Palm hearts are the cores, or hearts, of specific types of wild and domesticated palm trees including the pejibaye or peach, palmito jucara, acai, sabal, and coconut. They are also known commonly as a heart of palm, palmito, swamp cabbage, or chonta. Cultivated and harvested in Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Florida, among other places, hearts of palm are ivory colored, tubular, and typically taste somewhat sweet and have a firm and crisp texture. Canned varieties tend to be softer.
Since fresh palm hearts can be difficult to harvest, they are often considered to be a gourmet ingredient that can be substituted with marinated artichoke hearts or asparagus. They are somewhat common in South American, Caribbean, and Asian cooking and are included in salads, fruit desserts, and even on pizzas and in sandwiches in countries such as Brazil.
The domesticated peach or pejibaye palm is a common source of this item because the plants grow several stems, which reduces the cost of harvesting the cores. To harvest, the bark of the palm stalk or stem is removed, followed by the layer of white colored fibers leaving the core or heart. The hearts are typically diced and consumed raw in salads, and they are common offerings in salad bars throughout South and Central America. The vegetable can also be steamed, braised, deep fried, stir fried, sauteed, or boiled, and added to pasta, noodle, rice, and soup dishes.
There are many different South and Central American salad recipes that call for palm hearts. In Cost Rica, a typical hearts of palm salad consists of chopped red and yellow bell peppers, chopped parsley, and the palm cores served on top of lettuce leaves and with a dressing made of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, and chicken broth. A popular Brazilian version may include spinach and thinly sliced palm hearts tossed with sesame seeds and a tamarind dressing made with sesame oil, tamarind pulp, salt, and rice vinegar. The vegetable is also frequently served with nuts and berries, like walnuts and strawberries.
Consuming hearts of palm can offer several health benefits including increased dietary fiber. The vegetable is also low in fat and cholesterol but a good source of protein, potassium, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Individuals who are attempting to reduce sodium intake should consume this item in moderation due to the vegetable’s high sodium content. They can be kept refrigerated in a non metal container in their own liquid for no more than a week before they spoil.