Lucuma

Because of its culinary and nutritional value, lucuma is a valuable source of health and its sweet taste has stood the test of time. This Andean fruit has yet to catch on in the rest of the world, resulting in a unique reputation for both overwhelming success and virtual anonymity. Read on to discover the health benefits of lucuma, as well as how to find and incorporate this delicious fruit into daily life.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Lucuma, lucma, lucmo
  • Scientific namePouteria lucuma
  • Geographic distributionBolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru
  • Plant typeTree
  • Native regionAndean Region
  • Main producer(s)Peru
  • Main Economic UseAlimentary
  • Plant Life CyclePerennial
  • Food GroupFruits and Vegetables
  • Main Consumed PartFruit
  • OLD Main Economic UseAlimentary
  • Main Economic ProducerPeru
  • Native RegionSouth America
  • Growing HabitatSubtropical Regions
Lucuma

Native to the temperate highlands of Ecuador and Peru, lucuma, also known as 'lucma', has not strayed far in modern times from its original Andean lands, where it has been a staple food and favorite fruit for over 2,000 years. Not considered a tropical plant, it has successfully grown in other temperate conditions up through Central America and part of Mexico.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionCirculatory stimulant, Hypoglycemic
  • Key constituentsDihydrokaempferol glycosides, gallic acid, glucose, fructose, sucrose, and inositol
  • Ways to useCapsules, Juiced, Powder, Essential oil, Dried
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Although lucuma is yet to catch on with the rest of the world, and research on this South American fruit still scarce, studies have shed some light on its nutritional and medicinal properties. So far, lucuma has revealed health benefits that include:

  • Regulating blood sugar levels. In spite of its delicate sweetness, lucuma is not only low in sugar content, but also helps control glucose levels in people with diabetes.

  • Reducing high blood pressure. Studies have shown that lucuma has antihypertensive effects, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, preliminary studies have suggested that the essential oil obtained from the lucuma nut promotes wound healing and skin regeneration, and it may have potential nutraceutical and cosmetic applications.

In its native areas, lucuma have been traditionally used for promoting lactation on women after giving birth; however, there is very little scientific evidence corroborating this claim.

LUCUMA MAKES A GREAT SUGAR SUBSTITUTE FOR DIABETICS, THANKS TO ITS LOW GLUCOSE LEVELS AND HIGH AMOUNTS OF DIETARY FIBER.

How It Works

Lucuma is particularly rich in polyphenolic compounds, which have powerful anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant actions. Thanks to this high antioxidant content, the lucuma fruit may help reduce the incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, as well as other chronic ailments, through the management of oxidative stress.

The dihydrokaempferol glycosides contained in lucuma are important flavonoid compounds with anti-inflammatory activity, which play a role in wound healing and skin-restorative benefits of the fruit. This compound has also been reported to stimulate insulin, which regulates glucose metabolism, thus helping improve conditions in type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, lucuma also possess gallic acid, which stimulates the creation of new blood vessels, helps regulate blood pressure, and it is instrumental for cardiovascular function.  

Additionally, the lucuma nut oil possesses omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, which provide hypotensive properties and help in protein creation. These two main active acids in the oil provide therapeutic abilities that can alleviate itching and drying, which are two major symptoms of many skin conditions.

Lucuma Side Effects

There is little research available to determine the safety of lucuma use over a long period of time. As with any substance, caution should be taken when consuming lucuma in large portions consistently. Consult with a health professional about lucuma use if also regularly taking antihypertensive medications or other herbal supplements, because lucuma could potentially interact with their use. 

Nutritional Facts of Lucuma

On the nutritional side, lucuma fruits are a good source of insoluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. As the bright, pumpkin-like color of its flesh indicates, lucuma is rich in beta-carotene, which is a substance that the human body needs to produce vitamin A, and it also contains generous amounts of B3 (niacin) and iron.

Vitamin B3, or niacin, helps the digestive system, skin, and nerves to function. By stimulating the nervous system, niacin improves anxiety and depression. It also stimulates circulation, and has been shown to suppress inflammation. Iron, on the other hand, is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to transport it throughout the body.

Its agreeable sweetness and subtle flavor are due to a combination of sugars, named glucose, fructose, sucrose, and inositol. Inositol, in particular, is a glycoside that plays a crucial role in the metabolic actions of insulin, thus helping regulate glucose levels in the human body. All these compounds have a very low caloric value, which makes lucuma a good sugar substitute to be included in weight-loss diets and consumed by people with hyperglycemia or diabetes.

How to Consume Lucuma

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesSweetener
  • TasteSweet

Overwhelmingly popular as a food product in its native regions, lucuma is widely consumed in both fresh and dried forms. Its taste is considered initially appealing and can be described as sweet, like caramel, with a pumpkin-like texture that melts in one's mouth. It is widely used in South American desserts, arguably more popular than even chocolate among Peruvian ice cream flavors.

Natural Forms

  • Pure powder. Powdered lucuma is the most common form of lucuma in the United States, and it is especially popular for balancing blood pressure and stabilizing glucose levels. It is popularly used for baked goods and as a sugar substitute.

  • Fresh. Fresh lucuma fruit can be eaten on its own, however the dry, powdery texture is considered undesirable by many people, who prefer to blend it and add it to other recipes.

  • Juiced. The lucuma fruit pulp is also often added to juices, smoothies, sauces, and syrups, as well as in pie fillings and certain savory recipes.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Capsules. For those trying to regulate their blood sugar and reduce stress, lucuma capsules comes handy, in a convenient daily dose of antioxidants and fiber, which also aids with constipation.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores, Organic markets, Online health stores

Little international demand in years past has made it difficult to find fresh lucuma outside of Central and South America, but the Internet and growing awareness of the fruit continue to support its global reach.

