Hearts of palm, also known as palmito, are so named because they are the underdeveloped leaves and central core found within the stems of palm trees such as sabal, pejibaye, peach, and huasai. Cultivated from tropical locations such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Brazil, as well as Florida and California, this delicate vegetable has fed the masses during difficult times and graced the tables of French aristocrats.
Hearts of palm are incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals, and add a little more oomph to so many dishes. Adding hearts of palm to a salad is an easy way to enjoy their subtle flavor and is probably the most popular way to enjoy this vegetable. If you experiment with adding this vegetable as a pizza topping, in a seafood ceviche, diced onto pan-seared chicken with capers, or grilled with asparagus, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Hearts of palm are white cylinders about three to five inches long and about one inch in diameter. They look similar to white asparagus without tips.
You’ll most commonly find hearts of palm in the canned food aisle, but some markets carry fresh hearts, occasionally still in white husks, near specialty vegetables such as artichoke and fennel.
Hearts of palm have a delicate, fresh, slightly astringent flavor. They’re often compared to artichokes, but with a bit more crunch that adds dimension to salads as well as pan-seared chicken or fish.
You’ll find jarred or canned hearts of palm readily available in grocery stores. You may also find fresh hearts of palm in Latin markets and health-food stores.
Hearts of palm are available fresh in Florida and California all year long. Because hearts are primarily canned or jarred, they’re also available all year long throughout the rest of the US and Europe.
When buying fresh hearts of palm, look for intact stalks that are firm and unblemished. If packaged, make sure the liquid is clear, not cloudy. Canned or jarred hearts of palm should also be relatively firm and in clear liquid.
Avoid hearts that are bruised or seem extremely limp.
Some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue, so the fruit is less affected than the exterior. Hearts of palm don’t appear on any EWG list, but there is a concern about sustainability. Organic growers must abide by strict sustainability guidelines in order to produce hearts without the threat of deforestation. So choose organic hearts of palm whenever possible.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
The majority of the time, hearts of palm are sold water-packed in a can or jar, so store in a cool, dry cabinet for up to three months. Once open, refrigerate and use within five to seven days. Raw hearts of palm should be refrigerated also. Unsealed packages will stay fresh for up to two weeks.
Most enjoy hearts of palm water-packed in a jar or can, so there’s little prep required—simply slice into rounds, or chop and add to your favorite recipe.
In some Latin or Caribbean food markets, you may find raw hearts still encased in husks. Sometimes the husks can be peeled away; other times, you may have to lightly steam the hearts first in order to remove the husks. If you purchase raw hearts without husks, you might have to rinse them in cool water and pat dry before using.
Hearts of palm are a wonderful salad ingredient, but also consider them as a delicious addition to an assortment of fresh-steamed vegetables, seafood stir-fry dishes, and pizza.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Iron is an essential trace mineral that transports oxygen in red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, aiding energy and endurance.
Vitamin C can help protect against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling. It’s needed to form collagen, which helps maintain skin, teeth, gums, tendons, and ligaments. It helps heal wounds and fight cancerous cells. It is required to form neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, and helps minimize damage from toxins.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
Zinc offers a host of health benefits, aiding the body’s sense of taste, vision, and smell, and also plays a role in blood clotting, thyroid and metabolism health, and insulin sensitivity. This abundant mineral is also helpful for promoting immune system health and skin repair.
To boost your intake of vital minerals, add hearts of palm to your diet. Rich in iron, manganese, and zinc, hearts of palm improves skin repair, metabolism, and endurance. Hearts of palm also have a high amount of vitamin C, so you can support your immune system tastily. They’re incredibly rich in plant fiber, too, which helps regulate blood sugar.
- The Mayans were the first to cultivate hearts of palm.
- Hearts of palm were a popular meal staple during the American Great Depression, especially in Florida, and often referred to as “swamp cabbage.” But harvesting large volumes of hearts took so much effort and money they were later called “millionaire’s salad.”
- A yearly fair in Costa Rica celebrates all products and dishes focused on hearts of palm.