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Palmito or heart of palm is a vegetable won from plants that belong to the botanical family of palm trees (bot.: Palmae). Palms producing palmito are the Açaí palm (bot.: Euterpe edulis) and the Babassu palm (bot.: Orbignya martiana). The most important growing areas are in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, where they grow mainly in the swamp areas and plainlands of tropical rivers.

Palmito consists of the mark of the growing bud at the top of the palm. This growing bud is the base of about 20 feathery palm fronds. The palm itself grows up to 20 m tall. It takes 15 years until the palms are ready for harvesting. To harvest palmito the palms have to be cut down. The heart weighs 2 to 3 kg and is covered by inedible, fibrous leaf casings that have to be removed completely to get to the edible mark. Unfortunately the growing bud cannot be removed without the palm dying off. It cannot grow back. This wastage makes the use of palmito in cooking very questionable, especially since two palms have to be cut down for one kilo of palmito. But many times palmito is a by-product that results from the clearing of forest for building new streets. The amount of palmito arising during those clearings are large enough to make it profitable for canning factories to settle down close to them. Besides hearts of palms these palm varieties only produce small drupes that grow in large clusters from the trunk. A creamy drink is produced from those berries or they are fed to pigs.

Speaking of the nutritional value only the unusually high iron content of up to 3,6 mg per 100 g palmito is notable. The taste of heart of palm is intensively nutty and unfolds best when eaten raw. Palm cabbage are hearts of palm that are cooked with the young, not yet unfolded leafs that surround them. The canned variety is called palm cheese. In Europe palmito is almost exclusively sold canned. Hearts of palms are cut to even-sized chunks and canned in brine with sea salt. Depending on the country of origin the cans are labelled Hearts of Palms or Curs de Palmier. The latter is the french term for hearts of palms.

See also:
oil palm,
palm kernel oil,
palm oil and
palm sugar.

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