Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“Peach Palm”, a sorry translation for the popular Pejibaye Fruit in Costa Rica


When traveling or living in a foreign country, experimenting with foods, fruits and customs of the host country should be a part of your adventures. In this blog post, we are going to focus on a popular Costa Rican fruit, the “Pejibaye”. One of Costa Rica’s most readily available fruits, they can be found throughout the country’s farmer’s markets, supermarkets and street corners. It’s unique flavor, nutritional value and vivid colors, makes this fruit an interesting addition to any Costa Rican cuisine.

Pejibayes grow hanging in large clusters of 50-100 fruits, with some clusters having as many as 300 fruits, weighing 25 lbs or more,
and located high upon very spiney Palm Trees that often attain heights of 65-100 ft. These Palms are the same species that produce Costa Rica’s famous Hearts of Palm, another very popular offering found throughout this country. Available in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to orange to red to green, the waxy generally orange colored skin of the Pejibaye fruit is a favorite throughout the country.

The starchy texture and potato like consistency of the Pejibaye, requires a certain amount of cooking and preparation in order to
make them eatable, and to bring them to the height of their flavor. The preferred method of preparation is to place the entire fruits into large pots of well-salted boiling water, then cooking them for anywhere from 1-2 hours. Eventually, the pejibayes soften (to a certain extent), at which time you can then peel them, cut them in half, removing the large central seed, and place them on a plate in halves or quarters. At that point, the Pejibayes are most commonly served with a small dollop of mayonnaise (or sometimes dipped in butter) helping to contrast the natural dryness of the fruit, and bringing out their natural subtle sweetness. The brilliant orange fleshy color is maintained throughout the process and enhances the natural presentation.

Roadside vendors sell boiled Pejibayes at makeshift stands all across the country, as well as the weekend farmers markets offer the ready cooked fruits and raw “racimes” of the fruits weekly. Pejibayes are so popular, that even some of the most prestigious supermarkets throughout Costa Rica have the boiled fruits for sale at all hours in their vegetable sections.

The Pejibaye, Bactris gasipaes, is also referred to as the “Peach Palm”, and is thought to be indigenous to Amazonian areas of
Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil, and found in other tropical locales such as Trinidad, Panama, having been cultivated and distributed by Indians for centuries. The fruit is plentiful in a literally wild state on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, as well as large farms that cultivate the fruit for national and international distribution can be found there. Although not as common in other areas of Central America, it is still found throughout Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as Panama since the Pejibaye fruit requires a tropical climate with the ideal average annual temperature ranging between 64°F and 75°F (18°-24°C). At low elevations with excessive rainfall, the palm will not produce viable fruits.

The biggest downfall of this hearty little fruit is that an average 100 grams of Pejibaye fruit contains a hearty amount of
calories, definitely eliminating them as an option for anyone watching their weight. Nonetheless, if you find that you just cannot resist the allure of this tropical gem, the following is one of the most popular recipes to make the most of your experimentation with the ever so popular Costa Rican “Pejibaye”.
Sopa de Pejibaye Recipe (Palm Fruit Soup)

10-12 pejibayes
3 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups milk
1 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped or pressed
1 red, yellow or green sweet pepper.
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Wash and boil the pejibayes in salted water until soft (about 1.5 hours). Remove from the water, and when able to handle, peel and core them. Puree the pejibayes with the chicken stock.

Sauté the onion, garlic, and pepper in the oil until the onions are clear, then combine all the ingredients in a stock pot and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Enjoy!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Home Business Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.

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