Thursday, November 25, 2010

Umbut Sawit - Experimental Cooking

Palm heart, also called palmito, burglar’s thigh, palm cabbage, swamp cabbage, or umbut ( Malay ), is a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees ( notably the coconut ( Cocos nucifera ), oil palm ( Elaeis guineensis ),  Eutere edlis , Euterpe oleracea , Sabal spp ,  Bactris gasipaes , Deckenia nobilis ).  It is costly because harvesting kills the tree.  Heart of palm often eaten cooked, or fresh as salad.  It is sometimes called the ‘millionaire’s salad’.

There are domesticated palm species which are self-suckering and produce multiple stems.  The main domesticated species is Bactris gasipaes, known as the ‘peach palm’.

In Malaysia, I encountered 2 type of palms harvested for its umbut : coconut and oil palm.   Coconut has been the traditional choice.  However, oil palm is becoming a popular alternative since it was planted abundantly in plantations.  It grows easily in almost any soil conditions, making it a noxious weed at times.   Thus removing a weed oil palm, at the same time harvesting its umbut, is killing 2 birds with 1 stone, an exhausted yet fruitful task.

The simplest way to cook an oil palm heart is clear soup with dried anchovies and chilies, a straightforward way to enjoy its natural taste and texture.
On the other hand, Malaysia has some 3.38 millioin hectare of various stages of oil palm planted in 2000.  Their hearts can be harvested for comsumption, when these oil palm grow old and need to be replanted, instead of just destroy them.  So, we will have all-we-can-eat supply of oil palm heart !


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