Pejibaye (Peach Palm) Benefits and Uses


Pejibaye Tree (peach palm, Bactris gasipaes)

Pejibaye is one of the highly regarded nutritious foods in Central and South America. It may go by different names, but its nutritional content and value especially to the Americans are one of a kind. Let’s take a look at why it is super valuable to them!

Pejibayes are packed with different macro-and micronutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and several vitamins. It is a ubiquitous plant mainly found in Costa Rica, making it a staple food of the Americans. Since the peach palm is so valuable and special to their lives, they honor the plant and celebrate it yearly in one of their festivals. 

Being a versatile tree, pejibayes and their various parts can be used in construction and to treat a wide variety of ailments. If you are looking for a sturdy wood for your house or if you’re looking for a natural remedy for any health problem, consider the benefits of peach palm. Find out more about the benefits and uses of this fantastic Central and South American tree below!

What Is Pejibaye?

Pejibaye, Bactris gasipaes (Kunth), commonly known as ‘peach palms’, are a native of the Amazon tropical regions of South America. It is widely cultivated in countries such as Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and Ecuador and is thought to have originated from the Andes of Eastern Peru. 

It was introduced to Central America during the pre-Colombian period but is seldom found in the Caribbean and other tropical areas and later was introduced in the United States in 1920, in the Philippines in 1924, and in India in the 1970s.

It is called pejivalle in Costa Rica; peach nut, pewa, or pupunha in Trinidad; piva in Panama; popunha in Brazil; achipay, chichagai, chichaguai, contaruro, chonta, choritadura, chenga, jijirre, pijiguay, pipire, pirijao, pupunha, and tenga in Colombia; bobi, cachipaes, rnacanilla, melocoton, pichiguao, pihiguao, pijiguao, piriguao, or pixabay in Venezuela; comer, chonta, and tempe in Bolivia; chonta dura, chonta ruru, pijuanyo, pifuayo, sara-pifuayo, pisho-guayo in Peru; amana in Suriname; and parepon in French Guiana.

Trees

Pejibaye trees are erect clumping palms, with heights ranging from 65 to 100 feet (20-31 meters), with multiple stems or trunks that are 4 to 12 inches (10-31 centimeters) in diameter. If one stem dies or is cut off, others replace it. It is typically multistemmed (caespitose), though single-stemmed plants also occur. The palm has several spiny trunks on the internodes, each bearing several multi fruited panicles. 

The trees are usually propagated from seeds, but it needs better techniques to preserve selected trees as clones. The trees are highly adaptable to a wide variety of tropical soils and climates. There are a number of plant diseases that have been documented that can be a threat to its cultivation.

Fruits and Seeds

The small, starchy, edible fruit hangs in clusters of 50 to 300 fruit and may weigh 25 lbs (11.4 kilograms). There may be up to 5 clusters of fruit on a plant at a time. One fruit contains one black seed enclosed in a thin endocarp. Some are seedless. 

The time of flowering to the time of fruit harvest is about 8 to 9 months. The fruit is a drupe and may have colors yellow, orange, scarlet, or brown, and may turn into purple when fully ripe. The fruits may be oval or round in shape and can measure 1-2 inches in diameter with a three-pointed calyx at the stem end.

Total fruit weight can weigh up to 20 kilograms. Parthenocarpic fruits are common (average 21 per raceme) and are generally slightly smaller than the fertile ones. The fruits can have superficial striations. 

It has a thin skin and the mesocarp (pulp) has a yellow to light orange-colored flesh. The fruit can be boiled for at least one to three hours to eliminate the oxalate crystals and trypsin inhibitors. The fruits are sweet, dry, or mealy, occasionally with a trace of bitterness.

Harvested fruits are easily damaged and rot fast. Often, mature fruits are boiled to be consumed as drinks or flour, or as an ingredient in many recipes. 

