Much has been said about Costa Rican products and Costa Rican cuisines. Many food magazines have come to describe the country as one of Latin America's most "underappreciated cuisines''. Food is not notoriously spicy, such as the one you'll find in Mexico, or known for its imaginative cooking techniques, like the fresh ceviches in Perú.
However, it's wide range of ingredients and easy access to fresh produce allows for inventive flavor combinations. As Nicholas Gill says, "Beyond the cattle ranches and coffee plantations, small farmers grow vegetables like chayote, arracacha, and purple corn that are often sold through the country’s vast network of ferías, the weekly regional farmers markets held in every corner of the country."
A lot of Costa Rican products follow a similar path. There are many high-quality products that use fruits, vegetables and herbs you'll find anywhere and everywhere in Costa Rica. This makes it hard selecting only one!
Here are 3 reasons behind what makes Costa Rican scents and flavors so special.
Influences from Many Places
Chef Pablo Bonilla said that Costa Rica is a beautiful mix of many cultures, and he's right. The influence from Andalusian, Catalan and Galician peoples from Spain mix with the Indigenous descendants of the Mayas in the north and the Chibchas in the south. Also, you have influences of Ghanian and Guinean populations from Africa and Indian and Chinese from Asia.
This mixture of influences is best described by food historian Marjorie Ross as food with "European techniques and native ingredients, made in African pots". Many national recipes, such as olla de carne and countless sweets, are of Spanish origins, having been adapted to involve regional ingredients. You'll also notice the use of foreign techniques and local ingredients in Caribbean cuisine, where the influence of Indian, Chinese and African flavors have been pivotal.
Some of the most popular dishes and products in Costa Rica date back from the dominant cultural indigenous groups from the north and the south. Tortillas, chorreadas and many corn-based products commonly consumed the communities of Chorotega in Guanacaste and have been adapted by a more popular population. The same has happened with cacao, which has been safeguarded by the Bribri and Boruca for thousands of years.
As part of the education of every Costa Rica, we learn that our country is located in a unique geographical position. On a map, Costa Rica can be spotted as a thin strip of land connecting two massive bodies of land. This bridge of sorts has been used by both humans and other animals to move from one place to another. Costa Rica has benefitted from becoming a geographical meeting point for hundreds of species and populations, as this has contributed to its cultural and biological diversity.
As a matter of fact, Costa Rica is considered one of the most biodiverse regions in the entire world. Part of it is because of where it is located. However, Costa Rica’s biodiversity is also attributed to the dramatic shifts in terrain — this tiny country has wetlands, mountains, rivers, and arid plains. All of this is packed into a small territory, which comprises roughly 0.03 of the Earth's surface!
This is why, when it comes to fruits, vegetables and herbs, there are a great deal of products that grow exclusively on Costa Rican soil. Pitahya, pitangas, purple corn and several types of chiles are just some of the many products that grow easily in this fertile, perpetually sunny land.
The Key to Great Latin American Food Is Soil
Location has also determined the fertility of Costa Rican soil, a characteristic which must be factored into why some fruits taste remarkably better here. When compared to other bodies of land, Costa Rica is relatively young — only a couple of millions of years! A young terrain usually features great volcanic activity, and this country is no exception: this minute piece of land is home to 122 volcanoes, five of which remain active.
The land surrounding the volcanoes is mineral-rich, allowing for virtually anything to grow. However, having very fertile land is just a part of a very complex equation that allows Costa Rican products to grow with relative ease. The other part has to do with the country’s complex geographical surface.
Costa Rica is a mountainous country located between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. In between the beaches and mangroves you’ll find several mountain ranges that cut the country into different regions. You’ll find valleys, plateaus, volcanoes, mountains and bodies of water within mere kilometers from one to another. Such a diverse geography helps in the creation of microclimates, or a local set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in the surrounding areas.
Different microclimates are the reason why the same variant of coffee (or cacao) may taste substantially different, even though both are grown in the same country. This is why farmers are particularly observant of where they grow their crops. Over hundreds of years, and through trial and error, as well as careful observation, many have learned to grow their products while taking full advantage of what the country has to offer.
- Gill, N (2020). Everything You Need to Know About Costa Rican Food. Eater. Found on: https://www.eater.com/21516828/costa-rican-food-explainer-dishes-drinks