Natural Form

In locations where it is grown, the fresh lucuma fruit can be found year-round thanks to near-constant fruiting. Its is available, particularly in South America, in grocery stores and supermarkets. Stores also often carry manufactured food products that use lucuma as a flavor enhancer. Outside of such zones, fresh lucuma fruit is best found in ethnic markets, though dried versions and powders are sometimes carried in health food stores.

Lucuma pure powder can be found in select health food stores and through online retailers. This form of lucuma is extremely popular in places where the fruit is not readily available, particularly in the United States. This is the most popular non-fresh way to ingest the fruit's nutrients, because it can be added to almost any other food or beverage.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Lucuma capsules can be found mostly through online retailers, in a variety of concentrations and price ranges.

Since the amount of vitamins and active compounds can vary depending on the brand, it is recommended to read the labels carefully and look for certified organic products, ideally processed and packaged in their places of origin.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLight (sandy), Well-drained
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Mountain regions, Subtropical regions, Andean region
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones11a (From +4.4 °C (40 °F) to +7.2 °C (45 °F)), 11b (From +7.2 °C (45 °F) to +10 °C (50 °F)), 12a (From +10 °C (50 °F) to +12.8 °C (55 °F)), 12b (> +12.8 °C (55 °F))
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings
  • Potential diseasesLeaf spot

Unlike many other plants in its native lands, lucuma does not require a tropical climate. It grows successfully in Andean valleys and subtropical areas, at altitudes up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level and temperatures as low as 41 °F (5 °C), with any temperatures below this resulting in plant death. Dry locations with sandy, slightly acidic soil and full sun are preferred, though it can also tolerate salty soil. It can grow in U.S. hardiness zones 9 - 12, though it is more susceptible to pests and diseases, like leaf spot, when cultivated at such latitudes.

Useful advice for growing lucuma can be found in the herb garden.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCosmetics, Furniture/carpentry, Timber

Plant Biology

A perennial evergreen, the lucuma tree grows best in temperate, mountainous climates like those of its native Andean highlands in Ecuador and Peru. Its height ranges from 25 – 50 feet (8 – 15 m), and it is identifiable by its clusters of dense crown of leathery, elliptical leaves at the ends of its small, downy branchlets. It blooms yearlong, producing yellow-green flowers with hairy sepals, from a brownish-green fleshy fruit containing latex-laden pulp is produced. The fruit contains the majority of the plant's nutrients and is the primary usable part.

  • Classification

    Lucuma (Pouteria lucuma, also known as Pouteria obovata, or Lucuma obovata) belong to the Sapotaceae family, which encompasses about 1,250 species of evergreen trees and shrubs across 53 genera widely distributed around the world, mainly in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and South America. Once classified as a genus, and still part of an ongoing controversy among taxonomists, the lucuma tree is now widely considered as a member of the genus Pouteria, which includes 325 species, many of them of great economic value as sources of high-quality timber and edible fruit.

  • Related Species and Cultivars of Lucuma

    Well known relatives of lucuma are P. caimito (caimito, indigenous to Colombia and Brazil), and P. campechiana (canistel, native to Central America and tropical areas of Mexico). There are two main cultivars of the fruit that tend to have different functions: 'lúcuma de seda' has a high concentration of water and is preferred for fresh consumption, whereas 'lúcuma de palo' is drier, often utilized in making desserts such as ice cream and mousse.

Historical Information

Long before its discovery by Western colonizers, lucuma was an integral part of indigenous diets for thousands of years.

Did you know?

It is now one of the national symbols of Peru, where 26 villages are named after the fruit.

Often called "the gold of the Incas," lucuma dates back many centuries with the first evidence found in images in archaeological sites around 200 CE. The ancient, pre-Incan Moche people were the first to cultivate it as a food source, a practice that spread throughout the region. Lucuma consumption spread beyond the region in 1531 when it was introduced to Europeans, and became very popular with the Spanish colonies in Central America and Chile.

Today, it is hugely popular in its original locations of Ecuador and Peru, but is still slowly gaining recognition outside of them. It has successfully grown in other temperate conditions up through Central America and part of Mexico, but its fruit has not enjoyed particular popularity in those locations. However, there are believed to me more cultivars growing in nature that have yet to be discovered, which has the potential to initiate lucuma markets emerging from Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina.

Economic Data

Until very recent years, lucuma has found little worldwide demand as a commodity, though its popularity continues to steadily grow. South American countries represent both the biggest market and biggest producers of the plant, centrally focused around Peru. In 2009 alone, the country exported over 12 tons of the fruit, at an estimated FOB of more than $126,000 USD - the majority of the world's supply. This does not take domestic sales into account, which are significantly higher. Cultivation also occurs in Chile and, to a certain extent, in Ecuador and Bolivia, mainly focused on food product manufacturing.

Other Uses

The lucuma tree has compact, durable wood that is favored for construction, particularly in areas where it grows in abundance. The fruit has potential within the cosmetics industry for its ability to heal damaged skin, and it also serves as a cultural symbol in its native regions, considered a "flagship product" for Peruvians to represent their rich historical heritage.

Bibliography

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  • Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Production of 7-O-Methyl Aromadendrin, a Medicinally Valuable Flavonoid, in Escherichia coli, 2011
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  • Molecules, An Overview of Plant Phenolic Compounds and Their Importance in Human Nutrition and Management of Type 2 Diabetes, 2016
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  • Lost Crops of the Incas, pp. 263-265
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  • Food Chemistry, Characterization of main primary and secondary metabolites and in vitro antioxidant and antihyperglycemic properties in the mesocarp of three biotypes of Pouteria lucuma, 2016