Thursday, February 6, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Heart of Palm

     This is the second time I've talked about palms, as I previously expounded upon their delicious fruit--dates.  But, I've sampled pig parts literally from their heads to their toes, so why not from a plant?  Palm trees don't actually have hearts, of course--in this case the term refers to the centers of their stems.
     Consuming palm hearts is an ancient practice, and is typically done in all places where palm trees grow.  Given palm's delicate temperature sensitivities, this means, essentially, tropical areas.  The ones I tried were from Ecuador, but they're also avidly eaten throughout South America, Hawaii, and Africa, among other countries.
     I was surprised to learn that palm hearts are a matter of controversy, as some folks don't support the consumption of them, as harvesting the hearts often leads to the death of the entire plant.  Happily, there is a compromise, as certain species produce multiple stems, and so can produce the product and still survive.  One of these is commonly known as the peach palm.  In addition to its numerous stems, it's been bred to not grow the nasty thorns that often impede heart of palm harvesting.  Peach palms are abundantly used in Ecuador for canning.  Since my palm hearts came from there presumably they're the kind I tried.
     Heart palms can be sides, but it appears they're usually eaten as parts of salads.  As per my typical routine, I just opened the can and had them plain.  They are stalks about an inch in diameter, are as long as the can itself (maybe 5-6 inches) and are an off-white/light yellowish color.  They have a firm texture.  And the taste is very pleasant--it's a somewhat subtle, tangy flavor.  Definitely tasty--I bought multiple cans after my initial culinary experiment.
     Really the only downside with palm hearts was their price.  A regular sized can (about 14-15 ounces) was $5-6 each.  The fact that they're usually imported and sometimes difficult to harvest surely causes this.  But I would say they're worth it.
     One final note--hearts of palm, like many other food items, have several common names.  Most notably, one of these is "swamp cabbage."  I'm guessing this one isn't used on many can labels.  As good as they are, I think this particular name would put off a significant percentage of potential customers.

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