Ice Cream Bean Tree (Inga sp.)

Article by Jason Hauser

🪴 Ice cream bean tree. The name alone sparks interest amongst fruit tree enthusiasts and novice growers alike. It certainly grabbed my attention, how could it not. A tree that produces ice cream! With a name like that, the question we all have is: does it live up to expectations?

🌳 Like other “beans” the plant is considered a legume, so they need little to no supplemental feeds. They do grow tree size, to over 8m, and very quickly for that matter. They have attractive foliage, with the emergent growth the most colourful, and make great shade trees. The fruit produced is a bean like pod, from 20cm to over 1m long depending on the species.

🫘 The inside of the pod does indeed have a filling that resembles vanilla ice cream in colour, and somewhat in texture, but with a slightly flossy quality to it. The flavour is sweet, but not as sweet as ice cream, more of a glucose lolly flavour. There was no vanilla detectable to my taste buds, no notable astringency or acidity, yet there was some complexity to savour. Beyond this, the flavour is difficult to describe, but pleasant to eat. Taste does vary somewhat from species to species. Of the few different ones I’ve tried, they share similar flavour characteristics, but I would not say they were the same. Flesh to seed ratio seems better with the bigger pod varieties, but perhaps the smaller pod varieties fatten up more as the tree matures. It is worth noting that the seed should not be eaten, however the seed is large and hard to miss ⚠️

🪴 Ice cream bean tree’s, although not usually seen at your typical plant nurseries or landscape gardening centres, they are often available from fruit tree and specialist plant nurseries, and relatively common at weekend plant markets during certain times of the year.

🤷‍♂️ To date, most plant labelling you will encounter for Ice cream bean tree would have you believe that all are the species Inga edulis. Sadly this is far from the truth and is just another example of gross miss-identification in the nursery and plant production industry. Knowing which species you have provides valuable information at the consumer end, for example some species may be invasive and destructive to your local environment, whereas others may not. Some species sucker more frequently that others, which may be less or more desirable depending on your reason for growing them. It also helps to reduce disappointment to those expecting huge 1m long pods like the picture of the label indicated, but ending up with 20cm pods instead. Alas, all species I’ve witnessed so far seem to be rewarding trees to grow in some way or another.

❓So how do you know which Ice cream bean variety you have if you can’t trust the label? Well that is a good question, one I suspect I will still be working on far into the future! Fortunately there is clear variation in leaf shape, fruit & flower appearance, growth form and climate preferences, so identifying species as different from one another shouldn’t be too difficult. However finding information detailing which distinguishing features are attributed to which species is a more difficult task, with finding information written in English an additional hurdle to overcome. Despite this, I plan to continue learning more and hopefully generate some more discussion and increased awareness out there. Perhaps in time there will be clearer information available on the topic.

🫡 If you have found any great information resources on Inga species or have some observations to share, please add your knowledge in the comments!!

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