What is it?
What is lucuma? It is a subtropical fruit, native to the western coasts of South America. The plant which produces it, the lucuma tree, can grow quite tall considering that it's fruit-bearing type. When mature, it reaches heights of 25 to 50 feet. What makes it particularly unique is the elevations it is most frequently found; 9,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level in Peru and the Andean mountain region.
Pronunciation & correct name - In English, the way you say the word is pronounced loo-coo-ma. You may see some people write it as lacuna or licuma, though lucuma remains the correct English spelling for it. Its scientific name is Pouteria lucuma, not the species Pouteria obovata which historically, it was incorrectly identified as.
Taste - What does lucuma taste like? Whether it's the powder of the fresh fruit, both have a slightly sweet flavor which can be described as something between a maple syrup and caramel. Some also compare it to the taste of a sweet potato. It's a very unique and pleasing flavor. The powdered form even exhibits this taste more intensely, given that it's more concentrated with the water content having been removed.
Safety - Is lucuma powder safe for your health? Since there are no known side effects, there's nothing to suggest it's bad for you. In fact, some research suggests it might be quite good for you if you are diabetic. Though as is the case with all foods/dietary supplements, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor first before making it a part of your regimen.
How you eat it or use it?
This is a very versatile fruit as all parts are edible in at least some form.
Powdered pulp extract - In areas where its not native such as the United States, the most common form you are likely to find it is in a shelf-stable package of dried organic lucuma powder. Expect to pay upwards of $1 per ounce or higher. For example, the Navitas Naturals brand retails at around $15 for an 8 ounce bag. Though you may be able to find lesser-known brands that aren't as expensive. The price of Terrasoul Superfoods' 12 ounce bag of lucuma powder was around $13 last we checked, which places the price point much closer to a dollar per ounce. There are a handful of other quality brands for it, too.
Capsule supplements - We're not a fan of using lucuma supplements in capsule form. Why? Because given their low antioxidant content, it's not well suited for taking in a small dosage like that. We're not sure what type of benefit - if any - could be realized from such a small amount. Plus, on a per ounce basis you would be paying exponentially more than if you just bought a bag of raw powder. The lucuma health benefits and uses are best realized by eating larger quantities.
Seed or nut oil - This form is much harder to find and rather than using as a food, it's typically used as a topical herbal remedy. Most call it lucuma nut oil but that is tecnically incorrect, because it is a seed (not a nut) which is contained within the fruit. However given that is the most common description, we too will use that name to avoid confusion.
Ice cream- This along with smoothie recipes are perhaps the most popular uses for it as a food. Since the glycemic index (GI) rating of lucuma is reportedly around 25, it makes for an excellent low glycemic sweetener for ice cream. In South America, the fresh fruit may be used while elsewhere, using the powder in your ice cream recipe works just fine.
This is typical of what you will find on lucuma powder's nutritional value label. We used Navitas Naturals for this source.
|Serving Size: 2 teaspoons (5 grams)
Calories From Fat: 0
|Amount/Serving||Daily Value %
||Daily Value %
|Total Fat 0g
Saturated Fat 0g
Trans Fat 0g
|Total Carbohydrates 4g
|Dietary Fiber 2g
As you see above, lucuma should not be thought of as a source of nutritional value as far as vitamins and minerals are concerned. While not listed on the label, other data shows that the fruit pulp also has none or only very negligible amounts of B vitamins; thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, B12, and pantothenic acid. Likewise for vitamin K and vitamin E. The only mineral it tests out for is iron but with an amount far less than 1 mg per teaspoon, it's recorded as being zero on the nutrition label.
Given the lack of vitamins, it comes as no surprise that the ORAC value of lucuma is so low. The ORAC is considered the most accurate way of measuring the total antioxidant activity of a given food. Based on this rating, lucuma has almost no antioxidants. In fact another test using a less accurate non-ORAC scale detected zero phenolic compounds in both the fruit and powder extract (1). The amount as detected in the ORAC test more closely resembles dairy and meats rather than plant-based foods.
This is not to say that lucuma doesn't have nutritional value or benefits. Rather, it's just that antioxidants aren't one.
First and foremost, we consider the fact that it's a low glycemic sweetener as its biggest advantage. Whether you use it for a lucuma ice cream recipe or something else, there's always a need for a good sugar substitute that doesn't spike your blood sugar to out of control levels. This is especially important for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics.
That same study which detected no phenolic compounds did suggest something else which might be good for you, if further research can validate their claim. It suggested that the fruit exhibited alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activities. In plain English, that phrase is a name for substances which may minimize the digestion of some carbohydrates like starches and table sugar. Many type 2 diabetes drugs are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. Though it's important to point out that the study was only preliminary, in vitro (test tube, not human body), and therefore not proven. Please do not use it to treat any disease or condition.
As far as topical uses, lucuma nut oil has been studied for wound healing properties. It did not demonstrate meaningful antibacterial or anti-fungal effects, but the study did suggest that the oil promotes skin regeneration (1). Though please remember that's just one preliminary study and it should not be used to treat a cut/scar/wound for medicinal purposes. The essential omega fatty acid profile of pure refined lucuma oil is 38.9% linoleic (omega 6), 2.9% gamma-linolenic acid (omega 6), 27.9% oleic acid (omega 9). The remainder is 18.6% palmitic acid and 8.9% stearic acid. There is no omega 3 content.
Lucuma is paleo friendly, gluten free, and obviously vegan, which means it's something that works for almost any diet. Given that it's low calorie (if just using a spoon or two) those on weight loss diets don't have to feel guilty about it. For healthy individuals it is considered a safe food and we are not aware of any side effects associated with it. That being said, we have not came across any studies which specifically look at whether or not lucuma is safe during pregnancy (at least as of 2016). For that reason you should discuss with your doctor before using it as a food or a supplement if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or currently breastfeeding your baby.
Can I plant and grow a lucuma tree in my backyard?
Growing a lucuma tree in California, Florida, Texas, and other warmer climates within the United States is possible, but not easy. Since it is found at higher elevations, it is said to be able to tolerate some degree of an occasional frost.
Though stories we have heard contradict that, such as a man about 30 miles away in Simi Valley (north of Los Angeles) who was growing lucuma trees successfully until freezing temperatures struck, which killed all but one of the trees.
Many enthusiasts attempting to grow them report having flowering buds, but no fruit resulting from them. Given that this plant prefers the higher elevation air and climate, this is no surprise. How you grow it outside its native homeland will require careful cultivation and even then, you should temper your hope that it will bear fruit.
Glaucia M. Pastore, College of Food Engineering, State University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil Processing and Antioxidant Retention in Tropical Fruits and Vegetables. Presentation. PDF 2009