fam. Thanks for sharing the info. Love the photos.

  • Anna

    Here on Maui, seagrape trees are found scattered around the island. By holding a bag under and around a cluster of the fruit and lightly shaking the branch they are attached to, mostly the ripe fruit drops into the bag (the green ones tend not to ripen on their own when picked), but do be prepared to have a mini avalanche of the fruit releasing from their stems. Being as there more seed than flesh, the only way I have consumed them is as ‘mindless munching’ … a safe snack. Am hoping to find info as to health benefits if any.

    • jones

      There is a lot of those trees in Guyana however they are not at the sea they are deep in the land, as we say “back dam”, has a child i enjoyed the as well but never knew they were know as sea grapes we just called them grapes,hmm thanks it was nice reading.

  • Tricia Lambeau

    I remember eating sea grape jelly as a child in Miami Shores. I really loved it.

  • Dunori Pavalan

    I think I recall seeing them but unless it was a coconut tree, I grew up thinking all plants seaside weren’t edible so thanks for the schooling. I see many people commenting on making jam with them; possibly it might be sold somewhere?

  • cahonaz

    After several trips to the Caribbean I could not find out online what these trees are called. Finally found out from a local in St. Maarten they are Sea Grapes!!

  • aw

    I went to Cuba back in 2000 and the beach at Veradero was loaded with them! I’d never seen them before since I didn’t grow up in the Carribean, but the resort staff let us know that we could eat them. I remember there being a big pip in the middle, and a small amount of flesh around the pip. I also remember them tasting slightly of tart plums, but still surprisingly tasty!