Flowers 

The flowers emerge from leaf axils, are enclosed in a spathe, and are composed of racemes (bunch) that measure up to 8-12 inches long (20-31 centimeters). Peach palms are monoecious and have yellowish male and female flowers (some female flowers are green). Flowers found at the terminal end are all male. 

Occasionally, functional flowers are present, especially in young plants. Poorly differentiated sterile flowers may also occur. They are mostly pollinated by insects, and cross-pollination improves the fruits.

Leaves

The leaves are pinnate, measuring from 8-12 feet long (2.4-3.7 meters long), with many linear, pointed 2 feet long (0.6 centimeters) by 1 ¼ inch wide (3.1 centimeters) leaflets. Leaf veins are covered with short spines. The colors may be green or dark green. The palm cabbage can also be harvested.

Roots

As the plant develops, adventitious roots produce a thick, partially superficial mat that may extend 4 to 5 meters around the plant. Most roots occupy the upper 20 centimeters of the soil horizon.

Heart of Palm

The inner core of pejibaye is white and soft, located centrally. They are edible and are used in a variety of foods. Young suckers (offshoots) measuring 3 to 4 feet high (0.9-1.2 meters) are cut at their bases while the leaves and outer leaf stems are removed until the inner central core is exposed. The core is then cut loose and is then now ready for harvesting. 
They may be canned or frozen for later use. Although it takes effort to remove the edible portion of the stem, the heart of the palm is the most sought-after delicacy loved for its unique flavor and texture.

Where Is Pejibaye Originated?

Pejibaye trees are a common sight in Costa Rica, making this country its leading exporter of peach palms. These tall, slender palms are indigenous to the Amazonian rainforests of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. 

They have been widely cultivated and distributed by indigenous people for centuries, which then led further to their naturalization throughout the regions of Central and South America. It was later introduced to nearby countries and is now found all over the world. 

How Does Pejibaye Grow?

Propagation

Pejibaye may be propagated by using its seeds or suckers (offshoots). The fruit quality propagated by seeds varies widely. Also, superior plants must be propagated by suckers.  It takes about 60 to 90 days for pejibaye seeds to germinate. 

How to propagate

Before planting, wash the seed and dip it in a fungicide to help prevent seed-rotting fungi development. Slightly bury the seed in a well-drained media and is then packed into moist sphagnum moss or charcoal. Next, cover the container with a plastic bag to raise the humidity level, and place it in a warm, shady area. 

After six months, the well-grown seedlings will now be ready to be planted outdoors. The seedlings develop rapidly and the trunk begins to grow after 21 to 27 months. The palm can grow 15 to 25 leaves under favorable climatic and cultural conditions. Approximately after 3 or 4 years, the seedling trees may now start to produce their fruits. 

Production

The pejibaye can take roughly 10-12 years to start bearing its fruits in cool areas. It can produce up to 100 lbs of fruits (about 45.4 kilograms, or more!), from each trunk (3 to 4 stems) per year.

Thinning can be done to lessen the amount of fruit to further enhance its development. The production season varies per region. Young plants must be protected from ants which can destroy their neighboring shoots. Common pejibaye pests include sugar cane weevils and mites.

The palm is versatile, too, since it can also grow well on poor soils, though it best grows in fertile, well-drained areas. Costa Rica is a favorable place for them since the soil varies from clay loam to nearly pure clay. Nevertheless, the riparian, alluvial soils are deemed as the most desirable soil for them.

The production of the heart of palm per year depends on the plant vigor and the number of young stems of harvestable size, which usually do not take for more than 1 to 3 years. In Colombia, the fruits mature between the January and February months. Wild palms may bear fruits twice a year. For cultivation, the palms are planted at six months intervals.

There are two crops grown in Trinidad – one with seeds, and the other one without seeds. In Costa Rica, flowers may appear from April to June in the lowland areas, and later in the highlands. Fruits may mature from September to April.

