A Guide for Subbing Local Produce for Tropical Fruits in Costa Rican Recipes

Bodhi Surf + Yoga / Surf + Yoga Camp Blog / A Guide for Subbing Local Produce for Tropical Fruits in Costa Rican Recipes

There’s nothing quite like slicing into a ripe papaya in the tropics. If you catch it at the right time, just at the peak of sweetness, it is like nature’s candy. We hear guests saying all the time that they never thought they liked this tropical fruit or that, but when they tried it here, it was a whole different experience! There’s just no way a tropical fruit can be picked green, sprayed with artificial ripening agents, and travel that far all while maintaining the same level of amazing. It’s a recipe for disappointment.

We created the Bodhi Cookbook for past guests and loved ones who were interested in recreating the meals we shared at the lodge back in the comfort of their own homes. People travel from all over the world to get to Bodhi Surf + Yoga — from Zurich to Vancouver — so it can be quite challenging to recreate those tropical flavors at home. Because one of our main tenants is environmental stewardship, we want to encourage everyone to find local alternatives to ingredients that may not be available to them back home. Your dishes will taste better, your environmental footprint will be smaller, and your grocery bill will probably be cheaper! It’s a win-win-win.

Learn To Cook Costa Rican Cuisine


Delicious, tropical fruits

We love serving fresh tropical fruit at Bodhi Surf + Yoga

Tasty substitution suggestions for tropical fruits

No matter where you are in the world, there should be something delicious growing. Whether it is an apple in autumn in New England or cherries in the summer in the Pacific Northwest, nature is full of candy — you just have to be patient and know where to find it (and when). If you are in the U.S., a great resource you can use to figure out the local produce that is available and fresh in your state, is this Seasonal Food Guide. Additionally, we’ve gathered a list of some of our favorite alternatives you could use if you can’t get fresh tropical fruit. These are all suggestions so play around with it — you may discover something fun and unique!

Good substitutes for mango

Mangos are truly the gem of all of the tropical fruits. A fresh, juicy mango is truly a special treat. We use it in a few of our Bodhi Cookbook recipes. Pilar’s Black Bean Salad and the Bodhi Tropical Salad both have the option of adding mango. And we always serve mango along with other fresh fruits and yogurt and granola in the mornings! If you do not live in a tropical zone where fresh mango is available, we recommend finding other delicious alternatives! Here are our suggestions:

  • Peaches: Although peaches have their own distinct flavor, they are a great mango substitute in terms of color and texture. Peaches can be used in our salads, salsas, or for breaky. The final product may have a bit of a different flavor, but a fresh peach is a better alternative to an imported mango any day!
  • Nectarines: Similar to peaches but a bit more firm, nectarines are a great alternative in terms of color and texture. If you aren’t in an area for mangoes, try nectarines!
  • Cantaloupe: While not a perfect match, cantaloupe is firm and flavorful when available fresh and can be a yummy replacement for mango.
Mango salad

Peaches and nectarines make a good substitute for mango in salad

Papaya substitutes

As stated above, a fresh papaya is a uniquely tropical fruit treat. We eat piles of papaya on the regular down here, but wouldn’t recommend trying to find fresh papaya outside of the tropics. There are loads of good alternatives that will be even more tasty and forgiving on the wallet. We use green papaya in our Picadillo de Papaya and ripe papaya in Anki’s Zucchini Bread. Here are our recommended alternatives:

  • Pears: A ripe pear has a different texture and color than a papaya, but the sweetness is all there. Pear can replace papaya in your morning fruit bowl or in salads.
  • Apples: Similarly to the pear, if you aren’t in a tropical area you may be able to get a really nice, deliciously sweet apple instead! Pureed apple (or applesauce) can also replace the papaya in Anki’s Zucchini Bread recipe from the Bodhi Cookbook.
  • Honeydew or cantaloupe: Fresh, local, ripe melons are a wonderful papaya alternative. They hold their shape and deliver the same fruity sweetness.
Shopping local for the environment

Shopping for local produce alternatives is better for the environment

Pineapple substitute

Pineapple is one of Costa Rica’s top exports. We are lucky to have access to some really delicious pineapple in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica so we incorporate it into quite a few of our recipes. For example, we use pineapple in our curry recipes, the Fermented Hot Sauce, and our Pineapple Fried Rice. However, we suggest skipping the pineapple if it’s not local to your area and instead opting for one of these:

  • Green apples: Apples are both sweet and tart, similar to the pineapple. And although the texture and flavors are a bit different, apples are a great pineapple substitute.
  • Oranges (or juice): Providing the citrusy, sweet, and tart flavors, oranges can also replace pineapples.
  • Apricots: Again, this replacement is both sweet and tart — like a pineapple. Apricots are a bit more tart than peaches, so they are a nice substitute for pineapple in some recipes.

Plantain Substitutes

Platanos, or plantains, are used in many Latin American cuisines. They look like large bananas but are a bit more starchy and savory. We use plantains for maduros (ripe caramelized plantains) and patacones (twice-fried under-ripe plantains). These are tricky to replace but if needed, try these alternatives:

  • Sweet potato: Sweet potatoes are the ideal replacement for plantains. They replicate the starchiness and the subtle sweetness. Although the texture is not quite the same, it is a good second choice!
  • Bananas: Chances are if plantains are not local to your area, bananas won’t be either. They are, however, available in most grocery stores. It is not ideal, but it is the closest alternative. Use under-ripe bananas for savory dishes and overripe for sweet ones.
Substitutions for tropical produce

Shop local and enjoy delicious fresh fruit year round

Alternatives to palmito

Palmito (a.k.a. Heart of palm) is a classic Costa Rican (and tropical) ingredient. It is typically canned and used in salads or picadillos. Palmito has a unique flavor and it is absolutely delicious but it can be hard to find outside of Latin America. Here are some substitutions you can use instead:

  • Artichoke hearts: Canned or marinated artichoke hearts are an ideal replacement for palmito. They have a similar texture and flavor so most recipes that call for palmito can easily be replaced with artichoke hearts.
  • Asparagus: Asparagus is a little different than palmito but if it is marinated and/or seasoned well it’ll do the trick! Adding asparagus to your salad is a surprising and tasty addition. If you can get it fresh, by all means, give it a try.

For more inspiration…

Learn to cook fresh, tasty, (mostly) healthy Costa Rican recipes! Sign up for Bodhi Online and get our cookbook with 50+ breakfasts, snacks, dinners, drinks, and desserts , PLUS live cooking classes!


Subscribe for blog updates!

Get the latest from the Bodhi blog directly in your inbox.

About the author

The Bodhi Cookbook Author

Sheridan Plummer

Sheridan was a staff member at Bodhi from 2019-20. During her time, she worked on marketing, writing, and graphic design. She also got everyone at Bodhi Surf + Yoga addicted to her delicious baked goods, and now we all suffer deeply at her absence but wishes her the best in all of her ventures!