What are Hearts of Palm?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hearts of palm are vegetables harvested from the soft core of a palm tree. They are extremely popular in Latin American cuisine, and are exported both fresh and canned to other parts of the world. France is the largest importer, with centers of export in several Latin American nations including Puerto Rico and Brazil. Many vegetarians use hearts of palm in their recipes, blending the vegetables to make spreads, eating them plain, or adding them to salads.

Hearts of palm are harvested from the center of a palm tree.
Hearts of palm are harvested from the center of a palm tree.

Many wild species of palm serve as sources for hearts of palm, including coconut palms, Acai palms, and sabal palms. Unfortunately, the harvesting process kills these trees, because they only have one stem, and extracting the inner core essentially destroys the plant. In response to this issue, several palms were domesticated and bred specifically for production of this vegetable. These trees have multiple stems, allowing farmers to harvest the hearts while allowing the rest of the tree to live.

Walnuts can be combined with hearts of palm and other ingredients to make an interesting salad.
Walnuts can be combined with hearts of palm and other ingredients to make an interesting salad.

Palmito and swamp cabbage are two alternate names for hearts of palm. The vegetable has a pale straw color, and a tender, delicate flavor. When fresh, it can be a bit crisp and crunchy, although canned ones tend to soften. The most prized section of the vegetable is the core, which is especially sweet and tender. Both fresh and canned varieties are usually cut into chunks before being sold to make them easy to manage.

Cider vinegar can be used to make a zesty dressing for a heart of palm salad.
Cider vinegar can be used to make a zesty dressing for a heart of palm salad.

In Latin American cuisine, hearts of palm are often marinated or tossed with dressing before being added to a salad or dish. They can also be used in fruit desserts to add an unusual flavor and texture. The vegetable can also be lightly sauteed and tossed with pasta. Some cooks use them like artichoke hearts, adding them to salads, pasta, quiches, and other dishes. Since the flavor is remarkably similar to that of an artichoke, the substitution often works rather well. They can also be blended with other ingredients for a dip.

Puerto Rico is a major exporter of hearts of palm.
Puerto Rico is a major exporter of hearts of palm.

For a zesty and unusual salad with hearts of palm, cooks can toss them with spinach, strawberries, and walnuts in a large salad bowl. A dressing can be made by cooking cider vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a saucepan on low heat, whisking continually, until the sugar melts. The chef can then pull the dressing off the heat and add flax seed oil, poppy seeds, dry mustard, paprika, and a small amount of grated onion. This can be drizzled over the salad, which should be served immediately. This salad also pairs well with a creamy or blue cheese dressing.

Brazil is a major exporter of hearts of palm.
Brazil is a major exporter of hearts of palm.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon332059

Hearts of palm is a great nutritional value food, fat free and really delicious! You can have it by itself or prepare great recipes with it.

anon295390

I had an amazing hearts of palm salad this evening with avocado, mozzarella cheese, white onion and capers tossed in an Italian vinaigrette. Sounds like a strange combination of ingredients but it was absolutely delicious! I am now a fan.

anon173847

They also make a great entree or snack on their own. Just mix half mayonnaise and half ketchup in a dish and use that as the dip -- fantastic.

anon136521

Waldbaums has it.

anon119406

My local super walmart even sells it. Just look around the canned food section or by the artichoke hearts. You don't need the spanish name. They're delish in any salad with a vinaigrette dressing!

anon77071

At a 99 cent store I saw a can and bought it. Had never tasted them and they were great. After reading up on them and seeing what a bargain I got I will purchase more cans and try them in salads next. I heated them and put a dab of butter and some pepper. No salt because they are salty already.

anon72418

palm hearts are very good tossed in salads with apple and fennel with citrus vinaigrette.

anon47713

Most grocery stores carry cans of hearts of palm -- in the same place you would find canned artichoke hearts.

ehernandez

This vegetable sounds delicious. I would love to try it with the salad recipe described above, add some marinated chicken, and you'll have a great dinner. Does anyone have any idea where I could find it? not sure my local grocery store carries it. Maybe I need the spanish name.

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