Posted tagged ‘quepos dining’

Costa Rica’s answer to Brown Sugar…..Tapa de Dulce!!

May 17, 2014

Most people would think that the popular Costa Rican coffee would be the obvious morning drink, but actually, the traditional breakfast drink is known as Agua Dulce (“sweet water”). Made from the “typical” local ingredient “Tapa de Dulce”, these familiar (or not so familiar) molded small cakes of firm compacted brown sugar product are very similar to the North American “brown sugar” we buy in a bag.

Also known in many Costa Rican homes simply as “Bebida”, this sugary cane liquid is extracted, boiled, evaporated and eventually poured into conical molds, which are cooled, at which time the tops are cut off making them tapas (“lids”). The traditional drink of “Agua Dulce” is made by cutting or breaking off a bit of the tapa and gently dissolving it in boiling water or hot milk. Delicious!

Known by many names throughout the world, Tapa de Dulce can also be called “Panela”, “AtadoDulce”, “Raspadura”, “Rapadura”, “Chancaca”, “Papelon”, “Piloncillo”, “Panocha”, “Empanizao”, “Melaza y Cuyo” and many many other varying names depending on the region and/or country you are in at any given moment.

Consisting completely of Sugar Cane juice, to make the ubiquitous molded Tapa disks old traditions held to using oxen or sometimes donkeys or mules to run the small rural processing “plants” better known as “Trapiches”. Not being easy to extract the sugary juice from the cane stalks, the animals were much more efficient back in those days, but alas…today it is almost completely a mechanized process being much more efficient and sanitary then using the animals. Back in the early 1900’s, Costa Rica had more than 1600 Trapiches, but today they have almost completely dissappeared, and a national cry has gone out to not let this tradition completely disappear. Costa Rica Hotels and Tour Operators have projects in the works to incorporate the Trapiche Farms in to rural tourism centers, directly sharing the experience with visitors from around the world. Unfortunately, this idea is far from fruition at this point.

Not a completely empty calorie sugar product, Panela or Tapa de Dulce differenciates itself from ordinary white sugar with measurable amounts of glucose, fructose, proteins, as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorous, and trace vitamins such as absorbic acid. It’s said to have “medicinal” properties as well, but more on that below!

When preparing a cup of delicious Agua Dulce, add a small chunk shaved off the molded Tapa de Dulce sugar block and mix with a small amount of hot water, working it until it’s the consistency of honey. Then either add hot water (“Agua Dulce”), or hot milk (“Bebida”) and enjoy! In the Atlantic region of Limón, the Agua Dulce is served cold and mixed with lemon juice and a hint of ginger. This is known as “Agua de Sapo” (Toad Water) or “Hiel” and is another refreshing way to enjoy sugar cane juice. But why stop there? Do you have a cold? Mix the Agua Dulce with lemon juice and an ounce of “Guaro” (Cane Liquor), which is said to be the best remedy in Costa Rica and sure to make your pains go away!

The country of Colombia is the leader in the Panela industry, providing an important source of employment for that country with around 350,000 people working in approximately 20,000 Trapiches or Panela Farms.

In fact, the city of Palmira, Colombia broke the world record in 2009 for the largest and heaviest Panela, with a molded sugar cake that measured 10 feet and 20 inches and weighing some 715 kilos! This required more than 70 tons of sugar cane, and 90 people working for 28 hours consecutively to complete.

So are you ready to try this tasty little treat? To buy your own Tapa de Dulce, make your way to your nearest typical “soda”, Costa Rican supermarket or the Pulpería (corner store). If you aren’t lucky enough to be in Costa Rica, you can buy Tapa de Dulce online at:


Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and manages her own Luxury Vacation Rental BusinessManuel Antonio Rental Homes.



“Gallo Pinto”, who cares who invented it, just pass the Lizano Salsa Please!

February 29, 2012

“Gallo Pinto” is easily identified as one of the most traditional dishes of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but is found throughout the Latin American countries. This economic dish consisting of a mix of rice and beans with a variety of other condiments that help make it unique to each country in which it is being prepared, has even become popular in most every Latin American Fast food restaurant. During the cooking process, the rice takes on the color of the beans, giving the dish a speckled appearance, hence the name, “Gallo Pinto”, or “Speckled Rooster” in English. This wildly popular dish has a long history and has been an important part of popular culture of numerous Latin American countries, although its actual origin remains a bit uncertain. In Costa Rica and Nicaragua, ask anyone and the debate begins as to who “invented” the ubiquitous Gallo Pinto!

