There are around 50,000 edible plant species on Earth and humans only eat around 3000 of them 1. The vast majority of our calories come from only 3 species of plant – rice, maize and wheat 1. Ease of growing certain species and formation of cultural norms in food may be the reason we eat so few of the plants available to us but it’s exciting to think there are so many other culinary options out there.
Lucuma is a plant eaten regularly by people in South America and especially in Chile and Peru 2,3. It has long been revered by South American people, once being known as the ‘Gold of the Incas’.
The fruit consists of a fleshy outer part and an inner seed, kind of like a mango (but completely different in taste and texture) 2. Unlike many fruits the flesh is quite dry but this doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty.
It was first farmed in Peru in 200 AD, and grows at altitudes up to 3000 metres where oxygen is sparse.
Harvesting and Preserving the Fruit
Lucuma flesh can be dried to preserve it. Most lucuma found outside Peru is eaten as dried or powdered fruit as very little is exported fresh out of South America.
Drying to preserve the fruit helps to maintain most of the nutrient profile found in the fresh fruit – more information on which can be found below 4;5.
The powder, which is milled from the dried flesh, can be used to flavour other foods and as a sweetener that has a lower glycaemic index than sugar. Lucuma powder is a great alternative to actual sugar which is associated with a myriad of health risks 6;7.
Lucuma Flesh is a Source of…
The flesh of the lucuma plant is high in carotene. Carotene is responsible for the fruit’s vibrant colour, and similarly for the colour of carrots and other vegetables such as sweet potatoes. What is more, low carotene levels are linked with many health problems, for which a wealth of research is available online.
Lucuma has a sweet flavour and it contains other nutrients so the sweetness comes packaged with things that are good for you, rather than as ‘empty calories’.
Artificial sweeteners have also been linked with health concerns. Some research suggests that they might affect the body’s response to eating, making you crave more food when you’ve already eaten enough calories 10. As lucuma powder is made from a whole fruit, it doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners.
Lucuma is really quite high in iron with 100 grams of lucuma powder containing 14% of the RDA for iron 6. Focusing on getting enough iron is especially important for athletes, who are more likely to be deficient 11.
Many people are deficient in iron – in fact it’s the most common single nutrient deficiency in the world 11.
Vitamin B3 is one of 20-80 essential human nutrients12.
There’s another Lucy Bee blog about fibre** and why it is so essential to good overall health. Fibre is generally low in Western diets, with most people getting below the RDA. What’s more, people ate much more fibre in the past – a time when certain health conditions which now plague the Western world were less of a problem 14.
It is relatively high in protein for something so sweet. 100 grams of lucuma powder contains 7 grams of protein – 14% of your RDA 6. Vegans may find it difficult to get their daily protein intake compared to people who eat meat so lucuma could be a good way to include a little more protein in your day.
Lucuma flesh also contains potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. There’s more about why magnesium is so important for health in another blog post***.
Powdered lucuma is great as a sweetener and contains lots of nutrients including fibre, iron and vitamin B making it a greater alternative to sugar to sweeten your favourite foods.
- FAO (2015) The sources of food.
- Rojo (2010) Wound-healing properties of nut oil from Pouteria lucuma.
- Quilter (1999) Subsistence economy of El Paraiso, an early Peruvian site.
- Gheisari (2014) Drying method effects on the antioxidant activity of quince (Cydonia oblonga Miller) tea.
- Rodriguez-Mateos (2014) Impact of processing on the bioavailability and vascular effects of blueberry (poly)phenols.
- Nutrition Self Data (2015) Lucuma powder.
- Vasanti (2010) Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk.
- Hughes (1997) The effect of beat-carotene supplementation on the immune function of blood monocytes from health male non-smokers.
- Beard (2000) Iron status and exercise.
- Sauve (2008) NAD+ and vitamin B3: From metabolism to therapies.
- Herper (2015) Vitamin B3 Prevents New Skin Cancers in Study.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.