By Eun Jae Park
Guarding its tasty fruits with sharp, needlelike spikes, the tucumã palm tree remains scattered throughout the Amazonas region of northeastern Brazil. With a rich texture and a mildly sweet yet savory flavor, the tucumã fruit has been a widely enjoyed treat in the Amazonas and nearby regions for centuries. A typical tucumã fruit can vary greatly in size from 20 to 100 grams and is packed with protein and Vitamin A.
Tucumã can be prepared in many different ways: sandwiched between two French roll slices, stuffed into pancakes with tapioca, squeezed into juice, or freshly picked from the tree. In the past 30 years, tucumã has gained tremendous widespread popularity as an alternative breakfast staple. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2011 publication Fruit trees and useful plants in Amazonian life, tucumã sandwiches represent 60-80 percent of all breakfast sandwiches and 16-30 percent of tapioca pancakes made in Manaus, the most populous city in the Amazonas.
Aside from its culinary benefits, the tucumã fruit’s seeds are utilized to make a famous Amazonas bead necklace. FAO reports that an artisan can craft about 48 necklaces from just two bunches of fruit and sell a single handmade seed necklace at US$2 to $3. Tucumã allows indigenous Amazonians to practice traditional art while creating a source of potential income.
In addition, tucumã has been recently studied as a stable fuel source in the Amazonas. Almost 60 percent of a tucumã fruit’s weight is oil, making it a viable source of biofuel production. A study conducted by Acta Amozonica, a Brazilian research institute for issues within the Amazon rainforest, concluded that tucumã kernels are an excellent input source for biofuel production. Only 32 of the 4,600 unique, isolated communities in the Amazonas have electricity, making large-scale tucumã biofuel production a likely possibility in the future.
Tucumã has not only been benefiting the Amazonian diet and art industry, but now has the potential to provide electricity access to the masses. It’s no wonder why the tucumã palm tree shields its precious fruits with dangerous spikes from intruders.
What do you think of tucumã? Have you tried it? Let us know in the comments below!
Eun Jae is an intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
To read about other indigenous foods, see: Giant Swamp Taro: Untapped Potential in the Pacific, Soursop: Many Names, Many Flavors, Pomme du Sahel: Hardy, Yet Delicious, Okra: Southern Charm and Resilient on the Farm