Hearts of Palm are a Central/South American vegetable, with a delicate taste akin to artichokes/asparagus: - they come from a variety of a young Pejibaye tree, a small tree native to the American tropics, and a look-a-like to the African palm tree when fully grown (40 feet high). The plant is self-sufficient, and grows in the wilds of the tropical jungles, and on commercial plantations.
When Columbus arrived in the new world, the Carib Indians were fully utilizing the Pejibaye tree. The Caribes made their lodging from the tree bark, and used the palm leaves for roofing. They ate nuts of the mature Pejibaye tree, as Central Americans still do today, and ate the center cord or the “heart” of the young Pejibaye plants. The tender center cord of the cabbage palm, or palmetto is the state tree of Florida.
It used to be that the palm tree was harvested, and only the top portion would provide the few stalks of edible hearts of palm. This method of harvesting caused irreparable ecological damage, due to deforestation. The heart used to come from a 12-16” span at the top of a 65 foot palm’s trunk. Once the heart was removed, the tree died. One tree, which could be as much as 100 years old, had only enough heart to fill just two 14 oz cans. The cans retail for around $4.00 apiece in the U.S. A 65 foot tall tree for only $8.00?
Since the early 1970’s, our hearts of palm have been developed on agricultural farms, and nourished to maintain their flavor and tenderness. We work with a variety called “bactris gasipaes”, a very high quality heart of palm consistent in size, color and texture, with a calorie content of only 28 per 100 grams. The young plant is harvested at the approximate age of twelve months, when the center cord is between ¾ to 1 inch in diameter, so as not to lose its tenderness. At that time, the plant is approximately five feet tall, and has a diameter of four inches. If harvested at a later date, the center cord develops a “woody” taste as the plant turns into a tree.
In harvesting the heart of palm, first the plant is cut down, and the thin bark is stripped off in the field, leaving the white fiber of the young tree trunk. The trunk is composed of concentric circles of white fiber around a center stem. During the processing, the outer concentric layers of fiber are removed…this leaves the cylindrical center cord which is the “heart of palm”.
The center cord is attached to a slightly more fibrous cylindrical base with a larger diameter. The entire cylindrical center cord, and the attached base, are edible. The center cord is considered more of a delicacy because of its lower fiber content.
Hearts of palm, a Latin favorite, are finding their way onto more menus. Latin American food is a hot trend these days as dinner seek out intense flavors, from ultra sweet dulce de leched to fiery chilies – but one increasingly popular ingredient from South America upends expectations – hearts of palm which are pale/just about odorless/essentially bland. It’s character is so indistinct that it is known, Zelig-like, as everything from the millionaires salad to swamp cabbage. Yet taste so common to be called “nutty”.
Thanks in large part to the popularity of the Brazilians all-you-can-eat steakhouses called “churrascarias”, Americans are gobbling up the vegetable that is available.
You can use hearts of palm in salads, roast them, and/or cook them with rice. Palmito is both their name in Portuguese/Spanish, and have a most interesting texture, and “tabula rasa” flavor that pairs well with other ingredients.
The inner cores of young palms have been eaten for millennia by people living near palms – but a luxury. It takes 3 palm stem to produce 1 lbs of finished heart. In the 1950’s Brazil began exporting canned palm hearts, preserved in a citric-acid solution. Floridians were familiar with the product – “swamp cabbage”, as the heart of the state’s palmetto palm is called, which is a classis Florida backcountry dish, usually obiled with meat. However, Brazilian palm hearts were a prestigious import, expensive enough to earn the name “millionaire’s salad”.
Brazil relentlessly harvest for 20 years the jucara palm trees, a single-stemed variety that dies after it is chopped down, left the species nearly extinct, and best ROYED THE JUCARA PALM HEART INDUSTRY. However, by the 1970’s, the harvest moved into the mouth of the Amazon river, where the acai palm also provides hearts, as it is multistemed, so harvesters can hack off a stem/two, allowing the plant to regenerate.
Today, Costa Rica and Ecuador are the main suppliers, though farmed pejibaye palm hearts are grown in tropical climates around the world. Some day the Jucara palm is tastiest or eaten fresh, not canned. Americans are unlikely to encounter jucara hearts – canned/jarred in the US are either acais/pejibayes.
The palm hardens with age – so harvesting of too-young acai trees is a temptation, and a hazard to the health of Amazon forest. To avoid buying palm hearts from underage trees/from farms with poor working conditions, conservationists seek out “sustainable” heart of palm, certified by organizations as Rainforest Alliance.
We grow our hearts of palm in Costa Rica and Ecuador. Careful attention is given to nourishment of the plants. The plants are cut at exactly the right time in order to maintain their tenderness and quality. There is no “woody” problem with our Napoleon Hearts of Palm. We ensure that our hearts of palm receive the proper time and amount of processing, as well as using the freshest product. The result is a quality heart of palm with its natural flavor, just like it comes out of the field.
