Lucuma (Pouteria lucuma O.Ktze.) , a fruit found across the Andes and sometimes called ‘Gold of the Incas’ was first recorded by Europeans in Ecuador in 1531. Archeologists found it widely represented in designs on ceramic pottery in burial sites of indigenous people of coastal Peru, which would indicate it was an esteemed resource even in ancient times. Today its popularity in Peru is still so strong, that at least twenty six villages are named after it!
Looking a bit like an avocado crossed with a pear, Lucuma has been called ‘the eggfruit’ in English because of the flesh’s dry, hard-boiled egg yolk texture. While this may not sound very appetizing, the fruit’s sweetness (described as similar to maple syrup and sweet potato) has made it the most popular ice cream flavor in Peru.
The difficulty of shipping the fruit itself all the way from the Andes makes it fairly difficult for us to experience it fresh. We are fortunate though, to be able to have it in the form of a fine dehydrated powder, ideal for use as a low glycemic index sweetener in baking, or adding it to our favorite smoothies and cold and hot beverages.
Why would we want to incorporate Lucuma into our diets? To start with, as mentioned above, it has a low glycemic index, making it safe for use by diabetics as a sweetener, and an excellent choice for those who have concerns about the effects of regular sugar.
Lucuma is packed with antioxidants, always useful in combatting the effects of aging. Because of its antibiotic, antimicrobial and antifungal properties, it has long been used in South America as a healing medicine. It also contains high amounts of healthy carbohydrates, making it a great energy booster, and a valuable ‘brain food’. Studies have shown that Lucuma may have potential in reducing hypertension.
Healthy levels of calcium, beta-carotene, zinc, iron, vitamin C, niacin, fiber and 14 essential trace minerals indicate that Lucuma is indeed worthy of its ‘Gold of the Incas’ nickname. It is interesting to note that Lucuma takes 5 years from planting, to start to bear fruit. But from then on, it will produce up to 500 fruits per season, and will bear fruit even in times of harsher growing conditions (drought, etc.) which result in scarcity of other food sources. So Lucuma and its high nutrient content has been at times, a life-saving resource.
In addition to the powdered form of the fruit, the oil of the Lucuma nut (its large seed) has been found to be useful in medical treatments of skin damage, promoting skin regeneration.