Baby food in Ecuador does not come cheap; nor does it come without sugar. After searching unsuccessfully for baby food without additives, I found the best thing to do was to make my own baby food.
This was when I began to discover the variety of fruits and vegetables that this country of Ecuador has to offer. One of the first surprises came in the form of Ecuadorian sweet potatoes. I had tried canned sweet potatoes in the U.S. on Luke and he seemed to like them. Therefore, I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to buy some sweet potatoes or yams here in Ecuador and mash it up at home.
The yams I found in the grocery store looked a bit darker than the ones I was used to seeing in North America. When I brought them home and boiled them, I noticed that the skin looked a bit purple. After peeling and blending it, the sweet potato mash was a strong purple color.
Another vegetable with a different color was the carrot. I have discovered that carrots come in a variety of colors (red, purple, black and yellow), but this is the first country I lived in where both orange and white carrots are cultivated in abundance. The white carrot looks similar to a turnip or a parsnip, but has the same texture as a carrot. I found it was more of a nuttier flavor than the orange carrot, perhaps because of the carotene found in orange carrots.
Another interesting vegetable that I’ve found is called “oca” in Spanish. I am not sure there is any English translation for the word. It is cultivated by the indigenous peoples of the Andes mountains (considered originally a Peruvian food) and the Quechua Indians call it “mashua.” Our son’s babysitter recommended it as a good vegetable to be boiled and made into baby food because of its sweet flavor. She was right. Both Jared and Luke will eat it without a bit of protest.
Moving away from vegetables, Ecuador also boasts of a wide assortment of fruits that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. There is the small persimmon looking fruit known as the “naranjilla.” The only English translation I can give for it would be “little orange.” It is cannot be eaten in the same way as a persimmon. It is most commonly squeezed into a juice form and is a very common fruit in Ecuador.
Another fruit that I juice and give to my son, Luke, for breakfast is called “pitahaya.” It is pronounced (pee-ta-HA-ya). Some people like to eat it, although it is not recommended to swallow the seeds, which some say are indigestible. The taste is similar to that of a kiwi, but a lot sweeter and the skin is much thicker and not as hairy as a kiwi. My doctor says this fruit has the similar effect of eating prunes and helps the digestive system.
Besides pitahaya juice, I often give Luke the juice of a “granadilla.” I believe this fruit is similar to start fruit in English. It looks like a large, golden balloon. Once the skin is broken, you can find large seeds surrounded by a thick, juicy mixture. Because it doesn’t hold much liquid, it usually takes about 10 granadillas to make one small glass of juice. However, it is a very healthy fruit and recommended by pediatricians here in Ecuador because it is high in vitamin C.
There are various other fruits I have not tried yet. There is a small, green fruit that looks kind of like a spiny pepper and it is called “tuna.” There are also sweet “pepinos” which would translate into “sweet cucumber” and it looks similar to a cucumber, but is yellow and develops purple streaks when it is ripe.
And just when you think that the banana is an average fruit, you just need to walk into a Ecuadorian supermarket or grocery store to find that there are many varieties of bananas. There are several types of plantains, such as the “maduro, ” the “maqueño” and the “platano verde” which are used for cooking. The “maduro” is a sweeter banana, where the “verde” is not edible raw and used for making crunchy chips. And the maqueño is often used for making desserts. There are also mid-sized bananas that are sweeter than the average banana and called “oritos.” Then you have the very small, snack bananas that never grow larger than a few inches.
I end my discovery of new fruits with the fruit that most often confuses westerners. I will never forget when I first moved to Ecuador with my family and my dad wanted to order tomato juice with his breakfast. He saw something on the menu that said “tomate de arbol.” This is translated “tree tomato.”
Thinking it was the same thing as tomato juice, he ordered a glass. To his surprise, he discovered that the juice was nothing like tomato juice.
Tomate de arbol is another fruit that normally not consumed in its raw form, but boiled and peeled and squeezed into a juice. The tree is a native plant of the Andes mountain region of South America. Although it looks somewhat similar to the normal tomato, its flavor and texture is completely different. It also contains more Vitamin C than most citric fruits and is prized for its nutritional and medicinal value.
According to an Ecuadorian agricultural study, the tree tomato is the most widely cultivated of the Andean fruits and is gaining global popularity, especially in the U.S. and in Europe.
When liquefied, tomato juice turns a maroon-red color, and is a thick, sweet drink.
We are thankful to live in a country where so many interesting fruits and vegetables are available to try. It makes me glad that I have so many good choices in picking good food for my sons.