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grapefruit-seed-extract-freshgrapes Living in Ecuador has given us a variety and quality of food that we literally couldn’t imagine enjoying back in Canada.

The fruit is cheap, fresh and delicious. $1.00 pineapples are huge and extremely sweet. Mangoes are sweet and messy (er, juicy) and cost $0.55 per kg! Grapes, papaya, oranges, limes, and bananas are all amazing.

Does Grapefruit Seed Extract Really Work?

In Canada, we always (tried to) washed our produce well to try to clean it of pesticides and general dirt. But frequently we would by some fruit and eat it unwashed. And we never got sick.
Of course, pesticides are used here in Ecuador, but there is a bigger concern for foreigners. Because of our delicate constitution, we extranjeros must be careful about uncooked fruits and vegetables.

Amoebas and parasites can be given a new home (you) if you aren’t careful about the food you eat.

We had friends living in the Dominican Republic and they used chlorine bleach to soak their food. I’m sure it would do the job, but there is another option.

Before we moved here, we had read about Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) and so we decided to buy 4 bottles to bring with us. 2 oz. cost $16.99 ea (x 4 bottles).

The most common brand in Canada and the States is called The Original GSE – see the picture of the white bottle with red cap.  Because we didn’t know if we could find it, we stocked up. Those 4 bottles lasted more than one year. Its super-concentrated – 10 (or 15) drops into a liter or two of water does the trick.grapefruit-seed-extract-star-bac
When it began to run low, we started looking for a replacement here in Cuenca.

We didn’t want to switch to chlorine, so we were happy to find a few options. Both the Supermaxi and Coral Hipermercados sell grapefruit seed extract. It is less concentrated, but also significantly less expensive.

You’ll find it in the produce sections of both stores. One is called Kilol and the other Star-Bac.

Fresh food needs to be soaked in a disinfectant – for anywhere from 5-15 minutes – depending on the strength of the extract and how strong it is mixed with water.

Like eating? Then you’ll love our guide to Ecuadorian food

We still use the GSE from the US – we just order Nutribiotic – GSE Liquid Concentrate online. We’ve found that because it is more concentrated, it lasts much longer and it justifies the higher price. It takes just 10-15 drops instead of a full cap full of the stuff we buy here.

Read more about how to filter your water while traveling.

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  1. I’m not advocating GSE but I’m not convinced by the wikipedia article. for one thing, these articles are submitted by anyone with an opinion. footnotes help, if you really want to delve into the whole article (quotes out of context are often misleading.) perhaps the reason for its effects on microbes is simply changing the pH in the water. my understanding is that amoebas and other water parasites cannot live above 7.2 to 7.4 pH.

  2. At the risk of pouring cold water (pun intended) on the idea of Grapefruit Seed Extract I would suggest that you read the following Wikipedia article – – that indicates that pure GSE has no antimicrobial effect and it is only the ADDED SYNTHETIC CHEMICALS that give it any antimicrobial effect. In short, the great food-supplement marketing machine has invented this overpriced outlet for GSE.
    Similarly, the magic life-giving water of differing pHs is phony. Pure water has no minerals and pure water has a pH of 7.0 and 7.0 only; a fact upon which all life depends.
    Beware the charlatans, they are far more pervasive than we would like to believe.

    1. so tell me, John. where do you find pure water in it’s natural state? there is no such thing in nature. even rain has already taken some minerals from the air and immediately absorbs more once it hits the soil. the only 7.0 water is distilled and I’m pretty sure our ancestors survived drinking non-distilled water.

  3. Bryan, I lived in Ambato for two years and in Ibarra for ten years. For health reasons (I got old) I moved back to the States in November 2011. For all my years in Ecuador, the fruits and vegetables that I couldn’t easily wash in soap and water (such as blackberries, grapes, cauliflower, etc.)I soaked in Kilol and tap water. And, occasionally, if my stomach felt a bit “rumbley”,I put some Kilol in water (bottled)and drank it. My stomach always felt fine later. I never had a problem with parasites. I always drank bottled water or water I had boiled. If at the house of an Ecuadorian, I always explained that, as a foreigner, my stomach was weaker than their stomach, so I had to drink only bottled water. No one ever, ever took offense at that. They seemed a bit pleased that I didn’t think that I was better than they were (you know, the “ugly American” type). I found that many Ecuadorians realized that we foreigners needed to be careful with our stomachs.
    But, I’d like to know, do you know of any way I can buy Kilol in the States? I’ve searched for it on the internet and couldn’t find a source for it.
    This website is a great service for those who are contemplating moving to Ecuador. It would have been a great help to me when I moved there. BTW, Ibarra is a great city to live in!!
    Susana (formerly of Ibarra)

    1. I forgot to mention one point, it is definitely possible to buy grapefruit seed extract in Ecuador! See Bryan’s comment on Kilol.

