BENEFITS OF LUCUMA
- Rich in fiber and replaces sugar
- Source of antioxidants
- Helps regulate blood sugar levels
- Protects the heart
Photo Dovile Ramoskaite at Unsplash
What is the lucuma?
The lucuma is a fruit of the Pouteria lúcuma, a tree of the family of the Sapotaceae.
It grows in the Andean valleys of Peru and Ecuador and can grow up to 15 meters high.
Its fruit is the main ingredient of delicious desserts, cakes and ice cream in South America. It is known as the “gold of the Incas”.
Lucuma’s leaves are dark green in color and are concentrated at the tips of the branches, while the yellow and green flowers produce the fruit, which takes about 9 months to mature once the flower is fertilized.
The fruit has an oblong shape and a conical tip. As for its flesh, it has a beautiful yellow-orange color, a dry texture and a very sweet flavor reminiscent of caramel, sweet potato or maple syrup.
Originally, lucuma grows at high altitudes, between 2700 and 3000 meters. Originally it was only found in the Andes, but now it is grown mainly in coastal areas, at about 500 meters, from October to March.
In addition to Peru and Ecuador, it is also found in Bolivia, Chile and, to a lesser extent, Costa Rica.
Peruvians have consumed it since ancient times. Lucuma was part of the iconography of the Mochica people between 100 and 700 A.D.: many objects representing this fruit have been found in cemeteries.
The Europeans discovered it during the conquest, and its existence was first mentioned in Ecuador in 1531. The word lucuma comes from the Quechua word lluku uma, which means “head of the ancestor”.
Lucuma, as we have seen, has a dry texture when eaten raw. It is usually used to give flavor in the kitchen: to give flavor to a juice, a cake, a mousse.
But it is lucuma ice cream in particular that is having enormous success in Peru and other parts of Latin America.
As you can see, this fruit is delicious.
But it is also particularly healthy and nutritious. Lucuma is very rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin B3, antioxidants such as beta-carotene, and advantageously replaces sugar.
Therefore, it is an ally from the nutritional point of view, especially if it is a matter of reducing or substituting sugar in the diet to improve health, lose weight or prevent certain diseases.
In Europe, lucuma is mainly found in the form of powder or edible flour, as its thin and fragile skin does not tolerate exports.
- Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, C
- Minerals and trace elements: calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium…
The benefits of lucuma
Rich in fiber and replaces sugar
The nutritional value of lucuma is very high, it has a low glycemic index, and its delicate and sweet taste makes it possible to replace or limit refined sugar in our diet.
It is particularly rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, facilitating digestion and transit. On the one hand, the insoluble fibers of lucuma help to increase the volume of feces and prevent constipation.
On the other hand, the soluble fibers it contains feed the microbiota (formerly intestinal flora), such as prebiotics.
They also facilitate the absorption of minerals by our body. Lucuma also contains minerals, especially calcium, but also iron, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
Fiber contributes to the health of our digestive system, but not only that. Its benefits on digestion help to improve our general health, the good functioning of our brain and to prevent certain diseases.
In addition to this nutritional benefit, lucuma advantageously replaces sugar in our diet. It is an interesting alternative to refined sugar, especially since only a small amount of lucuma powder contributes to easily sweeten a dessert or a drink.
Source of antioxidants
Lucuma is an excellent source of antioxidants. These protect us by fighting against damage from free radicals, the molecules that damage our cells and accelerate aging.
They are also useful because they protect us from heart problems and can prevent the development of cancer.
Our fruit is rich in polyphenols and carotenoids, antioxidants that are particularly active against inflammation.
It owes them its beautiful yellow-orange color. They protect our eyes in particular. Vitamin C is also one of their well-known antioxidants.
This in vitro study, conducted by different Chilean universities, demonstrates the antioxidant activity of lucuma.
Helps regulate blood glucose levels
Lucuma, at least its components, is believed to help regulate and reduce blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes.
It contains simple sugars, but mostly complex carbohydrates: starch and fiber.
The latter help regulate blood sugar levels and protect against diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and avoiding blood sugar spikes after a meal.
The mechanisms of lucuma would be similar to those of anti-diabetic drugs.
It would block the action of the enzymes that convert complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, the alpha-glucosidase enzymes.
In addition, as we have seen, lucuma has a low glycemic index and easily replaces sugar in desserts, snacks, drinks, which mechanically reduces the sugar level. However, care should be taken to consume it in moderation.
