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Locust (stinking toe): smells bad, tastes good

Published:Thursday | June 2, 2011 | 12:00 AM
The stinking toe tastes much better than it smells.
The powdery inside can be seen. - Photos by Barbara Ellington

'Stinking toe' refers to the large seed pod of the West Indian locust, (hymenaea courbaril). One of the largest trees in the Caribbean, it is commonly called old man's toe or stinking toe tree. This unusual fruit is now in season and, for those in the Corporate Area, there is a tree along East Kings House Road, just past the governor general's official residence.

The seed pods look like big, fat toes, and the mealy pulp around the seeds, although foul smelling, is edible and tastes good. The fruit is brown with the same shape as the fruit itself, only smaller. The shell is hard and not easy to break.

The inside substance is dry, hairy, powdery and yellow. Once the shell is open, an odour is released that can be said to be just about unbearable. This is a strange thing because the locust fruit tastes so good once one engages in eating it. Then, it's not easy to be satisfied by eating just one.

The smell doesn't bother people or the monkeys, or the agouti - a tropical rodent the size of a hare - that eat the fruit. If the agouti doesn't finish the fruit, it buries the remainder for another day, forgets where it is buried, and one day a young West Indian locust tree may grow from that seed.

The wood of the West Indian locust tree is beautiful. It is a reddish-orange colour, streaked with brown and has a golden sheen. It is used in all kinds of carpentry. However, the resin from the tree could enhance the beauty of a violin because it is used in a fine-violin varnish.

It is known that the West Indian locust tree was part of magic, love spells and wedding ceremonies. The bark, resin and leaves were, and still are, a source of scores of different kinds of local medicines for all kinds of human ailments. The resin was used to make incense used in purification and sanctification rituals, and it may have been one of the incenses burned on top of Mayan pyramids.

Early inhabitants of the Caribbean used to use the whole bark of West Indian locust trees to make boats. They sewed the ends together and waterproofed the seams with a gum or resin, very likely from the same tree.

Inside the fruit or bean, which can be over six inches long and two-plus inches wide, are from two to six big red seeds. Artists will split the seeds or sand one side flat and paint intricate scenes on the smooth surface.

Locust (stinking toe)

Stinking Toe Juice Recipe


3 stinking toes (unshelled)

1 cup brown sugar

1tbs nutmeg

1 gallon water


Blend stinking toes with one gallon water. Add nutmeg and brown sugar. Serve with ice.