Brazil was the highest producer and exporter of wild or uncultivated hearts of palm, but in the 90s the unrestrained poaching for stems began, and the traditional method of harvesting led to destruction of several trees. Ecuador has taken over the international market share, and has become the highest producer and exporter of palm hearts in the world.
The main source for fresh palm hearts in the United States, however, is Costa Rica. Hawaii also produces some palm hearts to meet the needs of the restaurant business in the United States. It is also the official state tree of Florida.
Heart of Palm Tree
Heart of palm is also called chonta or chontaduro in Ecuador, pejibaye in Costa Rica and palmito in Brazil. It has many names in English like palm heart, peach palm, burglar's thigh, and swamp cabbage. There are 2 varieties of hearts of palm―cultivated and uncultivated. The cultivated hearts of palm are the domesticated farmed species which have undergone adaptation. The peach palm or pejibaye are the most commonly harvested palm trees. After planting a seed, it takes 20 - 30 months for the tree to mature completely. As it grows multiple stems, each tree can produce up to around 40 stems, and thus harvesting becomes cheaper. These domesticated species do not have thorns like the wild or uncultivated palms. In the process of harvesting, the palm tree is cut down and the bark is taken off so that the layers of white fiber are left around the center core. This core is attached to a fibrous cylindrical base that has a large diameter. These fibers are then removed and what remains is the heart of palm or the center core. The center core and the base are both edible. This process is quite labor intensive and hence the palm hearts are said to be a delicacy or a kind of a gourmet food. There are numerous ways in which palm hearts can be used in cooking, be it in soups, salads, or other dishes.
Heart of Palm Nutrition
A 100g serving of canned palm hearts contains just about 28 calories, no cholesterol, saturated fats, or sugar. It has about 425 mg sodium, 178 mg potassium, 1g fat, 5g carbohydrates, 2-3 g dietary fiber, and about 3 g protein. Palm hearts are beneficial for us, considering that they are low in cholesterol and sugar. They are also a vital source of protein, riboflavin, potassium, and a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, and zinc. It is also suitable for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Being high in dietary fiber, palm hearts aid digestion. The only negative aspect is that it is high in sodium.
Another point to note here would be that this vegetable is normally available only in the canned form in stores and this may affect the sodium levels. Nevertheless, hearts of palm can be included in your meals as often as you wish, depending upon your taste and dietary needs.