Found in every Costa Rica Hotel restaurant, local “sodas”, or on just about and breakfast table in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua, this standard breakfast staple has a variety of other latin names and ingredients that help differenciate it around the World. Here are a few examples:
• Costa Rica: “Gallo Pinto”. Using spices such as sweet chile, garlic, culantro and onion.
• Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica: Commonly referred to as “Rice and Beans” it is prepared with the milk of coconut and often times spiced with Panamanican Hot Chilis.
• Nicaragua: Prepared similar to Costa Rica, but almost always with red beans.
• Colombia: “Calentado” (heated)
• Cuba: “Moros & Cristianos”, which refers to the “bean & rice” and often contains cumin, laurel and other spices.
• El Salvador: “Casamiento”, which basically means a marriage of the rice & beans.
• Guatemala: Also known as the Basic “Arroz & Frijoles, on the Caribbean coast they also add the coconut milk and call it “Izabal”.
• Honduras: “Casamiento” like El Salvador or along the Northern Coast just “Rice & Beans”.
• México: “Pispiote”.
• Panamá: “Gallopinto” (one Word) anda long the Caribbean coast “Rice & Beans” with Coconut milk.
• Puerto Rico & Dominican Republic: “Frijol gandul or frijol de palo”.
• Perú: “Calentado” or another variance known as “Tacu-tacu”.
• Puerto Rico: “Arroz con habichuelas” (another way to say Rice & Beans!). República Dominicana.

Suspected Origins
The origin of this plate has never been completely verified or proven, so although the Nicaraguans insist it was their creation, the true origin is thought to have come from Costa Rica during either the times when the Atlantic Banana Companies were a prominent force in this country or it may have originally been brought with the slaves from Africa to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica during the construction of the railroad along that coast. Mentioned in literary works in history books, the origins of Gallo Pinto were thoroughly investigated by Patricia Vega of the National University of Costa Rica, and original writings of Gallo Pinto date back to the late to early 18th & 19th centuries.

Alternative History
Another traditional legend from the 1930’s, claims the name of this dish had it’s origin in San Sebastián, one of the older rural suburbs South of San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. According to this well told legend, a rich landowner invited many people to celebrate San Sebastián day at his “Quinta”, where it was announced that they would kill the “painted rooster” (ie; Gallo Pinto), which they had been fattening up for months for this happy occasion. So many people showed up for the celebration, that the rooster was going to be insufficient to give each guest a piece of it’s fine meat. Scrambling for a solution, the cooks made an emergency mixture of rice and beans meant to mask that there was really not enough meat to go around.

Of course, people noticed that they did not get any of the coveted “fattened” rooster meat and felt deceived, and from that day forward took to ridiculing the host family asking “Have you tried the Gallo Pinto of Don Bernabé?, It is made of only Rice & Beans”. The name “Gallo Pinto” caught on and has stuck over the centuries and now is even common place at fast food joints!

Recipe Sample
There are many ways to prepare Gallo Pinto, much depends on what country you find yourself in, or perhaps what ingredients you might have available at the moment. The original recipe generally contains more rice than beans.

Ingredients for Beans
2 Cups of Black or Red Beans (small)
1 Tablespoon of oil
Salt to taste
1 Stalk of Celery
1 Onion
3 or 4 Sticks of Thyme
3 Cloves of Garlic
Sufficient water

Preparation of Beans
Soak the beans in water for 6-8 hours or overnight. The following day, change the water and begin to lightly boil them in a large pot or use a pressure cooker. Heat the oil and fry the chopped onion, garlic and celery, and add them to the beans. Make sure to have a sufficient amount of water covering the beans, usually at least double the height of the quantity of beans. Add the salt and thyme to taste toward the end of the 2 to 4 hours of low boil when the beans are becoming softer. (Salt can make the beans take longer to soften, so add near the end.). If prepared in a pressure cooker, allow around 45 minutes for the beans to completely cook. Drain the beans, keeping some of the cooking liquid for later.

Ingredients for Rice
2 Cups of uncooked Rice (better cold)
3 Tablespoons of Vegetable Oil
3 Cups Water
1 Large Onion Chopped
½ Cup Chopped Onion (keep separate)
1 Chopped Sweet Chili (split in two parts)
4 Cloves of Garlic
Salt to taste.