  4. I live on the coast and I swear by the GSE. If I feel a little off I take it for a few days and feel better. My question is…..Do you have to use pure water with the GSE or can you use the tap water?

    1. I guess it depends on the quality of the water. If it has heavy metals (or other non-biological contaminants) then GSE won’t do anything. But if it is good water with possible bacteria or amoebas then tap water should be fine. (I’m no expert – this is just how I understand it – I hope other readers will also contribute.)

      1. You don’t want distilled water or Reverse Osmosis since it can be harmful if used frequently. I don’t know, but would think, these two types of water could also negatively impact the GSE since they would take minerals, etc. to normalize. Real pure water has minerals,etc. that’s what make it life giving. Just about any decent filtering system will remove chlorine and other chemicals. And, of coarse, if you get a filtering devise, you should always drink filtered water. I believe Bryan wrote that they used a counter top filter. I use my machine, but wouldn’t reccommend it for just filtering…too costly.

  5. My machine could be a perfect replacement for using chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide on fresh fruit (and maybe even GSE) as well as filtering drinking water.
    The machines are capable of producing high acidic and high alkaline pH water as well as filtered alkaline water for drinking to help your body maintain the correct pH (about 7.33).
    The high acidic (2.5 pH) water from our company’s machines has been used in Japanese hospitals for at least 30 years to sterilize their surgical instruments as well as work areas, etc. The high alkaline water (11.5 pH) is used for general cleaning.
    These waters are now being used in quality hotels in southern California for cleaning and disinfecting (I can provide the newspaper articles, if you wish).
    You can soak fresh fruit in the 2.5 water to kill germs, etc. And then, a short soak in the 11.5 will remove pesticides. Plus you have filtered drinking water. Here’s a brief, one page, article about the benefits of drinking this ionized, micro-clustered, alkaline water (copy & paste):
    If interested at all, let me know what additional info you might want/need. Either for here or Ecuador.
    Hope to see you soon in Ecuador (we’re looking at the Cuenca area.)

  6. Drinking bottled water does have it’s benefits, but I don’t think there are any more benefits that those afforded to you in Canada or the U.S. Our Ecuadorrian doctor told us the Cuenca water system is one of the best in the world and there was no hazard at all in drinking the water. He said Cuenca brought in German water experts to build the water system. In our 90 days in Cuenca, we had no issues. ALSO, we used Hydrogen Peroxide (available in Cuenca – I don’t recall the Spanish name) to sanitize the fruit and vegetables. Just a cap full in a sink of water does it.

    1. Hi Brian, glad its working out for you. Something that stands out to me, is that many Cuencanos drink bottled water. Makes me wonder just how safe the system really is.

  7. Thank you for all the wonderful info! We have been in Cuenca for a few days now, and I couldn’t seem to find the grapefruit seed extract. I think we have a Coral right around the corner from us, so will go buy some today. We’ve taken a grapefruit seed capsule (from the state) every day since we arrived in the country (3 weeks ago), and have been as careful as is possible, and haven’t gotten sick. We hope to stay that way! Maybe we will see you around this beautiful city. 🙂

  8. Thanks for the info! When I lived in Brazil I disinfected all my fruit, but now that I’m heading to eastern europe (the water quality is about the same according to authorities) I need to pack a disinfectant. Thanks for turning me on to this.
    Marek, I can tell you from experience that this is not a just a cultural choice. I was an adventurous traveler until I unknowingly ate some contaminated mayonaise in Tunisia. I was sick for about 6 months and it did permanent damage to my stomach. There are a large number of foods that I can no longer digest even though they were fine before this incident. It’s all in what your body is used to, but since the ramifications can be serious, it never hurts to be careful

  9. Hola,
    I will be in Guayaquil for four months beginning in August for a semester abroad – and I will be staying with a host family. Does anyone know the rules of etiquette on bottled water and soaking foods? I don’t want to offend my host family, but I also don’t want to get sick.

