I had a moment in the produce section last week. With memories of Mexican fruterías fresh on my brain, I almost got choked up at the unexpected sight (and smell) of an old friend: Mexican cream guava.
Guava has been my favorite fruit ever since one fateful family trip to Hawaii when I was about 12. My cousin Andrew and I had been longingly eyeing our parents’ luscious-looking coconut shell beverages and somehow convinced the bartender to whip us up a couple of kiddie versions.
We clunked shells, took long sips from our straws and looked at each other with wide, ecstatic eyes. What was this heavenly, tropical nectar? “Guava juice,” said the bartender. We’d never heard of guava before that night, but we were hooked.
Back home in Texas, I spent the next several years thinking that guava just wasn’t eaten fresh, since the only form I could find it in was juice (and paste, which I wasn’t sure what to do with). I bee-lined for those blue, ridged Jumex guava nectar cans every time we went to the store, and dreamed of its thick, sweet, tanginess in between trips. Each swig of juice came with a bit of grit or grain in it, characteristic of the guava’s texture—kind of pear-like. I didn’t mind. I was in love.
A few years later, a half-Colombian dude in my freshman journalism class was astonished that I knew about guava, much less that I called it my favorite fruit. “Have you ever had guava and cheese?” he asked.
He went on to describe a family tradition in which his folks ate a chunk of guava paste with a chunk of cream cheese. So that’s what you did with that stuff. The Colombian name for this simple treat is bocadillo con queso, and it is sometimes served with other mild cheeses. South American and Caribbean folks also make things like flan, fritters and empanadas out of the two. He gifted me a can of paste and a block of cream cheese on the last day of class. Needless to say, it was a divine combination.
Fast forward yet again to Puerto Morelos, Mexico, my home away from home. I was enjoying a lecture and tasting of local fruits by Chef Pablo Espinosa at the Little Mexican Cooking School and could hardly contain my excitement when he presented and sliced several fresh guava, or guayaba as they’re called in those parts. Turns out you can of course eat guava fresh, I’d just never had the luck of finding any.
Right where I’d first found it in Hawaii, they often eat fresh guava with soy sauce and vinegar, which sounds oddly incredible to me. They’re also popular in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, India, Egypt, Pakistan, The Philippines, South Africa, and, of course, Mexico.
This guava wasn’t the kind in the picture books though, nor the kind that Jumex used to make that milky pink nectar. The most common variety, Apple Guava, has bright green skin and even brighter pink flesh. The kind you’d find in our mercados was yellow on the outside, the riper ones marked by browning like bananas. Inside, the flesh was pale yellow or even white. Its many seeds are soft enough to eat but hard enough to give a good crunch and turn some folks away—I’d say they’re a little tougher than pomegranate seeds.
It took a little research to discover that this less colorful version is called Mexican cream guava, and while I can’t compare it to any other fresh variety, I can testify that it does have a sweet creaminess to it. I got very spoiled on fresh, ripe piles of it—eating them whole, throwing them in smoothies or cooking them down in piloncillo syrup.
Which is why stumbling across a neat little basket of them at my neighborhood grocery store, after living on just their memory for all this time, got me a little emotional. I didn’t do much with the few I grabbed—just cut them in half and savored every bite. You can’t mess too much with a thing this good, especially if you never know when it’ll come around again.