Preparation of the Rice
Fry the ½ cup chopped onion and garlic cloves in the oil. When the onion crystalizes, add half of the chopped chili. Add the rice and fry everything for around 2 minutes stirring well. Add water to about one finger digit above the level of the rice, bring to boil and then reduce to a low flame for approximately 20 minutos or until the rice is the texture you prefer. When done, turn off heat and leave covered for 10 minutes without removing the lid to allow the rice to finish cooking. Rice is BEST if cooled and left in the refrigerator overnight.

Mixing Step
Heat a small amount of oil in a large fry pan. Add the remaining chopped vegetables and fry for around 2 minutes until onion crystalizes. Add the cooked (drained) beans and other spices to taste and allow to cook until somewhat dry and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the cooked (cold) rice and mix well, heating as you go. If you like your Gallo Pinto a little more moist, add some of the liquid from the beans and continue cooking to add moisture and a little more color. At the last minute add finely chopped cilantro to taste and cook slightly until sostened, then serve.

Most Costa Ricans serve this with a small dollop of sour cream (natilla) and of course, you must serve it with the famous Salsa Lizano or it just won’t be the same!!

The rivalry between Costa Rica and Nicaragua has not died down over the years. In 2003, when the Costa Ricans, under close watch by representatives of the Guinness Book of World Records and a handful of notaries and lawyers made approximately 965 pounds of rice, beans, sweet chile, garlic, salt and pepper in their attempt to make a new world record. Annoyed by the feat and that Costa Rica then claimed that gallo pinto was their national dish and creation, the Pharaoh’s Casino in Nicaragua announced that they will outdo the Costa Ricans. As stated by Pharaoh’s representative Javier Lopez, “We are going to prepare the biggest gallo pinto in the world because it is 100-percent Nica!” Two weeks later, 15 chefs from Managua’s hotels and restaurants prepared 1,200 pounds of rice and beans, which fed 9,000 people.
But year after year the neighboring countries battle raged on, each one making a larger batch of Gallo Pinto then the next. Although the Guinness Book of World Records officially states that Nicaragua holds the world record for making the
largest pot of gallo pinto, this remains in question. The World Record recorded on September 15, 2007 (proclaimed “Gallo Pinto Day” in Nicaragua) when a steaming vat fed 22,200 people in a widely publicized event again held at the Pharaoh’s Casino in Managua. To answer that achievement, Costa Rica blew away the competition in 2009 by feeding 50,000 people after cooking 3,300 pounds of rice and 2,640 pounds of beans. It was prepared by several dozen chefs at the Hotel Ramada Plaza Herradura, located west of San José. This was considered such a huge feat that the Pharaoh’s Casino in Nicaragua currently has no plans to try to best it, or to even continue its “Gallo Pinto Day.”

Argue if you may…’s Costa Rican! No, it’s Nicaraguan! But honestly…..Gallo Pinto is simply one of the culinary gems of Latin America and should be enjoyed by all wherever the heck it came from! Don’t forget the Lizano Salsa!!

Here is an easy to follow video on how to make Gallo Pinto. Note that it is the “National Nicaraguan Dish”, though they show the many countries that consume this delicious Latin Breakfast staple! Buen provecho!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Getting ¨Casado¨ in Costa Rica. No, not married….read on!

