Health benefits of Pequi

Health benefits of Pequi

This fruit coming from central part of Brazil will make you fan of Mother Nature. Pequi fruit is one of the less known fruits of the world. Mysterious fruits are known to be found in Amazon rainforest, and Pequi fruit is one of them. Pequi is native to Cerrado ecoregion in central Brazil. It is popular in Brazil and parts of Paraguay for its strong flavor. Pequi feast in town of Pequizeiro celebrates harvest of this fruit each year; shows how strongly Pequi tree is associated with local culture. Indigenous tribes of Brazil have been traditionally using various parts of this tree.

Despite of all this popularity and strong flavor for an outsider, pequi fruit is one of the dangerous fruit to eat. Not because it is toxic or poisonous, pequi fruit is difficult to eat. If not eaten correctly, it may cause harm to your gums and mouth. Nature has offered pequi seed natural protection in form of spikes or thorns which are embedded in the fruit. So this fruit cannot be just eaten like an apple. The word “pequi” originates from Tupi–Guarani language which means “spiny-skinned fruit”.

Cross section of a Pequi fruit

Cross section of a Pequi fruit

Known by botanical name – Caryocar brasiliense, it is commonly called Pequia bravo, soauri nut (spelled as swarri), Piki, thorned almond, pequerim, butternut or pekea nut. Pequi fruit tree can grow upto 10 meters. The fruits harvest is in during July to September. A pequi fruit is of size of coconut with 1-4 pericarps or fleshy nut inside. This fleshy cover when ripe turns orange and is edible. The nut inside is also edible and used for extraction of pequi oil.

How to eat pequi fruit

The fruit skin is hard and thick. Once broken, you would find 1-4 fleshy pieces or lumps which are eaten as fruit. Unlike other fruits like mango or apple which one can directly bite and eat, pequi needs care while being eaten. The soft flesh surrounding the nut has number of sharp spines or thorns. These spines can lodge themselves in your tongue, gums or palate and cannot be removed easily. To avoid this pain, you should follow proper steps while eating this fruit. Never use knife, fork or any cutlery for eating this fruit. The safe way to eat pequi is using ones hand and scraping the flesh with front incisor teeth. Once you see white portion of flesh stop scraping. In case you are using pequi for food one may with hand just keep peeling the flesh and collect the pulp.  Also take care that you don’t spoil your clothes with the orange pulp or it may stain your clothes, almost permanently.

Culinary uses of pequi

Pequi finds special place in cuisine of Goiás and other parts of Brazil. This fruit is often cooked along with rice, pasta, noodles chicken, meat, beans or fish. Pequi flavored candy and ice cream are also common in the region. It offers sweet, fruity and cheesy flavor to food. Pequi nuts are salted and roasted similar to peanut. Soauri nuts are popular tasty snack just like brazil nuts. Pequi are also used in making local liquor.

Other uses of pequi

Pequi oil is traditionally used in making handmade soap by Tocantin region in Brazil. These people boil fruit pieces with ashes of wood of Mamoninha tree in water to produce vegetable soap which is used for cleaning purpose. Pequi oil can be used as biodiesel. In modern world, fatty acid in pulp and seed of pequi are used in manufacture of soap and other cosmetics. A yellow dye extracted from bark of pequi tree is used in tanning. It is only because of its uses of various parts of the tree, it is called “gold of the Cerrado”.

Nutritional Facts of Pequi

Pequi fruit is rich in Vitamin A, carotenoids, Vitamin C and protein. The nut offers good source of long chain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids which are good for health. The fruit also offers body with minerals like zinc, calcium, iron and manganese. The peculiar flavor and aroma of the fruit is due to presence of ethyl ester – ethyl hexonate. Pequi oil obtained from the nut offers unsaturated Oleic acid (54%), Linoleic acid (17%), and saturated palmitic acid (27%) and Stearic acid (2%). Pequi oil also has high carotene level – about 274.9 μg/g. Pequi is also found to be high in phenols and other phytochemcials including gallic acid, quinic acid and quercetin.

Health Benefits of Pequi

Pequi fruit has been traditionally used by local Brazilian tribes for long for various medicinal purposes. However documentation and coupled scientific studies are scanty. The mystery, scary yet tasty fruit is associated with various health benefits, some of the health benefits of pequi are listed below.

Anti microbial properties of pequi

Today cosmetic and pharma industry is in search of natural foods which offer antimicrobial properties. Pequi is one such food which offers resistance to various microbes. Studies have reported that alcohol extract of pequi has antifungal and antibacterial properties. These have been mainly attributed to presence of antioxidants. Extract from leaves of pequi tree was found effective over pathogenic bacteria. Pequi oil is applied topically for dressing wounds.