Hearts of palm are generally packed in a solution of salt, citric acid, and ascorbic acid, and should be rinsed in cold water before using…unless you prefer our glass pack, marinated in vinegar, oil and spices, ready to eat from the jar.
Napoleon packs its hearts of palm in glass jars for the following reasons:
- First, the buyer can see the quality of the heart of palm and can see its uniform size, and the ivory colored tenderness, and the diameter of the individual sticks;
- Second, the buyer knows that if the heart of palm from a jar is not all used at the first serving, the rest may easily be saved by putting the lid back on the jar, and putting the jar in the refrigerator, and can be stored for over a week.
While hearts of palm are well known to some chefs/consumers, they can always use suggestions for including this product in their recipes as an:
- appetizer…serve cut or whole, with lettuce, drizzled with a Dijon vinaigrette dressing, and add our artichokes/capers/peppers as a garnish;
- salad…in a summer salad Nicoise made with our anchovies, capers, olives or other fish, meat, with eggs and vegetables;
- hot dish…serve as a vegetable with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or other seasoning.
Due to their mild flavor, hearts of palm should not be served with dominating sauces.
The most often asked questions about Hearts of Palm:
Q. What is a Heart of Palm?
A. A heart of palm is the center cord of a young palm tree. The cord runs right up the middle
of the palm.
Q. Where do Hearts of Palm come from?
A. Approximately 44% of the hearts of palm that come into the United States are from Brazil. The remaining 56% are primarily from Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. In order to grow properly, hearts of palm need approximately 250 inches of rainfall each year, and cannot be subjected to freezing weather conditions. Therefore, those tropical countries with abundant rainfall are the best producing areas.
Q. Why are the Hearts of Palm that I buy often hard?
A. Heart of Palm are the center cords of young trees, and if not cut at the right time, they become hard as the tree matures and grows. The young hearts of palm plants should be cut at the age of twelve months to ensure their tenderness. Some hearts of palm today are grown with no quality control, and are often cut very late in the life of the tree. In addition, a lot of the Hearts of Palm from South America are grown wild and are harvested by natives, and/or poachers, then brought into processing facilities. There is no supervision of the growing of the plant, nor of its date of cutting. The Hearts of Palm can be inconsistent in quality.
Q. Why are the Hearts of Palm that I buy sometimes mushy?
A. Central and South Americans like their Hearts of Palm very soft, and the processors cook the product longer to obtain the softer texture. The majority of Americans like their Hearts of Palm more crunchy, as it is when newly cut in the field.
Q. Don’t Hearts of Palm contain palm oil, which is bad for your health?
A. No, Hearts of Palm contain no palm oil, and they are actually a good health food. Hearts of Palm are the center cord of the young palm tree, have no cholesterol, fat, and contain less than one hundred calories in an entire jar. If the young plant was not cut down, and grew into a mature palm tree, after approximately seven years, it would start bearing palm nuts. It is the palm nuts that contain the palm oil, not the center cord of the young tree that we call the “Heart of Palm”.
Q. What is the difference between Brazilian Hearts of Palm and Napoleon Hearts of Palm?
A. There are two different types of Hearts of Palm; the cultivated ones that come from Ecuador or Peru (South America) and Costa Rica (Central America), and the wild Hearts of Palm that come from the rain forests of Brazil, Paraguay, etc. Due in part to the worldwide pressure to lessen the exploitation of the tropical rain forests of South America, production of the wild Hearts of Palm is decreasing. In importing our Napoleon brand of Hearts of Palm, we have a policy to protect the environment, and guarantee a rational and responsible use of natural resources, by buying only from agricultural farms.
Ecuador and Peru are located in South America on the west side. This advantageous location allows our Hearts of Palm plants to benefit greatly from the intense sunlight throughout the year. The rich soils and the favorable climate offer excellent conditions for agriculture, giving us a substantial advantage over the Hearts of Palm from other areas.
We obtain seeds selected from among the best palm trees encountered in the Amazon jungle. The seeds are submitted to a careful selection and disinfecting process. Putting our own technology into practice, we care for the seeds in germinating areas where they remain until they are ready for transportation to nurseries. At the beginning of this phase of cultivation, our emphasis is on the application of organic fertilizers. We do not use chemicals.
Hearts of palm can be purchased in tins or glass, in brine or marinated, cut or whole - which provides you convenience, flexibility, and quality.
Highly favorable climate and soil conditions in Central/South America, tremendous attention to detail, and a highly professional and technical approach has resulted in Napoleon Hearts of Palm’s superior quality, taste, and texture.
We think you will find our Napoleon brand not only competitive, but most favorable with the highest standards of quality/service. We support the choice with education and promotion - as we dedicate ourselves to the demanding dictates of our expanding consumer base.