August 13, 2011

If you are looking for one of the best and tasty deals to be found in Costa Rica, think about getting ¨married¨. Wait, wait, wait, no need to run screaming, ¨married¨ is the English translation for the most popular dish in all of Costa Rica…..the ¨Casado¨, where rice and beans are ¨married¨, and served with other common local ingredients.
To be perfectly honest, Costa Rican cuisine is not a show stopper, in fact it can be downright plain for those that prefer to challenge their palate, but that doesn’t mean it is not good or that you will not enjoy eating like the locals do. In Costa Rica, rice and beans are the standard ¨Tico¨ fare, and they are generally consumed in some form or another in all three daily meals, and it is a great nutritious option.
Starting with the ubiquitous ¨Gallo Pinto¨ (painted rooster) served for breakfast, this delicious and filling mix of rice and beans, chopped cilantro, sweet chili, and onion is served almost every morning with sour cream and/or the famous ¨Lizano Salsa¨, along side eggs, tortillas, and perhaps a slice of cheese, and followed later in the day by the ¨Casado¨.
Served at almost any ¨Soda¨ be it the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean Coast or everywhere in between, the ¨Casado¨ is always your best bet while visiting Costa Rica. Most commonly this popular ¨typical¨ dish consists of a chopped cabbage and tomato salad, fried sweet plantains, picadillo (a mix of chopped potatoes, carrots, green beans in a light tomato sauce), a choice of chicken, fish, or meat, often times a hard-boiled egg and/or a slice of fresh salty, slightly smelly white cheese, and of course…..don’t forget the rice and beans!
For anyone thinking this does not sound particularly appetizing, you will be pleasantly surprised, as the ¨Casado¨ is not only delicious, but it is a plate load of food worthy of two appetites. There are economic reasons for the creation of this ¨tipico¨ dish. Though richer than some of its neighbors, Costa Rica is nonetheless still considered a poor country, and its native residents never had the money to develop a sophisticated cuisine or palate as their culinary tradition evolved over the decades. Thus this cheap and nutritious marriage of rice and beans caught on as the typical ¨workman´s lunch¨.
For those of you who are worried about the safety of food in Costa Rica or their ¨Sodas¨, you needn’t be overly concerned. Costa Rica doesn’t have the risks that many other Central American countries are known for, but there are a couple of things that you should keep in mind while visiting. Pesticide control is not as

strict as the USA, so wash fruit and vegetables before eating them and if you’re eating something that’s peeled, it’s best if it was you that peeled it. Also, when deciding to eat out, the fancier restaurants are not always the cleanest, so in fact, eating where the locals eat is often the safest way to go.

So the next time you find yourself driving the back roads of Costa Rica (they all feel like back roads in Costa Rica), we highly recommend you try the ¨Casado¨ to not only fill your hungry belly, but to avoid putting a dent in your wallet, leaving more money to take home that famous Costa Rica coffee!
The other ¨married¨ you were thinking of?…….Well we’ll just leave that decision up to you!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Calling all Cookie Monsters…Costa Rica’s most Famous Cookie Company!

July 27, 2011

If you’ve ever traveled in Costa Rica, you likely are familiar with Pozuelo products. Perhaps you didn’t even realize it, but if you’ve eaten cookies, crackers, small cakes or other dessert treats off store shelves, then you have surely been eating products of the famous Pozuelo Group! Easily one of the most respected brands in Costa Rica, Riviana Pozuelo has been an integral part of “snacking” in Costa Rica for an amazing 95 years!!

History of the Cookie:
One of the first widely known “foods” worldwide are commonly known as “cookies”. Starting as a kind of long lived flat bread, this food item was most often distributed to crews of ships, as well as groups of soldiers whether out on the high seas or fighting on the battlefield. These days, the term “cookie” can refer to a wide range of food products consisting of a wide variety of shapes and flavors, and most often produced in private homes, bakeries or in larger industrial factory operations. The technical definition of “cookies” (also sometimes referred to as “biscuits”) states according to the Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Technology that “cookies” are products containing very little moisture, consisting of flour and being rich in fat and sugar. (Yummy!) A further reference in the Spanish Dictionary lists the “cookie” as deriving from a 1636 French word “galette” (galleta in Spanish) in which they are considered to be an unleavened bread product.

In more primitive times, the use of raw forms of flour enabled ancient tribes and nomads to prepare a hardened dough that although not particularly palatable, was travel friendly and easily stored with no refrigeration or special preservation measures. Before that, the grains had simply been finely ground and eaten by mixing with water or milk, and forming a kind of porridge. Upon the discovery of fire, “man” used this doughy mixture to form the first unleavened bread, shaping it into small cakes or round cookies, spreading it on hot flat stones, then covering them during the cooking process, resulting in what we would consider equivalent to our most basic cookies or crackers of today. Frankly, the new ability to “cook” the biscuits drastically transformed this food’s overall quality, quantity, durability and most importantly, it’s taste, forever guaranteeing the cookie’s place in food history!

Who is Riviana Pozuelo anyway?
One of the leading companies in Costa Rica, their success is the result of the extensive efforts by a well trained staff of employees whose goal is to produce daily world-class biscuits or cookies. Their human resource strategy has created a company culture based on productivity and high standards of customer service and consumer satisfaction. DCR Pozuelo Cookie Company S.A. is a subsidiary of Grupo Nacional de Chocolates S.A., focusing on the production and marketing of cookies and crackers for domestic consumption in Costa Rica and increasingly more and more for export worldwide. Located in one of the most recognized industrial zones in Costa Rica called La Uruca, folks can “smell” the company as they drive through this area located on the outskirts of the capital city of San Jose. Pozuelo also has regional warehouses located throughout the country and for many years this company has been exporting a high percentage of their production throughout Central America, Panama, the Caribbean and the Latin American communities in the United States.

