This exotic fruit is being touted as a superfood – one that, according to Carlos Escarate Yovera of Peruvian exporting company, Ecofields, belongs uniquely to his country. Lúcuma has a geographical indication, meaning it may only be grown in Peru. The seeds can’t be exported, but the powder and frozen pulp can, meaning Peruvian companies are jumping on the health-food bandwagon to sell to the burgeoning raw food market and lovers of smoothies and butterscotch ice cream everywhere.
Ecofield’s lúcuma trees grow so far from sea level that they don’t need an irrigation system – the clouds water the trees. Neither do they need fertilizer or pesticides in the relatively inhospitable (though breath-catchingly beautiful) habitat. Once harvested and descended to the valleys below the peaks, the fruit is immature stored in hay or other dry material until it softens. It’s then sliced and left to dry in the extreme sun and heat. While they sometimes require the use of a dehydrator to process the raw slices when it’s not hot and sunny enough outside, says Escarate, more often the trick is to make sure the sun doesn’t heat the fruit above 48 °C, the cut-off temperature that allows the powder to be sold as a “raw food” product. The slices are then ground to a powder.
Because of the geographical indication, however, without going to Peru you can never taste fresh lúcuma, which is a much different experience from the powdered and frozen forms. The size of a softball, the fresh fruit has a soft green skin that cracks as it ripens to expose soft, sweet flesh.
In Peru the fruit is most often blended into smoothies with milk and sugar, or made into ice cream. At upscale Peruvian restaurants it plays an important part of the dessert menu: At Pescados Capitales’, it’s used in the sinfully sweet lúcuma crème brulée, the lúcuma sospiro de Limeña (a lúcuma dulce de leche with Port-flavoured Italian meringue), and the lúcuma -cream cheese tart topped with crushed chocolate and vanilla cookies. At Lima’s only fine dining vegetarian restaurant, AlmaZen, it comes encircled in a quinoa jellyroll cake with cashew cream. And at Vivaldi it comes as a rich custard with chocolate sauce, dark chocolate chips, and strawberries flambéed in Pisco – Peruvian brandy.
Besides raw foodists, lúcuma powder is also popular with diabetics and anyone avoiding refined sugars. It has a low-glycemic index and may be used as a sweetener and thickener. It’s also high in niacin and other B vitamins, fibre, calcium and iron. And unlike avocado – another creamy vegan or raw food substitution – it’s low in fat.
At Peruvian jugerias, lúcuma is a popular “juice” choice, typically blended with milk and sugar. If you ask for it without milk you’ll most likely get strange looks from servers who are shocked that you don’t want to dilute the deliciously rich and thick purée. Stand strong. It’ll be worth it.
A mix between caramel, roasted sweet potato, avocado, and maple syrup.
Lúcuma-Maple Ice Cream: 4 cups milk or heavy cream, divided 1/2 cup pure maple syrup 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1/8 tsp salt 4 egg yolks 1/4 cup lúcuma powder.
1. Warm 3 cups of the milk or heavy cream with the maple syrup, sugar, and salt in a medium pot over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
2. Whisk the remaining 1 cup milk or heavy cream with the lúcuma powder in a large bowl and place a fine-mesh sieve on top. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and slowly pour in the warmed milk mixture, whisking constantly.
3. Pour the mixture back into the pot and place over medium heat. Stir constantly with a spatula, scraping the sides of the pot. When the mixture thickens after about two minutes (170-175 F on a candy thermometer), pour the custard through the sieve over the large bowl with the remaining lúcuma powder and milk or cream.
4. Place the bowl over an ice bath, stirring occasionally until cooled. Cover and chill at least 8 hours in the fridge.
5. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.