What are Palm Hearts?

C. K. Lanz

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.

A palm tree, which produces palm hearts.
A palm tree, which produces palm hearts.

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.

Walnuts can be combined with hearts of palm and other ingredients to make an interesting salad.
Walnuts can be combined with hearts of palm and other ingredients to make an interesting salad.

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.

Some antipasto plates and appetizers feature chilled hearts of palms.
Some antipasto plates and appetizers feature chilled hearts of palms.

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Discussion Comments


I believe SunPix Hearts of Palm are grown sustainably and harvesting does not kill the plant, as it continues to grow, post harvesting. These are delicious and a treat in salads and other presentations and if you want to enjoy them, with no environmental guilt, then buy from a grower who only grows them sustainably. Enjoy!


@KoiwiGal - Well, yes, there are quite a few palms where the tree will die when they harvest the heart. I believe they are generally fairly fast growing though, so it's not all that much of an issue. And there are others, generally commercial species, where they have multiple stems and people are able to harvest part of the plant without killing the whole tree.

They are still pretty expensive though, since it's quite difficult to harvest palm hearts and it requires quite a lot of labor compared to other kinds of vegetables. They are delicious though, so I can see why people are willing to pay for them.


I know there are some forms of palm heart that it kills the tree to harvest. There's definitely a kind of palm in New Zealand where the locals used to consider the heart of the palm to be a delicacy once, but the tree became very rare since you have to cut it down to harvest the vegetable.

So, it was banned in order to protect the trees. I believe they will occasionally harvest them for special occasions and will grow the trees specifically for that purpose.

I'm not sure if other palms are killed when they harvest the heart or not. I suppose it would be more expensive if that was the case.

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