Commitment to Quality:
Since the inception of this prestigious company, Pozuelo has worked to provide their customers the best cookies, crackers and snack foods, always meeting the highest standards of national and international quality. Based on this commitment, Cookie Company DCR Pozuelo, S.A. obtained the ISO-9002 : 94 quality standard in August 1999, after several years of dedicated work and production changes by it’s employees. The certification was given by INTECO (Standards Institute of Costa Rica) and AENOR (Spanish Association for Standardization), two internationally recognized entities. Subsequently, the development of the new version of ISO standards, the DCR Pozuelo Cookie Company in 2002 obtained recertification with an even higher international quality standard of ISO-9001: 2000.

Business History:
With the idea to offer a product of unparalleled flavor and texture, in the year 1919, businessman Felipe Pozuelo, a Spanish national, founded a biscuit factory in the small town of San Jose, Costa Rica. Thus was born the “Cookie & Confectionery
Factory Felipe Pozuelo and Sons Ltd”. Originally only a small building located on the well known street of Paseo Colon in front of the Hospital San Juan de Dios, in 1949, due to growth and the need to meet the high demand for their products, the owners were forced to expand their infrastructure and factory machinery. To that end, acquired in 1960, land situated at the perimeter of the capital city in La Uruca, became the new home to Pozuelo Cookie & Confectionery and their offices and production factory remain in this same location to this day. In 1964, the company was sold to Grace & Co. and six years later, in 1970, was acquired by the U.S. company Riviana Foods, Inc., out of Houston, Texas. Since that adquisition, all products made by the Company are now marked with the label “Riviana Pozuelo”. With that well needed cash infusion, this food company has continued to expand it’s services, product line, while working with its subsidiary, Grupo Nacional de Chocolates S.A., they continue invest in food companies based in Colombia and have expanded to become a part of the conglomerate known as Grupo Empresarial Antioquia.

Company Activities:
Riviana Pozuelo is a company which over the years has been characterized by its great interest in broadening channels of communication and relationships with its customers. To do this, Pozuelo created a series of Educational Events, with team leaders in charge of giving visitors a tour of their factory, as well as having a team of Special Events Coordinators to develop different activities in the market further engaging customers and consumers, while enabling the company to reward their customers for their loyalty and preference for their products. Some of the activities are designed as a collaboration to increase sales overall. Examples of this include the “Ruta del Sabor” and “Cookie Week”. Other events like the Tour Chiky ® and “Growing Together Cremito ®, focuses on bringing fun and learning to their valued consumers.

Educational Events:
Riviana Pozuelo invites teachers to bring their students for educational tours of the cookie and cracker factory to learn the process of production of their many delicious sweet products. This educational tour is part of an overall strategy in their Sales and Marketing department, likely forever etching the brand in the minds of all Costa Rican children, guaranteeing future sales of their sugary products! This tour is conducted in the “World of Fantasy Cookie Pozuelo ®”, a specially designed room that welcomes visitors from throughout the country, creating a fun and informative learning environment for students and their teachers.

Cookie Week:
Cookie Week consists of fun filled promotional activities inviting consumers to try the different Pozuelo products be it in store front promotions, stands at special events, or the “Caravan Parade” where clowns and other company mascots put on a show, provide free products and have an extensive give away known as “muuuucha galleta.” (Lot’s of cookie.) The company also arranges performances at school events, where children enjoy the show known as “Growing Together with Cremito Pozuelo”®. So watch for Riviana Pozuelo items at your local supermarkets, where you can often find special product promotions, contests, raffles for great prizes and even win free trips!!

Route of Flavor:
The “Ruta de Sabor” is a similar activity run during a single day, a weekend or sometimes for a week, at which the company offers extraordinary activities and attractive promotions for customers. The Taste Trail serves to increase sales and strengthen the business image for their customers.

Growing Together in School Program:
The Growing Together program began more than fifteen years ago. It is designed to have contact with the elementary students at their own school, using fun-filled activities, contests and prizes, including “muuuucha galleta.” (Lots of cookie!) Its main objective is to promote values important to the development of children such as respect, humility, honesty, responsibility, ethics, morality and family bonds among others. It also seeks to develop a positive mindset in the social and educational development of all children. The event brings together children, parents and teachers in positive learning environment. The Pozuelo Cookie Company also sponsors events that provide institutions an attractive medium in which to raise funds for good causes, without making any investment or outlay of cash.

