Heart of palm is a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees (notably coconut (Cocos nucifera), juçara (Euterpe edulis), Açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), palmetto (Sabal spp.), and peach palm). Harvesting of many uncultivated or wild single-stemmed palms results in palm tree death (e.g. Geonoma edulis). However, other palm species are clonal or multi-stemmed plants (e.g. Prestoea acuminata, Euterpe oleracea) and moderate harvesting will not kill the entire clonal palm. Heart of palm may be eaten on its own, and often it is eaten in a salad.
An alternative to wild heart of palm are palm varieties that have become domesticated farm species. The main variety that has been domesticated is Bactris gasipaes, known in English as peach palm. This variety is the most widely used for canning. Peach palms are self-suckering and produce multiple stems, up to 40 on one plant, so harvesting several stems from a plant is not so expensive because the plant can live on. Another advantage it has over other palms is that it has been selectively bred to eliminate the vicious thorns of its wild cousins. Since harvesting is still labor-intensive, palm hearts are regarded as a delicacy.
As of 2008, Costa Rica was the primary source of fresh palm hearts in the U.S. Peach palms are also cultivated in Hawaii, and now have limited distribution on the mainland, primarily to the restaurant trade. Florida's wild Sabal palmetto or cabbage palm was once a source of hearts of palm but is now protected by conservation law.
When harvesting the cultivated young palm, the tree is cut down and the bark is removed, leaving layers of white fibers around the center core. During processing, the fibers are removed, leaving the center core or heart of palm. The center core is attached to a slightly more fibrous cylindrical base with a larger diameter. The entire cylindrical center core and the attached base are edible. The center core is considered more of a delicacy because of its lower fiber content.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||79.5 kJ (19.0 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||1.6 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Hearts of palm are rich in fiber, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper, vitamins B2, B6, and C. They are ranked as a "good" source of protein, riboflavin, and potassium, and as a "very good source" of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and especially, manganese, along with being a good ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The high sodium content noted on the chart for hearts of palm relates to the canned product; it is not present in the fresh product.
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