Guaje The guaje (Leucaena leucocephala) is a legume and the pods and seeds of this beneficial plant are edible if gathered at the right time.
The thin, flat skin of each pod is green to red and slightly translucent allowing the seed within to show as spots along its length. As they age, the pods turn brown. The smooth yet tough skin of each pod is green to red and slightly translucent allowing the seed within to show as spots along its length. As they age, the pods turn brown.
A small scruffy-looking tree that sprouts brilliant green leaves covered in fine silvery hairs, guaje trees are stunning with beautiful red blooms that hang like clusters of grapes throughout the tree's long flowering season. The legume is also known as Leucaena leucocephala and it is a common ornamental in Mexican and Latin American yards, parks, and streetscapes. It can grow to more than 20 feet tall by 18 feet wide and its unusual multicolored blossoms are one of the first signs of spring.
The guaje tree's leaves are used as fodder for cattle in addition to being fed to chickens. The pods are boiled before consumption, removing some of the tannin content that would cause upset stomachs if eaten raw or slightly cooked. The pods are also used as a source of cooking oil, and they can be dried and ground into flour.
It is the seed, however, that is especially valuable to those living near the tree as it is rich in protein ( about 25 percent ) and its oil content ( more than 50 percent ). Ounce per ounce, guaje seed oil has more than three times the protein and eight times the fat of soybean oil.
A staple food in some regions, guaje seeds are known to be eaten raw or roasted. When green, they are tender with flavors of pumpkin seeds, garlic, grass, avocado, and okra. As they age further, their flesh becomes firmer and takes on a brown hue.
Typically, the pods are gathered when they turn yellow or light brown in color, allowing them to split open revealing their pale green beans that are completely encased in their pinkish-red seed jackets. The seed is then removed along with the fibers found between each bean.
The guaje seeds can be eaten raw, salted or spiced. They are also boiled and mixed with rice, nuts, spices, carrots or any combination that strikes the cook's fancy. Once cooked, they have a smoky flavor similar to chestnuts.
The seeds are collected ripe from trees growing in arid regions of Mexico and Latin America. The pods are the main ingredients in the beverage sikua, which is flavored with cocoa beans and/or plums.