Tour Chiky ®:
A complete variety show designed by the Pozuelo team for the older kids of different schools throughout the country. It seeks to motivate the adolescent mental health and enhance athletic and artistic skills in a fun filled environment with many incentives and prizes. This activity offers young people a healthy form of recreation, where teenagers release their energy and encourages positive interactions between peers and teachers, all in an environment that combines the delicious taste of cookies Chiky ® with the best music, animation and entertainment. It is important to note that these events also give schools the opportunity to raise funds for purposes that benefit the school institution.

So is that a great company, or what? Not only does Pozuelo have delicious sugary products, but they hold themselves to a high standard of quality, provide excellent customer service, as well as engaging ways to interact with their consumer base. So the next time you are in your local pulperia, supermarket, Costa Rica hotel, many restaurants in Costa Rica, or visiting friends pantry, don’t forget to look for all the great Rivana Pozuelo cookie, cake, cracker and other YUMMY products…. your taste buds will thank you forever!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

DNA tells the Tale of Two Branches of the Coconut Palm

June 27, 2011

(This fascinating article is a republish courtesy of the Washington University St. Louis. Original article published on June 23 online issue of the journal PLoS One.)

The “Coconut”, the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera, is the Swiss Army knife of the plant kingdom. In one neat package it provides a high-calorie food, potable water, fiber that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. What’s more, until it is needed for some other purpose it serves as a handy flotation device.

No wonder people from ancient Austronesians to Captain Bligh pitched a few coconuts aboard before setting sail. The mutiny of the “Bounty” is supposed to have been triggered by Bligh’s harsh punishment of the theft of coconuts from the ship’s store.

So extensively is the history of the coconut interwoven

with the history of people traveling that Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, didn’t expect to find much geographical structure to coconut genetics when he and his colleagues set out to examine the DNA of more than 1,300 coconuts from all over the world.

“I thought it would be mostly a mish-mash,” he says, thoroughly homogenized by humans schlepping coconuts with them on their travels.

He was in for a surprise. It turned out that there are two clearly differentiated populations of coconuts, a finding that strongly suggests the coconut was brought under cultivation in two separate locations, one in the Pacific basin and the other in the Indian Ocean basin. What’s more, coconut genetics also preserve a record of prehistoric trade routes and of the colonization of the Americas.

The discoveries of the team, which included Bee Gunn, now of the Australian National University in Australia, and Luc Baudouin of the Centre

International de Recherches en Agronomie pour le Développement in Montpellier, France, as well as Olsen, associate professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, are described in the June 23 online issue of the journal PLoS One.

Before the DNA era, biologists recognized a domesticated plant by its morphology. In the case of grains, for example, one of the most important traits in domestication is the loss of shattering, or the tendency of seeds to break off the central grain stalk once mature.

The trouble was it was hard to translate coconut morphology into a plausible evolutionary history.

There are two distinctively different forms of the coconut fruit, known as niu kafa and niu vai, Samoan names for traditional

Polynesian varieties. The niu kafa form is triangular and oblong with a large fibrous husk. The niu vai form is rounded and contains abundant sweet coconut “water” when unripe.

“Quite often the niu vai fruit are brightly colored when they’re unripe, either bright green, or bright yellow. Sometimes they’re a beautiful gold with reddish tones,” says Olsen.

Coconuts have also been traditionally classified into tall and dwarf varieties based on the tree habit, or shape. Most coconuts are talls, but there are also dwarfs that are only several feet tall when they begin reproducing. The dwarfs account for only 5 percent of coconuts.

Dwarfs tend to be used for eating fresh, and the tall forms for coconut oil and for fiber.

“Almost all the dwarfs are self fertilizing and those three traits — being dwarf, having the rounded sweet fruit, and being self-pollinating — are thought to be the definitive domestication traits,” says Olsen.

“The traditional argument was that the niu kafa form was the wild, ancestral form that didn’t reflect human selection, in part because it was better adapted to ocean dispersal,” says Olsen. Dwarf trees with niu vai fruits were thought to be the domesticated form.

