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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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