The leguminous tree Erythrina edulis is known as porotón in northern Ecuador and cáñaro in southern Ecuador. The Cañari people of southern Ecuador may be the source of the name that is still used in the south. This tree is native to the Andean region, and in the equatorial zone is found at 1000-2800 meters above sea level. In Ecuador, it is especially found in the provinces of Imbabura, Pichincha, Cañar y Azuay. It produces an abundance of pods 20-30 centimeters long and 5 centimeters wide. Within the pods are large beans that can be eaten in their entirety when young, but when mature, they are best with pods removed.
Porotón beans are served paired with other foods or as a garnish, and are also incorporated into stews and soups. Sweets and other pastries can be made from a flour of ground, dried beans. When tender, the entire pod can be used in salads and soups. The tree’s flowers are also edible, and used as a decoration or as a condiment. It is also believed to have medicinal properties; it is, for example, utilized to combat intestinal worms. It is common to see this species cultivated and used as a natural fence on people’s properties. Due to ease of reproduction, coupled with its small size and nitrogen-fixing properties, the porotón has great potential as a food source in managed “edible forests.” Additionally, it is one of the most appropriate shade covers for coffee and cacao. The porotón tree produces one or two harvests a year, with an average annual yield of 200 kg of beans per tree. Porotón is rarely found sold commercially, though it was once available in abundance. Some people still harvest the pods from the tree for personal consumption, but many who have the tree growing on their property no longer are aware of the tree’s culinary potential.
This tree has long been a food source for local people, since pre-Hispanic times. During Spanish colonialism, ancient food forests were destroyed and the porotón was relegated to being just a botanical barrier. Given the progression toward monoculture livestock and agribusiness that has dominated the last few decades in Ecuador, today, its presence is even more scarce and its use rare; the culture of porotón has only been sustained through the work of enthusiasts who have worked to safeguard this part of the local culinary culture.