Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hearts of Palm: Are they that girl group that sang "Barracuda?"

Dear Tricia, I've seen hearts of palm in salads, but what exactly is a heart of palm? Something about it seems really wrong.

Well, when you find out that words like "self-suckering" and "burglar's thigh" are associated with it, I'm not surprised that you thought something was wrong.
That's such a good question because I wasn't too sure when I got this email. So this one's a learning process for both of us. From my research, I learned that hearts of palm come from the very inner core of the stems of certain palm trees, usually ones called "peach palm trees" when they're grown in the US. South America has different kinds of palm trees that they harvest hearts of palm from, and I couldn't pronounce a single one of them. Its classified as a vegetable (How creative. Who's the genius that decided to put them in salads?), has only about 30 calories for a 4 ounce serving, 2 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein.
Peach Palm Trees are "self-suckering." I didn't know what that meant, so I googled it. Take my advice: do NOT google that word. My eyes were not prepared for those search results. I eventually found the meaning of it in reference to botany, and its when secondary shoots will grow out of the base of the tree when you cut shoots off. Palm farming didn't used to be like that and hearts of palm grew to be very expensive because humans are naturally greedy money-whores who decided to cut down tons of palm trees to harvest them. But now they've been domesticated as a farm-raised tree and it has become more sustainable. On a side note: the French are the number one consumers of hearts of palm in the world. Go figure.
To harvest them, fancy heart of palm people cut down the tree and remove the bark. The fibers are removed leaving the center core or heart of palm. While the entire core edible, the outside part of it is more fibrous (I would imagine it being like chewing on carpet,) and the very inner part of it is what is packed in water, canned, and shipped to your grocery store. In Florida, you can buy fresh hearts of palm.
Other weird facts about them: apparently they're also called "burglar's thing" and "swamp cabbage." I'm not sure who designated these nicknames for hearts of palm but I think they might be a little crazy. Or just bored. But the next time you order a hearts of palm salad, I triple dog dare you to call it "A Burglar's Thigh Salad with a little bit of extra swamp cabbage." Let me know how that works out for you.

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