What are Hearts of Palm?

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When I began journeying into the vegetable based diet thingy, I knew that things for the family would need to be a little different than just eating only vegetables. We had been meat eaters for so long that we kind of needed some meat substitutes thrown into the diet to keep us from lapsing. When I looked up something to replace crab meat, I found Hearts of Palm listed in several articles and recipes. 

I’d never even heard of this … what was it? Well, it’s in the vegetable aisle. Like, at the normal grocery stores! Who knew? Vegan people, I guess. 

By definition: Heart of palm is a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees. At one time, a cultural delicacy, since many people have gone to vegan diets and we have a global marketplace, hearts of palm have become a larger agricultural industry. 

Harvesting of many uncultivated or wild single-stemmed palms results in palm tree death. However, other palm species are clonal or multi-stemmed plants and moderate harvesting will not kill the entire clonal palm. 

The ones you find canned in grocery stores  are from domesticated clonal plants – usually from a Cabbage Palm or one called a Bactris gasipaes or Peach Palm. They produce up to 40 stems in just one plant and harvesting them allows the plant to live on and produce more. This means it is a sustainable harvest. 

Harvesting is still labor-intensive. The logs are harvested by hand with machetes. Luckily, most of these plants have also been selectively bred to no longer have thorns. Can you imagine, not only going after a really tough crop, but having to deal with thorns, too? Ouch! 

The limbs have to be chopped from the tree, the bark taken off along with the fronds. The logs are taken back for processing further. All of the fibers have to be removed until the tender heart is left. Then, either they’re packaged for local consumption in plastic or they’re canned and jarred for distribution. 

Brazil is both the leader of producing Heart of Palm and also the leader of using the product. Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Bolivia are right there with them. Costa Rica is known to export over 16 million pounds of it per year. However, it is produced throughout the tropics: in Asia, Indonesia, South and Central America, and even in Hawaii. 

Hearts of palm are rich in fiber, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper, protein, riboflavin, dietary fiber, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese as well as vitamins B2, B6, and C.. The ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is healthy. They are also low in calories – 40 per cup!

If you get fresh heart of palm, it can be upwards of $15 per pound but canned is much more affordable. Palm hearts have been regarded as a delicacy from when they were more difficult to cultivate and not as sustainable. So when you use them, treat them as such, okay? It doesn’t take much for each recipe. Keep that in mind. You are making a veganized delicacy out of… a delicacy. 

Some people slice them into decently thick slices and toss them with salads. They don’t have to be cooked, they can come directly from the jar. Some people put the whole hearts on a grill and season and  sauce them to their liking. If you’re not vegan and looking for an interesting snack, slice thicker hearts into sticks and wrap them with prosciutto. Some people like sauteing them with their meats or vegetables and serving it all as an interesting additional flavor with any number of dishes. 

It is worth noting that the canned versions have a higher sodium than the fresh versions, usually used in salads more often than recipes like this. Also worth noting – the high sodium means it’s a bit salty, which is what we want from our faux crab. But I still tend to rinse the staves before using them to get the brine off. It’s used as a vegan replacement for shellfish in a lot of recipes.  So, it’ll be okay. Just keep that in mind when you are seasoning the mix and don’t go overboard with anything salty. 

Palm Hearts are cylindrical and can be cut up or chopped. They have a taste similar to jarred Artichoke Hearts but the texture is a bit more crunchy.  

I like chopping mine coarsely as a substitute for crab meat in recipes. As such, I just use canned Heart of Palm. I go with whatever brand is available, but I rarely pay over $4 for a 14oz can.  Usually I can find it cheaper. If you buy it by the case, it can be cheaper. 

As for me, I love using a recipe for stuffed mushrooms that use Hearts of Palm. Also, my daughter-in-law and I both like to make Vegan Crab Cakes using Hearts of Palm.  I’ll be sure to link those so they’re easier to get to. 



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