Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Heart Palm Hearts

The palm heart is a staple in Brazilian cuisine. It is added to a variety of dishes, and is even a popular pizza topping. Up until yesterday, I thought that I'd seen every way to eat it: on pizza, in salads, in stroganoff, on a veggie tray... the list is endless. However, I'd never seen it prepared in the trunk, on the grill. It was awesome!

There are three main varieties that are used in this region. The hearts of the açaí, pupunha, and guariroba palm trees are the most common types of palm hearts found here in the Central-West ("centro-oeste") region of Brazil.

The heart of the açaí [pronounced: "ah-sigh-ee"] palm is the most popular. It is sold canned & preserved, and is used for most dishes that call for palm hearts or "palmito" [pronounced "pawl-mee-toe"]. The name "açaí" comes the native Tupi language, and means "the fruit that cries."

Açaí, the most common palm heart available in Brazil.

You may be familiar with the fruit of the açaí palm, which was recently touted as a miracle weight loss fruit in the U.S. (which it is most definitely not). The fruit is commonly known in Brazil as a fruit high in calories, which gave people here a good chuckle, after they heard how it was being promoted for weight loss elsewhere. It's along the same lines as in the movie Mean Girls, when Cady turns Regina on to the secret "weight loss" bars... {*wink, wink*}

The pupunha [pronounced: "poo-poo-nyuh"] palm is the only type of palm heart that is grilled while still in the trunk, or stem. The name originated in the Tupi language, but the meaning is unknown.

Pupunha palm heart fresh off the grill.

After grilling it, the stem is split, and the now soft heart is seasoned with a little butter and salt. Words cannot describe how good it is. It has an almost nutty flavor that, combined with butter, is irresistible. (Yum-yum-yummy!) It wasn't just me. Last night, after tasting the first one, our normally reserved and well-mannered group suddenly resembled the seagulls in Finding Nemo: "Mine, mine, mine..." There were all sorts of claims to the rights of the last piece, but in the end, the birthday boy had the final say.

Sorry, it's a little dark! The flash wasn't cooperating on this one.

The guariroba [pronounced: "goo-wah-rdee-rdoh-buh"] palm is considered the "palmito of the Cerrado," [pronounced: "seh-hah-doh"] which is the tropical savannah ecoregion that encompasses the Centro-West region of Brazil. Guariroba is grown in the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Tocantins, and in the nation's capital, the Federal District.

Like açaí and pupunha, the name guariroba originated in the Tupi language, and means "the bitter one." Guariroba is quite bitter, and the heart is typically served a bit bigger. I'm guessing that it has to mature longer, as young or "still green" fruits and plants tend to be more bitter than at ideal maturity. Too young, I'd imagine it would be too bitter to eat ― bitter beer face would have nothing on the bitter Guariroba face.

The increasing demand for Guariroba in other regions of Brazil has become, like anything with short supply & high demand, something that people are willing to obtain illegally. Here is a photo from the Federal Police in Minas Gerais, who seized 9 trunks of illegally harvested Guariroba palms.

According to the Portuguese Wikipedia page on palm hearts there is an additional type of palm heart that is harvested from the "Palmeira Real," or "Real Palm Tree." I've asked around, and no one in this region has heard of this palm tree being used for this purpose.

Are there other types of palm hearts that you are aware of in other regions of Brazil, or elsewhere? Let us know in the comments!

For more images of palm hearts, go to the Brazilian Google site ( and do a Google Image (Imagens) search for "palmito."

To enlarge pics, right-click and open in a new window.


Questions and comments are welcomed! While anonymous comments are allowed for those without a blogger account, please leave a link and (or at least) A NAME, so that we know who you are.

Anonymous authors are only good for ransom notes & random quotes (one's difficult to sight, the other is tough to cite).

So, for the productivity of discussions on this site, please leave us your alias, given name [aka secret identity], handle, ID, nickname, nom de plume, or otherwise e-version of your John Hancock. Feel free to make one up, just for us. We'd be honored.

Thanks for playing! :)