This in vitro study conducted by different Chilean universities demonstrates the anti-hyperglycemic properties of lucuma.
This study, conducted by the University of Sao Paulo on various native fruits of Peru, including lucuma, shows that it inhibits the enzyme alpha-glucosidase and its potential to complement antidiabetic drugs.
Protects the heart
Thanks to the polyphenols it contains, lucuma could protect the heart from heart disease. They contribute in particular to lowering blood pressure.
These properties are still being studied, although initial results are promising.
This study conducted by the University of Sao Paulo on several native fruits of Peru, including lucuma, shows its antihypertensive potential.
How is lucuma consumed?
Unless you go to a Peruvian or Chilean grocery store, which may carry frozen lucuma pulp, it will be difficult to find outside South America. Lucuma powder, on the other hand, is sold in organic and e-commerce stores.
This is obtained by drying the pulp at low temperature, in order to preserve all its health benefits, and then grinding the fruit until a fine powder is collected. The powder is ochre and reminds us of the initial color of the fruit.
As usual, certified organic and fair trade lucuma is preferred.
With bananas, apples, cereals, yogurt, lucuma is a perfect accompaniment for
You can also find in organic stores mixtures of various super foods that contain lucuma, often mixed with maca or moringa, both for their properties and to sweeten the flavor of the mixture.
Lucuma powder mixes very well with other fruits. You can sprinkle it on a fruit salad (it works especially well with bananas, apples, mangoes, for example), a muesli, yogurt, mix it into smoothies...
It can also be diluted in water, but it would be a shame to deprive yourself of its sweetness.
Lucuma as a sugar substitute
We consume an average of 35 kg of refined sugar per year! Not only does it not provide us with much from a nutritional point of view, but it is addictive, causes many pathologies and promotes obesity.
Lucuma powder is a good alternative, as is honey or agave syrup. Desserts and snacks can be easily made with it instead of the normal sugar. Its flavor when cooked will be close to that of brown sugar.
It is suggested to replace half of the sugar in a cake, pie or other recipe with lucuma powder. Lucuma powder is also a good thickener.
You can add lucuma to your diet all year round, replacing sugar. There is no “cure” as such.
The recommended doses range from 5 to 15g per day, so make sure you consume in moderation!
Contraindications and side effects, Lucuma the Fruit
In the recommended doses, there are no contraindications or side effects. If you are allergic to exotic fruits, it is best to seek the advice of a physician before taking lucuma.
History, culture and the lucuma market
From the Andes to Hawaii
Natives of the Andean valleys, there are archaeological traces of the culture and uses of lucuma among the pre-Incan peoples of the Pacific coast, such as the Nazca and Mochica.
The latter represented it widely in their daily objects, and used its wood for architectural purposes.
The oldest evidence of its consumption has been found in Ancash, in the north of Peru, along the Pacific Ocean.
They date back to 6000 B.C. Since then, lucuma has been part of the daily diet of pre-Columbian peoples, along with corn and quinoa.
When the Spanish conquerors arrived, it was also cultivated in southern Ecuador.
Then it was introduced in Bolivia, Chile, and since the beginning of the 20th century in Costa Rica. Today, it can even be found in Mexico and Hawaii! In addition, cultivation tests have been carried out in Florida, without the tree being able to adapt adequately to the climate.
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A fruit native to the mountains that grows best on the coast.
The lucuma tree grows ideally between 20 and 22°C, in a temperate climate.
It requires a nutrient-rich, neutral pH soil, although it can tolerate more alkaline soils. Resistant to drought or moisture, cannot grow well in high temperatures or heavy rainfall, and is not frost resistant.
Although it is native to the Andes and originally grew at high altitudes, lucuma today finds its optimal growing conditions at an altitude of 500 meters.
In this context, the tree produces between 200 and 300 fruits four years after planting.
A national service and an expanding market
Lucuma is the national dessert of Peru. Its inhabitants consume it mainly in ice creams and cakes, like the suspiro limeño with lúcuma, a particularly tasty fruit cream and meringue.
The famous chef Gaston Acurio contributed to its worldwide fame by inventing the chocolate brownie with lucuma mousse.
The lucuma market is booming. In Peru, its exports have increased by 16% since 2015. Chile is the main exporter of fresh fruit and its frozen pulp. The United States is the main destination of lucuma powder, followed by Europe.
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