The trouble is it’s messier than that. “You almost always find coconuts

near human habitations,” says Olsen, and while the niu vai is an obvious domestication form, the niu kafa form is also heavily exploited for copra, the dried meat ground and pressed to make oil, and coir, fiber woven into rope.”

“The lack of universal domestication traits together with the long history of human interaction with coconuts, made it difficult to trace the coconut’s cultivation origins strictly by morphology,” Olsen says.

The project got started when Ms. Gunn, who had long been interested in palm evolution, and who was then at the Missouri Botanical Garden, contacted Olsen, who had the laboratory facilities needed to study palm DNA.

Together they won a National Geographic Society grant that allowed Ms. Gunn to collect coconut DNA in regions of the western Indian Ocean for which there were no data. The snippets of leaf tissue from the center of the coconut tree’s crown she sent home in zip-lock bags to be analyzed.

“We had reason to suspect that coconuts from these regions —especially Madagascar and the Comoros Islands — might show evidence of ancient gene flow events brought about by ancient Austronesians setting up migration routes and trade routes across the southern Indian Ocean,” Olsen says.

Olsen’s lab genotyped 10 microsatellite regions in each palm sample.

Microsatellites are regions of stuttering DNA where the same few nucleotide units are repeated many times. Mutations pop up and persist pretty easily in these regions because they usually don’t affect traits that are important to survival and so aren’t selected against, says Olsen. “So we can use these genetic markers to fingerprint the coconut,” he says.

The new collections were combined with a vast dataset that had been established by the French agricultural research center, using the same genetic markers. “These data were being used for things like breeding, but no one had gone through and systematically examined the genetic variation in the context of the history of the plant,” Olsen says.

The most striking finding of the new DNA analysis is that the Pacific and Indian Ocean coconuts are quite distinct genetically. “About a third of the total genetic diversity can be partitioned between two groups that correspond to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean,” says Olsen.

“That’s a very high level of differentiation within a single species and provides pretty conclusive evidence that there were two origins of cultivation of the coconut,” he says.

In the Pacific, coconuts were likely first cultivated in island Southeast Asia, meaning the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and perhaps the continent as well. In the Indian Ocean the likely center of cultivation was the southern periphery of India, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and the Laccadives.

The definitive domestication traits — the dwarf habit, self-pollination and niu vai fruits — arose only in the Pacific, however, and then only in a small subset of Pacific coconuts, which is why Olsen speaks of origins of cultivation rather than of domestication.

“At least we have it easier than scientists who study animal domestication,” he says. “So much of being a domesticated animal is being tame, and behavioral traits aren’t preserved in the archeological record.”

One exception to the general Pacific/Indian Ocean split is the western Indian Ocean, specifically Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, where Ms. Gunn had collected. The coconuts there are a genetic mixture of the Indian Ocean type and the Pacific type.

Olsen and his colleagues believe the Pacific coconuts were introduced to

the Indian Ocean a couple of thousand years ago by ancient Austronesians establishing trade routes connecting Southeast Asia to Madagascar and coastal east Africa.

Olsen points out that no genetic admixture is found in the more northerly Seychelles, which fall outside the trade route. He adds that a recent study of rice varieties found in Madagascar shows there is a similar mixing of the japonica and indica rice varieties from Southeast Asia and India.

To add to the historical shiver, the descendants of the people who brought the coconuts and rice are still living in Madagascar. The present-day inhabitants of the Madagascar highlands are descendants of the ancient Austronesians, Olsen says.

Much later the Indian Ocean coconut was transported to the New World by Europeans. The Portuguese carried coconuts from the Indian Ocean to the West Coast of Africa, Olsen says, and the plantations established there were a source of material that made it into the Caribbean and also to coastal Brazil.

So the coconuts that found today in Florida are largely the Indian Ocean type, Olsen says, which is why they tend to have the niu kafa form.

On the Pacific side of the New World tropics, however, the coconuts are Pacific Ocean coconuts. Some appear to have been transported there in pre-Columbian times by ancient Austronesians moving east rather than west.

During the colonial period, the Spanish brought coconuts to the Pacific coast of Mexico from the Philippines, which was for a time governed on behalf of the King of Spain from Mexico.

This is why, Olsen says, you find Pacific type coconuts on the Pacific coast of Central America and Indian type coconuts on the Atlantic coast.

“The big surprise was that there was so much genetic differentiation clearly correlated with geography, even though humans have been moving coconut around for so long.”

Far from being a mish-mash, coconut DNA preserves a record of human cultivation, voyages of exploration, trade and colonization.

