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All About Peru’s National Fruit: The Lúcuma

Tucked in the heart of South America, Peru is not only known for its ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, but also for its rich culinary heritage. Among its gastronomic treasures lies the Lúcuma, a fruit so adored that it’s often referred to as the “Gold of the Incas”.

Did you know that this seemingly ordinary fruit has been cultivated for over 8,000 years and even appears in ancient Moche artworks?

The Lúcuma, National Fruit of Peru

The Lúcuma, scientifically named Pouteria lucuma, is a fruit that belongs to the Sapotaceae family. At first glance, its round to oval shape might remind you of a mango, with a rough green skin that hides a vibrant, sunny yellow flesh inside.

Typically weighing between 200-350 grams (7-12 oz), this fruit has a unique dry, starchy texture, somewhat similar to that of a hard-boiled egg yolk, earning it the nickname ‘Eggfruit’.

It ripens during the summer months in Peru, between January and April. Taste-wise, Lúcuma is a delightful paradox, with flavors reminiscent of caramel or maple combined with a hint of sweet potato. Its distinctive taste and texture make it a favorite, especially in desserts.

Where Does The Lúcuma Grow?

Lúcuma trees thrive in the Andean valleys of Peru, where the climate oscillates between cool and temperate, a perfect balance for this subtropical fruit.

While it’s indigenous to the highlands of Peru and Ecuador, the Lúcuma has also found its way to other parts of South America due to its rising popularity.

It grows best at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,400 meters (3,280 to 7,874 feet) above sea level. The fruit is highly adaptable but prefers slightly acidic to neutral soils rich in organic matter.

Peru Lucuma

The Lúcuma in the Ecosystem

Lúcuma trees play a significant role in their natural ecosystem. With its broad, evergreen leaves and towering presence, the tree provides habitat and shade for a myriad of smaller plants and animals.

Its flowers, which blossom before the onset of the fruiting season, attract various pollinators, especially specific species of bees that thrive in the Andean regions.

Furthermore, the fallen fruits often become a source of nutrition for various animals. Birds, like the Andean thrush, relish the sweet pulp of the Lúcuma, while its seeds, once dispersed, contribute to the forest’s regeneration process.

By drawing various species to its bounty, the Lúcuma tree plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of its ecosystem, ensuring the propagation of both flora and fauna in its surroundings.

Why and When Did The Lúcuma Become The National Fruit of Peru?

The Lúcuma has deep-rooted significance in the cultural and historical fabric of Peru. Its presence can be traced back to the Moche civilization, where depictions of Lúcuma fruits and trees adorned pottery and murals, symbolizing fertility and abundance.

Its title as the “Gold of the Incas” is not merely a testament to its rich flavor but also its value in ancient ceremonies and traditions. Offered to gods as a symbol of gratitude and reverence, the Lúcuma was much more than a dietary staple; it was a bridge between the mortal realm and the divine.

Over the years, as Peru ventured into modernity, the Lúcuma retained its charm and significance. Today, it symbolizes Peru’s rich biodiversity and its commitment to preserving indigenous crops and culinary traditions. The decision to recognize it as the national fruit wasn’t merely based on its historical presence, but also as an emblem of national pride and identity.

Peru Lucuma ice creamSource: Wikimedia Commons
Lucuma ice cream

How is The Lúcuma Consumed in Peru?

Lúcuma stands out not just for its unique taste but also for its versatility in Peruvian cuisine. The fruit, with its creamy texture and a subtle hint of caramel, is rarely eaten raw due to its dry consistency. Instead, it’s most commonly incorporated into various dishes, making it a beloved ingredient for many.

A national favorite is lúcuma ice cream – a dessert that has even managed to surpass chocolate and vanilla in popularity in certain regions. Additionally, the pulp of the fruit is often used as a natural sweetener in smoothies, milkshakes, and pastries. This distinct flavor profile has also found its way into cakes, pies, and even pancakes.

Furthermore, in health-conscious circles, lúcuma powder, derived from the dried fruit, is prized as a natural sweetening agent, rich in nutrients and low on the glycemic index.

Names of The Lúcuma

Lúcuma, scientifically known as Pouteria lucuma, goes by several names that attest to its reach beyond just Peru. In English, it’s often referred to as “Eggfruit” due to the yolk-like consistency and color of its pulp.

