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Page 263 Lucuma In the temperate highlands of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and northern Chile, lucuma 1 (Pouteria lucuma) is common. Well known to the Incas, it is an unusual fruit with smooth, bronze-yellow skin, and somewhat resembles a persimmon, but there the similarity ends. Its bright yellow or orange flesh is usually blended into other foods. Lucuma (pronounced luke-mah) pulp is popular in drinks, puddings, pies, cookies, and cakes. It tastes and smells like maple syrup. Added to milk or ice cream, it contributes both color and flavor. It is a frequent component of milk shakes, typically made with lucuma but without ice cream. For all that, lucuma is little known outside its homeland—which is strange because it is rich, nutritious, and satisfying; is versatile; and possesses a distinctive flavor. It is enjoyed largely for its flavor, but in some parts of Peru and Ecuador it plays a significant part in the basic diet of the poor. Lucuma fruits can weigh 1 kg, they are very filling, and one tree can produce as many as 500 fruits during a year—enough to feed whole families. And at times when field crops are out of season or stressed by drought, lucuma, with its year-round production and deep roots, literally becomes the tree of life. Unlike most sweet fruits, the lucuma is high in solids and is a good source of carbohydrate and calories. When the fruit falls from the tree, it is still unripe. It is stored in hay or other dry material until soft. Even fully ripened, the pulp is firm and almost pumpkinlike in texture. Low in acid, it is a good source of minerals, particularly iron, as well as of vitamins, especially carotene (provitamin A) and niacin (vitamin B3). An unusual advantage is that the fruit, when ripe, can be dried and milled into a mealy flour. The flour can be shipped long distances, stored for years in airtight containers, and (in Peru at least) is found in markets year-round. Fresh, undried lucuma pulp can also be frozen and stored safely for long periods. Besides feeding people, its fruits are said to make a good feed for chickens, promoting both growth and eggs with bright-yellow yolks. In addition to its fruits, the lucuma tree is valued for its dense, durable timber. 1 Also spelled lucmo. The botanical name is often also given as Pouteria obovata, or Lucuma obovata.
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Page 264 Not enough is known about this fruit to fill in the horticulture, harvesting, nutrition, research needs, and other details as given in previous chapters. However, the tree has the following environmental requirements. Daylength. Fruits are set in latitudes from the equator to 33°S in Chile, so daylength seems unimportant. Rainfall. The plant grows well in areas subjected to occasional dryness and tolerates seasonal rains well, but not waterlogging or extended humid weather. Altitude. Although most common in inter-Andean valleys between 1,500 and 3,000 m elevation, lucuma grows well and produces fruits of high quality in the Peruvian lowlands and at sea level in Chile. Temperature. Although it thrives in cool highlands, lucuma seems to require frost-free climates and is killed by −5°C temperatures. Its climatic requirements are roughly comparable to those of lemons. Soil Type. Lucuma appears adapted to sandy and rocky sites and needs well-drained soils. It tolerates moderate salinity, calcareous soils, and trace element deficiencies (particularly iron) that often restrict other fruit trees. However, it yields best in deep alluvial soils high in organic matter. Lucuma is highly variable in fruit size and quality, but has received little horticultural or botanical attention. 2 Fruit quality seems highly dependent on seedling type, climate, and horticultural practice. Commercial orchards would be more feasible if elite types were selected and propagated vegetatively. 3 PROSPECTS The Andes. Lucuma is best known and enjoyed in Chile, Peru, and southern Ecuador. In spite of local popularity, it has suffered elsewhere in the Andes because the types tried there produced fruits that were too dry or of poor flavor. If superior types are selected and propagated, this fruit has a much greater future throughout the region. Peru and Chile have recently established named lucuma cultivars from selected grafts and seedlings. However, many valuable types remain in orchards and backyards—still to be “discovered.” Given the availability of superior cultivars suited to different climates, markets could be stimulated from Venezuela to Chile and Argentina. 2 Traditional cultivars are Seda and Palo. More recent selections have been made at the Universidad de Chile and at La Molina University. 3 Grafting is difficult to achieve, but tissue culture is showing some promise. Information from M. Morán-Robles.
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Page 265 ~ enlarge ~ Lucuma fruits, unlike most fruits, are rich in starch and relatively dry. They are often used as a basic food and can be dried into flour that is easily stored and can provide a tasty treat even years later. (ProChile) The dried, ground pulp is prepared in small factories in Chile and Peru, but this easily transportable powder should be suitable both for expanded home processing and for increased commercial use. Export markets could develop in the United States, Japan, and other affluent societies looking for new flavors for dessert foods. Already, Chile is shipping lucuma to Switzerland, where the fruit is used to flavor ice cream. It is said that the flavor cannot be reproduced artificially. 4 Other Developing Areas. Except for plantations in Costa Rica, the species is virtually unknown in commercial production outside South America. Plantings should be tried in other dry and frost-free highland areas of the tropics and subtropics. It seems likely to become useful in parts of Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and Central and southern Africa. Industrialized Regions. Lucuma has been tested on a backyard scale outside Latin America. It yielded satisfactorily in Hawaii, but so far has produced only poor-quality fruit in Florida. Some trees in California did well at first, but were eventually frozen out. Trials are now under way in Queensland, Australia, and the plant has shown early promise in sheltered frost-free sites in northern New Zealand. 4 Information from A. Endt.