With the above information, we now know more about the colonization around the world by just following the leads of the coconut DNA! So if you

haven’t tried the different varieties of Coconut found around the world, and more specifically, the types found here in Costa Rica, why wait any longer? Whether looking for a refreshing and healthy beverage (think “Pipa” in Costa Rica), or a tasty snack or unique flavor for whatever dish you may be preparing (think “Coco” in Costa Rica), both types are readily available on both coasts, so get your Tropical vibe on!!

Much more about coconuts in future blog posts!! It’s the fruit that keeps on giving!!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Bee F. Gunn1, Luc Baudouin2, Kenneth M. Olsen3*
1 Division of Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 2 Centre International de Recherches en Agronomie pour le Développement (CIRAD), Montpellier, France, 3 Biology Department, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America

Quepos, Costa Rica…once home to the Fierce Quepoa Indians!

January 30, 2010

Quepos acquired its name from the Quepoa Indians, which derived from the Boruca tribes that migrated northward from Columbia towards the end of the first millinium. The great conquistador, Juan Vasquez de Coronado, declared the Quepoa Indians as the ¨most beautiful people seen in these indies¨.
The Quepoa Indians were well respected as fierce fighters, and are said to have pilaged great quantities of gold from the Caribbean tribes of this country in their reign as relentless warriors. It is said that these tribes lived the majority of the year near the foothills of the Naranjo and Savegre Rivers for the purpose of more productive farming, while in the rainiest months they inhabited the coastal hills of Manuel Antonio, concentrating around Quepos Point.
The earliest recorded European presence in Manuel Antonio dates back to around 5 years after the famous Spanish explorer Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean in the early 1500´s. Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who would later be credited with discovering Florida in his quest to find the fountain of youth, arrived to the shores of Costa Rica, and more specifically the Manuel Antonio area in the year 1519. Upon his arrival to our shores, his flotella encountered a large presence of fearsome taunting Quepoa Indian Warriors lining the beach, and wisely declined to make landfall.
To this day, there continues a legend that a hidden treasure of some seven hundred tons of gold, silver, pearls, emeralds and other jewels exists somewhere in the territories that the Quepoa Indians occupied. Though this has never been confirmed, and obviously the treasure has never been discovered, infamous English privateer John Clipperton spent a good part of the late 1600´s exploring the area and befriending the Quepoa Tribes in his attempts to claim this immense fortune. Upon his death in 1722, Clipperton still believed the largest world treasure existed in our area, but was unsuccessful in his quest to claim it.
In the year 1746, after many years of Spanish rebellions, disease brought on by the European settlers, and warfare between rivaling Indian Groups, the Quepoa tribe was forced into extinction. The whereabouts of the legendary treasure, estimated to be worth billions of dollars at today’s currency still remains a mystery!

The actual town of Quepos first came to modern prominence as a busy shipping port for exporting bananas for the United Fruit Company. After years of devastating disease devastating the banana industry, this crop was scrapped and the agriculture fields were converted to the 40,000 plus hectares of African Palm trees that you see today. Prized for the diverse properties the oil produces, African Palm oil is now used as bio-fuel, in creams & cosmetics, soaps, margarines, as well as cooking and industrial oils. Although this crop continues to be a major economic force in our area, it helped fuel the decline of Quepos as a major shipping port, as the smaller fruit is much easier to transport and refine locally.

Surprisingly, even as late as the 1950´s basic communication between Quepos and the rest of the country was a challenge. Roads were almost non-existent, and passage by mule, donkey, horse or oxen cart was for many years the norm for the locals that lived in the area. In the 1940´s the president of Costa Rica, Rafael Angel Calderon declared Quepos and Parrita districts of Puntarenas, and it was at that time that they started work on a major road to San Jose, but that took many years to complete. There was a small railroad between Quepos and Parrita, but it was not widely used for the public and more often at low tide airplanes would land on the beach in front of the main street in front of what now stands as our sea wall. This is how they accommodated the first tourists, which arrived mostly during the dry months of January, February and March, and whom at that time were almost exclusively Costa Rican. It was not until the 70´s that the African Palm industry prospered enough that highways became an absolute necessity, and the first telephone arrived to the Quepos area.

Quepos, home to numerous hotels, restaurants and other tourist operations, it serves as the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park and it’s even wider variety of hotels, is now better known for it´s World Class Sportfishing, claiming some 17 IGFA records!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.