Guinep aka quenepas aka Chenets: Caribbean Summer Flavor
Of all the yummy things that grow on all the trees in the Caribbean, I’m not sure there’s anything that reflects the region’s broad diversity more than the sweet-‘n’sour fruit treats pictured below. Growing up in St. Croix, I knew them as guinep.
Guineps By Any Other Name
Though I could never understand why my Trini parents kept calling them chenets. Turns out these things go by nearly 20 different names depending on where you’re enjoying ’em. What are other names for guineps?
- St. Lucia, Barbados – ackee (very different from the Jamaican version)
- Trinidad & Tobago – chenet
- Jamaica, St. Kitts – guaya, gnep, guineps, skinnip
- Dominica, Guyana, Haiti, Belize, Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands – genip, guinep, ginnip, kenèp
- Puerto Rico – talpa jocote, canepa, quenepa
- Dominican Republic – genepa, xenepa, Spanish lime, limoncillo
The word Mamón is also sometimes used, though you’ll want to be careful using that word in the Spanish-speaking islands as it can also mean “person who sucks” or “large breast”.
When To Get Guineps, Quenapas, or whatever you call them
Just as Patrick loves to visit the Caribbean in the springtime for the mangoes, I’m big on heading to the islands during the summer months when guineps (or whatever you want to call this exotic fruit) are everywhere. Vendors will offer to sell you the fruit that grows in bunches in urban areas and along roadsides throughout the region, but you can easily find them growing wild for a free snack.
How To Eat Guineps
When you do get your hands on some guinep fruit, you’ll want to bite the thin, green protective outer shell, cracking it open to get at the fruit inside. The fruit itself has a tart, tangy taste that is absolutely addictive. You don’t so much eat a guinep as you suck the creamy pulp of the edible fruit as it sits in your mouth.
Once you’ve sucked all the pulp away, you’re left with a large seed. Most people discard the seeds by spitting them out and moving on to the next guinep. However, the seeds can be roasted and eaten just like sunflower seeds or chestnuts, extending snack time.
A True Taste of the Caribbean
The guinep tree or Melicoccus bijugatus is a tree in the soapberry family Sapindaceae is actually native to northern South America. So, long before colonial interference in the region, these majestic fruit-bearing trees that can reach heights of over 85 feet had spread through Central America, the Caribbean, and as far away as India!
While visiting St. Croix a few years ago, I had the pleasure of staying at the Chenay Bay Beach Resort, which has a few guinep trees right on-property.
It was the first time I had stayed at a hotel on my home island (all the Bennett’s moved away years ago). I thought it would be a little awkward for me. No home-cooked Caribbean food, no family to hang out with, etc. But grabbing bunches of guineps just steps from my cottage helped me to feel more “at home”—a taste of my youth placating my longing for family and the good old days.
Ever since then, I always like to check with my hotel ahead of summer trips to the Caribbean in hopes that they have a guinep tree or two. You should try it too… just be sure you use the right guinep alias depending on your destination.