Spacing and Pruning

Pejibaye can be planted as part of a landscape, but its clumping growth pattern and dangerous spines must be taken into account. Therefore, the trees must be planted where no people walk or play. For safety measures, the trunk’s spines from the first 5 to 8 feet (1.5-2.4 meters) may be cut. One pejibaye clump (consisting of 3-4 stems) maybe both be used as the heart of palm (cutting young palms out) and for fruit from mature suckers.

Planting A Pejibaye Palm

One of the most pivotal steps in establishing and growing a strong, productive tree successfully depends on its proper planting. The first step is choosing a healthy nursery tree. Inspect the prospective tree for possible insect infestation and plant diseases. Also, examine the trunk for wounds and constrictions. Select a healthy tree, plant it, and water it regularly.

What Are Some Traditional Uses For Pejibaye?

All the parts of peach palms are useful in so many ways. The oil from its fruit or seeds can be used for cooking purposes. The flowers and the pulps can be used in making yummy egg omelets or can be smashed and made into drinks. 

The pulps and leaves can be used as feed for cattle. The leaves are used for thatching huts or as sidings of houses. The leaves can also be used to make baskets and mats. The hard trunk is used for tool making. They have medicinal properties and can be used in beauty products, as well. I can say that pejibayes can be regarded as a ‘tree of life’ too, along with the coconut trees.

Uses Of The Pejibaye

1. Food 

Pejibaye trees are cultivated for two main purposes, their pulpy fruit and its inner core called the heart of palm. The fruits are used in juices and jams, while the heart of palm is a worldwide delicacy often used in salads, soups, and other dishes.

The fruit is still eaten in parts of South America today. It has a unique flavor too, best described as a cross between a chestnut and a baked potato. Due to its excellent nutritional content, it is considered one of the perfect snacks for athletes or anyone who needs a boost after a rigorous workout.

Smashing and fermenting the fruits is a well-known method of making alcoholic drinks since they can ferment for a short period (about 24-48 hours). They are consumed in Tuccurique, one of the districts in Costa Rica, where an annual National Pejibaye Festival is held every October, while the people prepare their hometown delicacies celebrated in a large number of ways. 

Before consuming the fruits, they are first boiled in water with added salt for about 1 to 3 hours, sometimes with fat pork added, to reduce their calcium oxalate crystals (which is the most common cause of kidney stones) and trypsin inhibitors, which makes digestion difficult. Boiling causes the flesh to be peeled off easily, though some varieties may have a strong adherence to the flesh even after cooking.

It can be fermented into an alcoholic drink by allowing the raw and sugared flesh to stand for a few days until it ferments. It can also be made into jam. 

The pre-boiled fruit is sometimes deep-fried or roasted and served as a snack garnished with either mayonnaise or cheese dip. It can be mixed with cornmeal, eggs, and milk and fried, and is often used as a stuffing for roasted fowl. 

Oven-dried fruits that have been kept for 6 months and can be boiled for at least half an hour can help them regain their characteristic texture and flavor. They are also often peeled, seeded, halved, and canned in brine, and are exported to the United States. Fried fruits can be grounded to make use of their flour in various dishes. 

Like with other flowers, immature inflorescences can be consumed like fruit. Young flowers may be chopped and added to omelets. Cooked seeds can be eaten like chestnuts, but they  may be hard and difficult to digest.

The heart of palm is emerging as an important commercial crop, especially for the gourmet market. It may be eaten raw or cooked. The inner core chunks can be added to green salads or cooked with spices and peppers. The palm hearts can also be eaten as roasted chips and fillings.

Additionally, the fruits and the leaves can be used as feed and supplement to poultries and livestock. Trunk saps can also be made into wine. 

2. Medicine

Aside from its outstanding performance in the culinary field, it also has a marvelous function in medicine for the indigenous people of the Americas. Like all other fruits and vegetables, a peach palm is a rich source of dietary fiber, which has various health benefits. 

Fiber aids the smooth digestion of food and eliminates constipation. It can assist in the reduction of excess gas and bloating while preventing more serious gastrointestinal problems, including gastric ulcers.

