Pewa: Small Fruits that Pack a Huge Punch

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By Molly Redfield

The pewa (Bactris gasipaes or peach palm in English), while just about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, is a nutrient-dense fruit that provides more protein than an avocado, which contains approximately 3 grams of protein. Growing in South and Central America on palm trees that reach heights of over 20 meters, pewa is known as the “noble Panamanian fruit.” This nickname refers to the fact that 92 percent of its seeds, pulp, and skin are usable.

Pewa is an important staple food that grows across Central and South America.
(Photo credit: Washington & Jefferson College)

With a nutrient value similar to a hen’s egg, minus the cholesterol, pewa is an important food source for many birds, notably macaws, parrots, and parakeets. Its high fiber, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, ascorbic acid, and calcium content have also made it an important staple food for many Indigenous Peoples. For centuries, Indigenous groups have used pewa in jellies, compotes, flours and edible oils. Preparation of this fruit includes boiling, often in salted water, to remove the trypsin enzymes under its skin that would block protein digestion. After stewing, the pewa fruit is peeled and flavored with honey or salt, dried, smoked, or cooked into other foods.

Indigenous communities in Central and South America have also developed preservation methods for keeping this perishable fruit available during the offseason. After cooking the pulp, they would mash it and then store it underground in leaves. A month later, the pewa would be fit to consume and Indigenous communities could store them for roughly one year. Another way Indigenous groups have stored pewa is through creating a fermented alcoholic beverage with the fruit. Among various Indigenous Amazonian groups, this drink, called chica, is still used in various religious ceremonies and rituals.

In Costa Rica, stores sell whole pewa fruits, pewa flour, and pewa soups, and the fruit is also available in infant formula. Pewa’s popularity is currently increasing on global markets because it is a gluten free substitute for wheat flour. And according to the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (APGRI), expansion of the fruit’s commercial success could lead to economic development for farming communities across South and Central America.

Without question, this small, inconspicuous fruit surely packs a huge punch.

For more information on pewa click here.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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