Sopa de palmito is a creamy heart of palm soup that is often served warm but that is as delicious when savored chill.
There are ingredients that we love but we end up using the same way by convenience or lack of imagination. Heart of palm is definitely one of them. Indeed, when was the last time you used heart of palm in something else than a salad?
Ingredients from palm trees
There are other ingredients from various palm trees that are used in cooking, like palm butter in nyembwe chicken from Gabon, sugar palm fruit in Filipino buko fruit salad, palm oil in several African and Brazilian recipes, as well as palm sugar in a few Asian recipes.
Production of hearts of palm
Brazil is actually one of the largest producers of heart of palm. However, less than 20% of its production is exported.
The lucrative market for this gourmet product has also attracted the attention of other producers outside Latin America. Currently, hearts of palm are also being produced in Hawaii, Reunion Island, Indonesia and Malaysia.
It is fascinating that heart of palm doesn’t seem to be as widespread as you’d think. A number of people in the US or other Western countries only discovered hearts of palm in the past 10 to 15 years.
On the contrary, the popularity of hearts of palm in France can definitely be seen in the numbers: France is actually the country that tops the list as the largest importer and consumer of hearts of palm in the world. In 2014, France imported 13,448 tons of hearts of palm.
What are hearts of palm?
The heart of palm is the core of the stem of the palm tree from various varieties. The harvesting of the palm is completed when it reaches a certain height and diameter. The stems are cut when the palm tree is approximately 10 feet high. The stems are then transported to the plant with the outer shell, which is taken off at the moment they are cut and will be packed, typically in cans or jars.
There are various species of palm trees that the heart of palm is harvested from, including the palmito juçara, açaí palm, sabal palm, and the pejibaye also called peach palm. The palmito juçara used to be the most popular wild palm tree that was harvested for the heart of palm. Brazil was actually the largest producer of this heart of palm variety until the 1990s.
Unfortunately, due to the high price of the produce, there was a lot of poaching for these stems which threatened the extinction of the wild palmito juçara. The reason for the threat is the fact that palmito jucara and a number of palm tree species are single stem. Cutting the stems of these palm trees would kill these trees.
The majority of hearts of palms available on the market are now from farmed palm trees, including the peach palm. The peach palm like the sabal palm or açai palm are multi-stemmed trees that can have up to 40 stems. The multiple stems of those domesticated palm trees prevents the killing of the tree and harvesting hearts of palm thus becomes much more sustainable.
It is easy to understand why hearts of palm are considered a delicacy and are somewhat expensive because of this labor intensive harvesting process.
Fresh hearts of palm are not easily accessible, they tend to be crisp and crunchy. The canned or jarred version is the one that can easily be found. However, these hearts of palm lose their crunchiness and are much softer.
What is the origin of hearts of palm?
Hearts of palm have been eaten for thousands of years in Central and South America. Long before Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, the Carib Indians used to consume both the nuts and the hearts of palm of the sabal palm tree. They were also using its bark and leaves as building material. The fruit of the palm was actually the most important source of food in pre-Columbian times.
What are the benefits of hearts of palm?
Hearts of palm have a lot of nutritional benefits. They are rich in fiber, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper, vitamins B2, B6, and C. Who knew this woody vegetable could hold so much goodness?
I made this soup a couple times, first for a weekday lunch, then for a Brazilian cooking class that I hosted.
I tried the soup both warm and chilled, and I actually enjoyed both versions, with a slight preference for the warm version, even though we’re in the middle of the summer.
So, next time you see this can of hearts of palm in your pantry and want to try something else than a salad, think of this deliciously healthy soup!
- 1 (14 oz.) can hearts of palm
- 4 tablespoons butter , divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups chicken broth
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup scallions , finely chopped
- Parmesan (optional)
- Cut the hearts of palm into rings. Save the liquid and set aside.
- In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.
- Sprinkle over the corn starch and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and the liquid from the hearts of palm can, whisking constantly until it thickens.
- Turn heat down to medium-low, stir in hearts of palm, heavy cream and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off the heat and mix with a hand blender until smooth for about 1 minute. Stir in remaining butter, parmesan (optional) and return to simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in scallions. Serve immediately.