The tree’s bark and leaves are used to make a tea that is said to help treat fever, colds, stomach pain, and diarrhea. In addition, the bark can be used to create a poultice that is said to be effective in treating wounds and injuries.

Vitamin A and other carotenoids that could aid in the protection of the body are also present in the peach palm. Carotenoids are required for good eyesight since they act as antioxidants, and reduce or eliminate cataracts, while also preventing macular degeneration in the eye cells.

The nuts of the peach palm tree are a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. The tree’s bark is rich in tannins, which can be used to treat diarrhea and other digestive problems. The roots of the tree are also used medicinally and are said to be effective in treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

3. Cosmetics

Pejibaye seeds are manufactured into cosmetics and soap, owing to their richness in saturated fatty acids. Further, after consuming the fruits, the skins can be saved and used for their oils as a natural sunscreen. 

Aside from its lipid content, its vitamins C can be used to control and reduce symptoms of aging, making it useful in fighting wrinkles and reducing fine lines, since it can deeply penetrate the skin layers. It can stimulate collagen synthesis and provide a second line of defense against the harmful effects of UV rays, thus it can result in a more radiant and rejuvenated complexion.

In addition, it has antioxidant properties that aid in the growth of new skin cells and protect existing ones. It can help stop the damaging effects of free radicals, which is one of the many reasons why it is often used as a beauty product. At the same time, the potassium content of these palms could maintain a healthy water balance in the body and helps with cell exchange to ensure optimal functioning of cells.

4. Other uses

The peach palm is an excellent source of fuelwood in Central and South America. They are burned to cook food and heat homes, used in making charcoal, grilling meat, and in other foods. It is considered one of the potential sources of lauric oils too, along with other palm trees.

The wood is very hard but elastic and takes a good polish. They can be used in thatching huts, as posts and beams for houses, or as a substitute for a flat spring in a crude bed or bunk. It has been used for making spears, arrowheads, bows, fishing poles, harpoons, staffs, walking sticks, veneer, tool handles, spindles for weaving, flooring, and paneling of houses, and water troughs using the split trunks.

The green dye from the leaves is also extracted to color the fibers, a practice mostly done by the Ticuna people of the Upper Solimões River in Brazil. The long spines can be fashioned into a sewing needle. The roots can act as a vermicide.

The stem can also be used in making upholstery, for parquet, furniture, and carvings. In heart-of-palm plantations, the unused leaves and stems could also be used in making paper and organic fertilizers. Some of its phenotypes also serve as ornamental plants, especially those spineless stems, which may be adorned with pendants or leaflets.

Nutritional Value Of Pejibaye

Fruits of pejibaye contain carotene, calcium, phosphorus, ascorbic acid, and some B vitamins to name a few. On average fruit contains 1,096 calories. Below is a table showing the nutritional value of this wonder fruit from analyses made in Honduras and Costa Rica which show values of 100 grams of pejibaye fruit and skin combined.

Per 100 gramsFood Value of Edible Portion
Protein 0.340-0.633 grams
Fat 3.10-8.17 grams
Crude Fiber0.8-1.4 grams 
Calcium 8.9-40.4 milligrams 
Phosphorus 33.5-55.2 milligrams
Iron 0.85-2.25 milligrams
Carotene 0.290-2.760 milligrams
Thiamine 0.037-0.070 milligrams
Riboflavin 0.099-0.154 milligrams
Niacin 0.667-1.945 milligrams
Ascorbic Acid14.8-41.4 milligrams

The approximate values for its seed kernels per 100 grams include 8.8% protein, 31.3% fat, 18.2% crude fiber, 20.8% starch (by crude hydrolysis), and 12.1% undetermined material.

