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Guaje are available year round with a peak season in spring.
Guaje, pronounced (GWA-heh), is of the genus Leucaena and also know as huajes, hauxya, and guaje beans. Guaje pods grow from a tree know as Leucaena leucocephala which is also known by the Maya as Uaxim and in English as Leadtree, White Popinac and Wild Tamarind. The trees are commonly used as a cover crop and have been celebrated for their use in erosion control as well as their ability to aid in water conservation, reforestation and soil improvement programs.
Guaje pods are thin, flat and approximately a foot long in length. The smooth yet tough skin of the pod is green to red in color and slightly translucent allowing the encapsulated seeds to show as spots along the length of the pod. Its seeds are small and green, similar in size and shape to shelled pumpkin seeds. While the Guaje pods are considered inedible, the seeds are tender when green and fresh and become firmer and take on a brown hue as they dry and age. Their flavor is green, sharp and slightly bitter with nuances of pumpkin seed, garlic, grass, avocado and okra.
Like many legumes the seeds of the Guaje are high in protein. For this reason they have long been used as a feed for livestock, having a nutritive value that rivals even alfalfa.
The seeds of the Guaje can be used fresh when young and green but are most commonly used dried or roasted. In Mexico the dried seeds are roasted and salted and eaten as a snack that is also known as “cacalas”. Popular in Mexican cuisine they are often ground and added to salsas and guacamole. Their flavor enhances soups and sauces, particularly moles. Add ground Guaje seeds to rice dishes, curries, omelets, roasted root vegetables or batter for fritters. Roasting or frying the seeds prior to use will enhance their flavor and impart a subtle sweetness to the seeds.
Guaje pods and seeds were commonly used by native people in Mexico not only as a source of food but for medicinal purposes as well. The people of the Philippine islands sometimes use the seeds as a substitute for coffee beans. In Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands the seeds are used to make jewelry.
Guaje are native to the West Indies, the Yucatan Peninsula and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico and the northern region of South America. It is suspected that it was first introduced to the Philippines in the 16th century as a feed for livestock then soon after spread throughout Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico and Africa. It additionally today can be found growing in California, Texas, Florida, Australia, Brazil and Hawaii. In many countries the Leucaena leucocephala tree that produces Guaje are used as shade trees for coffee, cocoa, black pepper and vanilla trees. The trees thrive in humid to sub humid climates that are not prone to frost or dry seasons lasting longer than seven months.
Recipes that include Guaje. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Desi Food Buzz||Salsa de Guajes|
|Eat Sunday Dinner...Or Something Like It||Heirloom Foods: Daniel's Pork Stew with Guajes, Puebla Style|
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