    1. Hi Joan, when we first arrived, we refused everything that didn’t meet our exacting standards. Now, we drink bottled water at home and everywhere possible, but it isn’t always available. When we visit with friends, we eat/drink what they provide – and then take the GSE when we get home. This has prevented confusion / hurt feelings and also we aren’t getting sick. This has been working for us.

  10. I am wondering how much using things like grapefruit seed extract and bleach is a neccesity and how much it’s more a cultural thing. I mean you come from a ‘sterile’ Canada and you consider many things potentially unsafe. I lived in Thailand for two years and traveled around Southeast Asia eating in places which many tourists will not even look at. My personal philosophy, however, was to eat like locals do as it has to be good. No bleaches, no grapefruit extracts seed, no hassle. I am alive and well with no major stomach problems I could remember today. Sure the bacterial flora is different in the tropics, but perhaps the best way to live with it is to get used to it as soon as you can?
    Anyway I will be in Ecuador soon and unless someone can convince me that food here might be more deadly than in Cambodia or Myanmar I’ll keep skipping the pleasure of bleaching my fruits ;-).
    PS. You already know that guys, but keep up the great work. Very informative blog. Thank you.

    1. Hi Marek – i understand your point and I’ve felt the same way at times. For us, we stopped being careful about what we eat and all three of us got both parasites and amoebas. The medicine, although it works, is miserable stuff. GSE is non toxic and has no side effects. I’ve noticed that tourists coming through Ecuador are proud to state that they haven’t “gotten sick yet”. Shortly after we arrived an Ecuadorian medical doctor told us that everyone in the country has parasites. Most are relatively harmless – but not all. And as foreigners our bodies don’t react the same way as locals. From what I understand, its just a matter of time before a person will get sick, if they are eating unwashed fruit and/or drinking tap water.
      Thanks for the comment!

    1. Guess I missed the obvious…
      Yes, it works. It works as a fruit disinfectant, also as a preventative drink (diluted) if you’ve eaten something questionable.

    1. Hi Jose – understood – grapefruit are not grapes. But we do soak our grapes in the grapefruit seed extract, along with mangoes, apples, pineapple and pears.

  11. What do you suggest for travelers/tourists? I'll be spending next month driving around Ecuador, should I avoid all fruit from the markets and vendors. Is there any fruit that would be safe to eat without soaking in GSE…bananas, oranges, thick skinned fruit? I guess I could purchase a tub and soak fruit in my hotel room but that seems like it would be a hassle. Do you soak your fruit in the bottled water or the tap water? When you eat out do the restaurants soak the fruit and vegetables they serve?
    Thanks in advance, Mike

  12. Bryan,
    Although there are some tourists and newcomers who brag about having consumed water from the Cuenca water system with no adverse affects, we know personally many native Cuencanos who only drink bottled water. Better safe than sorry.

    1. Hi Doug,
      Is it Pure Water that you get delivered to your house? We have tried everything to get them to deliver it- we've phoned, gone to their web site and emailed them and even had an Ecuadorian friend phone but so far no luck. Could you share your secret with us because we're really tired of hauling those 5 gallon jugs!

      1. Holly,
        Sorry I missed your question. We have been using a company in Cuenca named Rocas to deliver water to our house for over three years. They are very reliable and come at the same time and day every week. I also had trouble getting Pure Water delivered, but the Rocas folks seem to be more organized and efficient. Let me know if you want the number of our sales man and I can send that info to you in a private email.

        1. Hi Doug, we are here in Cuenca ( a year later) we would like to have bottled water delivered..could you please give us the contact infro for Rocas..many Thanks bettye and chris

        2. Can you give me the phone number of Rocas water delivery? We have gotten some from the local Tienda but it tastes bad, I figure it sat for quite a while. Thanks

    1. The Cuenca water system is rated as one of the best in South America. However, last year where we were living was on another system and we all got sick – from using the water to brush our teeth. We got amoebas – yah! Now we are super careful and we are on the bottled water just like we used in Canada. It tastes better and reduces (hopefully) the risk of getting sick.
      We haven’t heard of anyone getting sick on the Cuenca water system.

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