Pejibaye fat is mainly composed of mon-unsaturated (45.6%) and has a low poly-unsaturated to the saturated fatty acid ratio (0.5). The fatty acid profile of uncooked pejibaye samples was oleic acid (32.6 to 47.8%), palmitic acid (30.5 to 40.3%), linoleic acid (11.2 to 21.1%), palmitoleic acid (5.7 to 7.1%), linoleic acid (1.5 to 5.5%), and stearic acid (1.7 to 2.4%).

Below is another table showing comparisons in the major macronutrients of pejibaye, when compared with other fruits, like the avocado and banana. This study by Popenoe and Jimenez (1921). shows that pejibaye has more protein and carbohydrate content, and it can also offer great amounts of calories enough for a person doing rigorous exercises.

Fruit Water Protein Fat Carbohydrate Ash  Calories 
Pejibaye (boiled)48.32.86.740.90.81,100
Banana 75.31.30.622.00.8500
Avocado 66.31.826.66.61.5600-1,300
Values in 100%; calories calculated per 100 grams

Health Benefits Of Pejibaye

Peach palm fruit is a nutritious and delicious fruit native to the American tropics. It is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Peach palm fruits can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried. They can also be juiced or made into jams and jellies.

Peach palms are used as a folk remedy for headaches and stomachaches. The roots can also be used medicinally. The seed oil can be used as a rub to ease rheumatic pain.

The Health benefits of peach palm fruit include

1. Offers energy

Peach palms contain high amounts of starch making them a good energy provider and great for people doing extensive exercises

2. For growth: calories, folate, and iron

Children require a lot of supplies of energy to enhance their metabolism and promote growth. Consuming peach palms is effective in getting calories for your little ones. It also has considerable amounts of folate, which is vital for pregnant mothers to prevent the incidence of neural tube defects such as anencephaly during the first three months of pregnancy. Anemia can lead to fatigue and weakness and peach palm fruits are a good source of iron, which is necessary for the production of red blood cells

3. Boost immune system and recovery after illness

Vitamin C is a well-known immunity booster. It helps the body fight against invading microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria and helps to stimulate the production of white blood cells. It also has vitamin A as well as other antioxidants which are beneficial in decreasing levels of free radicals.

4. Support vision

The supportive function of pejibayes is contributed to their high amounts of vitamin A, which can help prevent eye dryness and night blindness.

5. Cancer prevention

Some studies have shown that the antioxidants in peach palm fruit can help protect against certain types of cancer by interrupting the free radical activities that lead to cancerous growth of cells.

6. Diabetes management

Peach palms have a significant amount of fiber that can help diabetic patients in preventing spikes in their blood sugar levels. They can also stimulate insulin secretion by intercepting the sugar molecules during digestion so that insulin will be released slowly into the bloodstream. They are often used to limit insulin in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients.

7. Lower blood pressure

Potassium is an important electrolyte that can help regulate blood pressure.

8. Aiding in digestion and weight loss

Fiber helps bulk up stools and prevent constipation. It also promotes a healthy gut bacteria balance in the body. Fiber also in feel full and can, therefore, aid in weight loss.

9. Heart health

Fiber has a cardioprotective function too, by absorbing excess cholesterol from the body which could lead to atherosclerosis, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. It could also promote high-density lipoprotein levels inside the blood and stimulate the bloodstream to eliminate low-density lipoprotein and triglycerides.

10. Skin health

Its vitamins A and C can assist in regrowth and protect skin cells. Potassium can help in the water balance of the body which could facilitate fluid exchange in cells. Vitamin C in peach palm fruits can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

11. Anti-inflammation 

The vitamins and minerals in peach palm fruits can help reduce inflammation in the body.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, the peach palm is a versatile tree with many culinary and medicinal uses. This super fruit is an excellent source of dietary fiber and nutrients, making it one of the must-try fruits when visiting Costa Rica. From soups to salads, to fuel and construction, to cosmetics, and to its medical uses, no wonder Costa Rica proudly presents pejibaye as their super ‘wonder-fruit’, and ain’t that wonderful?

References:

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