Edible Palm Fruits and Nuts

Logo civilized jungle Capture

The Palm Reader   

Edible Palm Fruits and Nuts

(Most who know me are aware that I write several regular columns for a variety of electronic and hard copy venues.  However, once completed with the research and writing of this piece, I simply couldn’t decide which of them this best fit into.  It is sort of an amalgam of “Tommy’s Tips” by way of “Planting Roots” meets “Tommy’s Tummy”!)

Upon seeing the numerous, natural fruits and nuts growing in our array of around seventy different species of palms, no few of our visitors to Ola Brisa Gardens inquire as to their edibility.  Thus herein, we will strive to answer this query.

Of course, the most obvious edible palm not/seed would be the Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera).  (For details, please read my two-part article on this most ubiquitous of palms – and many others discussed here – by going to our web site: www.olabrisagardens.com, click the “Tropical Gardens” button at the top of the home page, then the sub-tab entitled “Planting Roots in Mexico”, next on “Palms” and there you can find them.  As a result of the availability of these more detailed articles I will not go into much depth in this piece.)

The next most familiar one to the majority of folks might be the Date Palm of which there are hundreds of varieties.  (One professional with whom I worked in Iraq – who I have no reason to doubt – told there were over 460 different varieties in that country alone!)  We have five different ones – including the foremost of the family, the fructose (as opposed to what most others are – sucrose) based Medjool Date (Phoenix dactylifera).  In fact, ours are the “children” of those which that around Saddam Hussein’s palaces!    

Next let’s talk about the Jelly Palm (Butia capitata) from Uruguay which has a very tasty fruit that, appropriately enough, is quite good for making jam and jellies.  But also, the fruit can also be eaten right off the tree when ripe.  Also called a Pindo Palm, there is a significant variance in the sweetness of these fruits from one tree to another,

How about the African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) now?  Originally native to West Africa, it and its cousin the American Oil Palm (Elaeis oliefera) are quite the pair.Commonly known as the Oil Palms, they are among the most economically important of all the world’s palms.   In fact – by volume weight it is among the very most heavily produced fruit or nut in the world! And the large nuts, to my taste buds, are quite similar to those of the Brazil Nut.

And then there is the Fishtail Palm (Caryota urens).  Firstly, its common name comes because its bi-pinnate leaves very much resemble the (well duh!) tail of a fish! The Latin name, Urens, means “stinging” as the fruit does contain a chemical that stings. However, the kernel of the fruit is edible after it has fully been cleaned of the offending outer flesh. 

The principal product of the Caryota urens is a sugar substitute called kitul honey or jiggery. So it comes as no surprise that in some circles, this plant is also called a Jaggery Palm. The juice from the flowers is boiled to make a golden syrup.

But, here’s the somewhat bizarre aspect about the Fishtail Palm.  While this single trunked palm grows fast, living to between 20 and 25 years old, when it fruits the plant begins to die – though this “passing” process may takes several years.

Moving on, some may recall that in the Broadway musical “South Pacific” there was a character called Bloody Mary who chewed the fruit/seed of the Betel Nut Palm (Arecea catechu). 

The chewing of betel nut quids dates did not commence the day before yesterday!  It is discussed in 1st century AD, Sanskrit writings.  It, purportedly, can “expel wind, kill worms, remove phlegm, subdue bad odors, beautify the mouth, induce purification, and kindle passion”. Because of its stimulating effects, betel nut is used in a manner similar to the western use of tobacco or caffeine.  It’s said to enhance “alertness, stamina, a sense of well-being, euphoria, salivation . . . (increase) the flow of saliva to aid digestion and stimulate the appetite”.

That all having been said, a side effect is that it has been linked to the incidence of metabolic syndrome . . .caused DNA damage and cancer . . . precancerous changes in the mouth as well as mouth, throat, laryngeal, and esophageal cancer”.

So, though there are those who say it is OK to use/eat, I suggest not on this one!

Another that I have planted many of and, ironically, don’t yet have a specimen of in Ola Brisa Gardens (Hint, hint, for any coming here from the Sunshine Sate!) is the Saw Palmetto Palm (Serenoa repens).  I don’t know of folks these days eating any of its parts but, historically it was a source of food for native Indians in Florida.  Interestingly, however, I understand that, today, it is successfully employed as the source of a prostate medication (from the fruit) that helps shrink overgrown prostates as well as relax uptight urethras.

What others might be culinarily consumed?  But only a few include:

  • Peach Palm (Bactris gaisepes) – Its fruit may be boiled in water, incorporated as a slightly fermented cool drink and the young inflorescences can be roasted.
  • Acai Palm (Euterpe oleracea) – The fruit is supposedlyfull of antioxidants, amino acids and essential omegas and, as a result, used in energy drinks, weight loss products and cholesterol lowering products.
  • Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis) – As the name implies, the sap of this species can be used to make wine.
  • Nipa palm (Nipa fruticans) – Its sap is used for a liquor and the fruit is edible.
  • Snake Palm (Salacca zalacca) – Its peeled fruit dipped in a mixture of sugar and salt is wonderful.
  • Guadalupe Palm (Brahea edulis) – This fruit generally is eaten fresh or used to make preserves.
  • Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera) – The fruit can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour for cakes.
  • Rattan Palm (Calamus species) – The young stem tips – holding a considerable amount of starch in their young stem tips – can be eaten roasted or raw. Some varieties have a gelatinous pulp, either sweet or sour, which surrounds the seeds and the palm heart is also edible raw or cooked.
  • Sago Palm (Metroxylon sagu) – (Not the cycad by the same name which is quite toxic.) – Hot water poured over slightly sour, wet starch – derived from the trunk – can be stirred into a gluelike mass and eaten with fish and vegetable dishes.  The palm heart and young leaves can also be used as a vegetable.
  • Sugar Palm (Arenga pinnata) – Sugar and alcohol can be obtained by tapping its inflorescences.

But there are many, many more beyond these!  Geoff Stein (Palm Bob) cites that “Other species noted for their edible fruit around the world (though primarily eaten by locals) include several species of s Acrocomia, Actinorhytis, Allagoptera, Astrocaryum, Attalea, Bactris, Borassus, Calamus, Carpoxylon, Chamaerops, Clinostigma, Copernicia, Cryosophila, Daemonorops, Dypsis (many species), Gulubia, Hyphaene, Jubaeaopsis, Latania, Loxococcos, Nypa, Oenocarpus, Parajubaea, many species of Phoenix aside from dactylifera), Pinanga, Ptychococcus, Sabal and Syagrus.”

And for a thoroughly comprehensive piece on the topic I refer you to Jody Haynes and John McLaughlin’s article entitled “Edible Palms and Their Uses” which can be found at:  www.quisqualis.com/tv01ediblepalms.html or e-mail me for an expanded version of this article.

Now, more knowledgeable than you were before – Bon Appétit!



African Oil 01 05 10 DSCF7753

The nut of the African (and American) Oil Palm is quite tasty!

Medjool Date Palm 2013-01-23 11.55.49

Our Medjool Date Palms – grown from seeds from Iraq – started fruiting just two years after germinating!

Coconut Palm 106

Who doesn’t think of Coconuts when considering tropical fruits and nuts?