Pequi for respiratory disorders

Be it asthama, bronchitis or whoophing cough, pequi has been traditionally used in their treatment. The oily pulp is also found effective over cold and cough. Pequi oil mixed with honey serves as homemade expectorant and relives cough. 3-5 drops of pequi oil twice a day is considered useful in asthma and bronchitis. Pequi oil is also employed for the treatment of hoarseness and sore throat. While there aren’t any studies to support the claim, pequi oil has been used in local medicine.

Pequi and protection of heart

Pequi offers various antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which have cardioprotective function. Nutrients in pequi serve as heart tonic and relive any stress to cardio vascular system including heart and blood vessels. It helps in regulating blood pressure. Pequi oil contains monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid which is also found in olive oil and is considered good for heart. It aids in reducing blood cholesterol levels. It is believed to reduce risk of heart disorders including heart attacks. Another important nutrient present in pequi which offers benefits for heart is dietary fiber. It forms around 18% of pulp by weight. It helps in reduction of toxins and cholesterol from body.

Anti-inflammatory properties of Pequi

A study published in Nutrition Research Journal evaluated benefits of pequi oil in reducing exercise induced inflammation in atheletes. Pequi oil was found to reduce inflammation and blood pressure in athletes. Pequi oil with its anti-inflammatory property is believed to have hypotensive effect. It reduces stress in muscles and blood vessels. This makes pequi oil effective in treating joint pains in arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Pequi protects vision

Pequi contains ample quantity of Vitamin A and other carotenoid which are useful for your vision. It offers protective function and prevents macular degeneration and cataracts. With its antioxidant properties it is also helpful in protecting eyes from harmful free radical and pollution.

Pequi and digestion

Dietary fiber plays important role of movement in gastrointestinal tract. High fiber in pequi thus aids digestion. It helps block bad cholesterol from being absorbed in body. Fibers are good for smooth motion of bowels and relieve constipation.

Pequi – an aphrodisiac?

This is folk wisdom that pequi fruit is an aphrodisiac and sex tonic. Traditionally pequi lumps are stored in rum and this rum is used as tonic for sexual system. References of pequi as aphrodisiac are found in book – Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People.  No real studies are yet conducted on this topic, but interestingly, some people in Brazil believe that during pequi harvest women fall pregnant easily!

Pequi benefits for women

Leaves of pequi tree are used in making decoction which is used as menstrual regulating tea. This may be attributed to presence of phytoestrogens present in pequi leaves. Pequi leaves are considered to be astringent in nature and stimulate digestive bile. However this traditional knowledge needs scientific backing.

Benefits of pequi for skin

different sizes of pequi

different sizes of pequi

Consuming pequi offers various nutrients which are helpful for your skin. It offers vitamin A and other antioxidants which protect your skin from aging and harmful effects of free radicals. Studies show that terpenoids, particularly, carotenoids and polyphenols in pequi have skin protective function through their antioxidant properties. Pequi oil is used in various skin formulations including moisturizers and lotions. As part of pedicure, massage your palms and nails with pequi oil. Pequi oil also offers antifungal, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties which are useful in treating skin conditions like eczema and skin lesions.

Benefits of Pequi nut oil for hair

Pequi oil treatment is considered good for hair. Today Pequi oil is used in shampoo and hair formulations.  Pequi oil protects hair from harmful effects of free radicals, ultra violet radiation and pollution. It is believed to offer hair required nutrients for retaining its color and radiance. Amazon pequi oil treatment is considered effective for dry and frizzy hair. It works as good hair conditioner. Pequi oil also offers sweet almond like aroma which makes it useful in hair tonics. One can use pequi oil directly to hair to blend it with carrier oil like almond oil or coconut oil to moisturize your hair. Try this home made hair mask for enjoying benefits of pequi for hair – Mix freshly cut avocado, a teaspoon of lemon juice and honey each, 2 egg yolk and 4-5 drops of pequi oil for making hair mask.

Recipes using Pequi

Most common and popular recipes using pequi is cooking them with chicken or rice. Pequi offers sweet and cheesy flavor to the recipes.

pequi rice

pequi rice

Arroz com Pequi (Pequi rice) – In a frying pan heat 2-3 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add 5-6 crushed cloves and 2 finely chopped onion. Fry the ingredients until they are light brown. Now add 4-5 peeled pequis along with some salt and sauté. Keep stirring for a while. Now add about a cup of water and allow to simmer. When water is dried add washed and drained rice to mixture and stir. Add sufficient water for rice, cover and allow to cook on low heat. Sprinkle freshly cut parsley to garnish before your serve this steamed pequi rice. Caution while eating pequi and bite only superficially.

Where to buy pequi?

Outside Brazil, pequi may not be readily available. Today it is available in some European countries and US in stores which sell imported food items.

If you intent to add variety to your diet, try out these healthy and delicate fruit from Amazon!

Image Credits: Flickr - Fernando Tatagiba, Arara, Panoromio - Belgna, Wordpress - Blog do Corto -2

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