Some regions in Peru and neighboring countries might call it “Lúcumo” or “Mamón”. The term “Gold of the Incas” is a cultural moniker more than a direct name, signifying its historical importance.

It’s essential to note that names like “Mamón” may refer to different fruits in various parts of Latin America, so context is vital when deciphering its meaning.

Interesting Facts About The Lúcuma

  1. Archaeological Significance: Lúcuma’s history is so deeply intertwined with ancient Peruvian cultures that its images have been found on pottery items at burial sites, dated over a thousand years old.
  2. Nutritional Powerhouse: Lúcuma is packed with essential nutrients. It is a good source of antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, especially vitamin B3 and vitamin E, and minerals like iron, calcium, and phosphorus.
  3. Natural Wound Healer: Indigenous communities in Peru have, for generations, used Lúcuma for its medicinal properties, especially in the natural treatment of wounds and skin issues.
  4. Economic Significance: The commercial cultivation of Lúcuma provides a steady income for many farming communities in Peru, especially since the demand has risen with global awareness of superfoods.
  5. In Art & Literature: Lúcuma, given its cultural significance, has often been referenced in Peruvian literature, folk songs, and contemporary art, symbolizing nostalgia, home, and the bounties of nature.
Peru LucumaSource: Wikimedia Commons

How To Grow Lúcuma?

Growing Lúcuma, or Eggfruit, requires a combination of the right climatic conditions and patience.

  • Soil: Lúcuma trees prefer well-draining soil with a slight acidity. A pH level between 6.0 to 7.5 is optimal.
  • Sunlight: While the tree can tolerate partial shade, it thrives best under full sun.
  • Watering: Regular watering is crucial, especially during its formative years. Once established, the tree is relatively drought-tolerant but benefits from consistent moisture.
  • Temperature: Lúcuma trees prefer a tropical to subtropical climate. They are frost-sensitive and thrive in temperatures ranging from 25°C to 30°C (77°F to 86°F).
  • Propagation: The tree is often propagated from seeds. However, grafting from a mature tree can ensure better fruit production.
  • Harvesting: The fruit takes about nine months to mature after flowering. It’s best harvested when fully ripe, as indicated by its vibrant green color and slightly soft touch.

Other Fruits Native To Peru

Peru’s diverse geography and climate zones have blessed it with a plethora of unique fruits. Here are five notable ones:

  • Camu Camu: Known scientifically as Myrciaria dubia, this fruit grows on a bush native to the Amazon rainforest in Peru and boasts exceptionally high vitamin C content.
  • Cherimoya: Also referred to as custard apple, cherimoya has a creamy, sweet pulp that tastes like a mix of banana, pineapple, and strawberry.
  • Aguaje: A fruit from the Moriche palm tree, Aguaje is rich in vitamin A and is often consumed for its health benefits, especially for skin health.
  • Pacay: Also known as “ice cream bean,” it’s a pod-like fruit with sweet and creamy pulp.
  • Tumbo: A relative of passion fruit, Tumbo or “banana passionfruit” has a tangy taste and is often used in juices and desserts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Lúcuma the same as Eggfruit found in other parts of the world?

While Lúcuma is often referred to as “Eggfruit” due to its texture and appearance, it’s different from the Eggfruit found in other parts of the world like Asia.

How is Lúcuma different from other sweetening agents?

Lúcuma provides sweetness without significantly raising blood sugar levels, making it a preferred natural sweetener for those watching their glycemic intake.

Is Lúcuma safe for diabetic individuals?

Yes, due to its low glycemic index, Lúcuma is a safer option for diabetics compared to regular sugars. However, it’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider.

How is Peru preserving its native fruits like Lúcuma?

Peru has been at the forefront of organic and sustainable farming methods, ensuring the preservation and propagation of its native fruits. Lúcuma farming, in particular, has seen a surge due to its global demand as a superfood.

Besides fruits, what are some other symbols or foods deeply associated with Peru?

Peru is renowned for its potatoes, with over 3,000 varieties, and quinoa, a super grain that has been cultivated in the Andean region for millennia. The country also takes pride in its rich culinary traditions, such as ceviche, and cultural symbols like Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines.

Other National Symbols of Peru

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