Palms for Edible Fruits


Palms, like other trees, flower, and from the flower a fruit is produced. This fruit usually consists of a thin skin, the exocarp, a somewhat thicker flesh which might be very fibrous, the mesocarp, and one or rarely, two or three seeds, each covered by a woody shell and with a kernel that tends to be compact and hard, with or without a central cavity. Very few if any palm fruits are poisonous, but they sometimes contain calcium oxalate crystals which make them irritating and inedible. Many palm fruits are marginally edible either raw or after cooking, but very few are of such high quality that they can be eaten out of hand as one might eat a plum, a peach, or a mango. In this chapter some of the best of the palms with edible fruits, sometimes called dessert fruits, are discussed. However, a world wide comparison is very difficult for many of the edible palms of the world are known in very isolated regions, and very little has ever been written about them. There may be excellent palm fruits available, yet unknown to science.

The uses of 5 palms (Fig. 3, 4), each producing edible fruits, are emphasized here (Table 6). The date palm is not included in this discussion in spite of the high quality and great economic and social importance of the fruit. The reader is referred to Chapter 4 for a discussion of the date palm. The coconut palm is not discussed either because the mesocarp is fibrous and inedible. The four palms featured in this chapter are shown in part in Fig. 4. There are perhaps hundreds of other species of palms with edible fruits where the information available is inadequate.

Table 6. Uses Of Four Palms Bearing Edible Fruits*






Entire palm Understory
of forest
Typical of
Trunks ----- Construction Multiuses Construction
Spines ----- Tattoos ---- ----
Terminal bud ----- Edible Edible Edible
Leaf blade Tend to be spiny and thus not very suitable for use      
Inflorescence ---- Sap used Modified
as thorns
Sap used

Immature fruit  

Pulp Pickled ----- ----- ----

Mature fruit    

Fruit pulp Edible raw Cooked Edible raw Raw or dried
Kernel ----- Edible As betel Edible
Germinating nut ----- ----- Edible ----

* The date palm is not included in this table because of more adequate

The date palm

Because Chapter 4 includes the date palm, this important palm will not be discussed again except to remind the reader of its importance.

The Salak Palm

The salak palm, Salacca edulis, is a favorite fruit of Indonesia but very little known and seldom grown outside of its region of origin, Indonesia and Malaysia. Because of its quality as a fresh fruit, there is considerable interest in establishing it in other parts of the world. It occurs wild but is also found in carefully cultivated plantations. The palm has a very short trunk with pinnate fronds that grows in the rain forest as an understory tree. It is a thorny devil, and the bronze colored fruits, borne in compact clusters among the branches, are difficult to harvest. As in the case of many other palms, the fruits appear to be covered with a scaly skin, the exocarp, which, in reality, is easily cut and removed from the fruit. The pulp is whitish or yellowish, soft but firm, easily eaten fresh, with an unusual aroma and a sweet to subacid taste. The pulp surrounds one or several seeds. The unripe fruits may be pickled and the ripe fruits may be cooked as preserves. Ripe fruits are frequently harvested and shipped rapidly to distant markets. They do not keep for more than a few days.

Most of the salak palms are clearly male or female, but hermaphroditic palms occur on the island of Bali, and are much appreciated for the quality of their fruits. In Indonesia there is a program to study and develop salak as an economic resource. While palms may be grown from seeds, selected plants can be preserved as varieties by two techniques that depend on the tendency of the plant to multiply itself rapidly by rooted offshoots. Removal of the sideshoots is a difficult process. In addition, the long, slim trunks can bend over and touch the soil, where they root readily and may be removed as separate plants.

The Peach Palm

The peach palm, pejibaye, or chontadura, Bactris gasipaes (Guilielma gasipaes) is a tall palm of the rain forest, growing at elevations from sea level to about 3000 feet. It may not occur except in a state of cultivation. The palm is frequently multiple-trunked, and new side shoots are often produced by mature palms. The trunks may be smooth but are more often spiny. The leaves are pinnate. Fruits are produced in clusters, of which a single trunk may produce a dozen or more. The fruits vary in size roughly comparable to the potential sizes of a chicken's egg, and in color when ripe from green to light yellow, yellow to deep yellow. The thick mesocarp usually includes one hard nut.

The fruits of the peach palm hardly resemble in any way their namesake. The entire fruits are eaten cooked after boiling for several hours in water, often salted. The fruit is then served, or the fruit may be peeled and the seed removed first. It is common to see the pulp included in many local dishes. The pulp is both starchy and oily, not at all sweet, with an agreeable flavor that has been compared to that

of the chestnut, yet others find a strikingly satisfying unique taste and texture typical of staple foods. Indeed, in some regions native peoples use the fruits as a principal part of the diet during their season. The cooked fruits may be canned and are offered in international markets in this fashion. At the home level they can be dried and stored, to be rechecked later. The dried fruit pulp can be ground to a useful flour. The seeds are often discarded but may be cracked for the pleasant coconut-like flavor, rich in oil and protein. Still another use for the fruit is to mash it and ferment it to homemade wine, chicha.

The Rattan Palms

Rattan palms from which commercial rattan furniture is made are of many species of two genera (Calamus and Daemonorops) extending in area from tropical Africa through India to Southeast Asia, Australia, and some islands of the Pacific, but especially concentrated in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. They are tall, thin, flexible palms, often very slender, that climb trees by leaning against supports and fastening on with inflorescence modified as hooks. A few species are shorter and are free standing. Rattans are harvested by pulling them down, cutting, cleaning away the thorns, and coiling them for sale. They have been introduced to several places in the tropics and are sometimes grown in plantations.

The fruits of some of the rattans are edible and are found in native markets in Southeast Asia. These include species of Calamus, C. litoko, C. mitis, C. ornatus, C. rotang, C. salicifolius, C. tenuis, and C. usitatus, as well as of Daemonorops, D. palembanicus, D. pericanthus, and D. ruber. The fruits are covered by overlapping scales. They are eaten fresh, out of hand, and are variously described as refreshing, acidic, or insipid. The nuts are often planted and soil hilled around them and the cotyledons and root balls are then cooked.

The world needs more study of the potentialities of these rare fruits.

The Chonta Palm

Chonta, Guilielma insignis, is one of the few palms of Brazil that are used principally for their edible fruit pulp. While other species are used for edible fruit pulp, especially of the genera Acrocomia, Astrocaryum, Bactris, Desmoncus, Diplothemium, Mauritia, and Oenocarpus, in most of such species the use of the fruit is incidental to the use of the palm for other purposes such as for oil or for sap. Chonta is a tall, slim palm with a head of pinnate fronds and rings on the trunk of short spines. The chonta palm is found along some of the large rivers of Brazil and is well extended in its distribution, yet is seldom cultivated.

The fruit of the chonta is plum sized, yellow, with a somewhat fibrous pulp. The flavor is sweet and delicious, recognized as the best dessert fruited palm among the palms of Brazil.

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