Lucuma powder is a natural whole fruit-based sweetener from South America and is indigenous to the Andes regions of Peru, Chile and Ecuador. Although used extensively in these cultures for centuries, lucuma has only recently, in the last few decades, become available to other parts of the world, mainly as an alternative sugar substitute.
Sold as a powder made from the dried, subtropical, starchy yellow-orange fruit, it is known to offer a sweet taste but without a concentrated amount of sugar content. Providing a healthier choice for those wanting to decrease their daily sugar intake, it is a whole food option to consider over condensed and evaporated sweeteners.
Believed to be lower on the glycemic index, it is often recommended to type 2 diabetics and those wanted to reduce calorie consumption.
Because it quickly starts to ferment soon after ripening, it is hard to find fresh outside of its local habitats. It can sometimes be found as a frozen pulp or fruit concentrate in Latin food markets, but is mostly sold internationally as a milled, fine silky powder that is slightly lighter in color compared to the ripe fruit.
Prized by ancient civilizations of Peru, lucuma is often called the "gold of the Incas." In the 1987 publication "Fruits of Warm Climates" it was stated that "Archaeologists have found it frequently depicted on ceramics at burial sites of the indigenous people of coastal Peru." (Source) It was also an often used symbol of creation and fertility in the art of the Moche and Nazca peoples.
Today it is a popular fruit ingredient served on festive occasions in South America, especially where fresh lucuma is obtainable. It is also a cherished favorite Peruvian ice cream flavor and used in various traditional Chilean desserts, like meringue cake or "manjar con lúcuma."
Lucuma is often described as having a taste reminiscent of maple, caramel and sweet potato, however in its dried form it smells and
tastes somewhat like a combination of ripe apricots and dried goji.
While it can be eaten fresh, it is typically blended into foods, drinks and desserts due to its dry texture and unusual powdery mouth feel that is not as appealing as juicy sweet fruits normally consumed.
It is frequently used as a natural sweetener, but is not utilized in quite the same way as you would use granulated sugars, like coconut sugar. It's very subtly sweet taste and dry consistency is more appropriate when incorporated into blended drinks, desserts and other recipes to increase sweetness without substantially intensifying sugar content.
In our opinion, the powders are best used as compliments to other low glycemic sugars like yacon or stevia, which have a much sweeter taste.
The texture of the fresh pulp is described to be dry like hard-boiled egg yolk, a quality of which is also somewhat evident in the ground fruit sugar.
The powder is therefore not usually ideal for dissolving into hot teas and drinks. Unlike crystallized sugars or syrups, it will most likely sink to the bottom of your tea cup and has a bit of an aftertaste when used in this manner.
Simply created from the whole fruit pulp, rather than from saps or juiced extracts which undergo evaporation techniques to condense sugar molecules, it is more along the lines of a dried fruit powder rather than a concentrated sweetener like honey, coconut nectar or xylitol.
Lúcuma (pronounced loo-ku-mah) comes from a genus Pouteria, a group of flowering trees in the family Sapotaceae. This genus is often referred to as "pouteria trees" which collectively also goes by the name "eggfruit." This title denotes their familiar starchy hard-boiled egg yolk-like texture.
Lucuma, Pouteria lucuma (or formerly Lucuma obovata), is much like that of the canistel fruit (Pouteria campechiana), native to Mexico and Central America, as it has a similar texture that is also frequently incorporated into sweet desserts and drinks. Other related species in the same genus include mamey, aibu, zapotillo and sapote.
Also called lucmo, lucumo and lucma in different countries such as Peru, Ecuador and Chili, lucuma is an evergreen tree that ranges in height between 25 to 50 ft (7-15 m). Producing big white blossoms, it bears fruit all year long but is especially prolific January thru April in Peru.
The round or irregular oval-shaped fruits have a thin green skin, similar to that of an avocado. They are likewise one of those fruit species that often requires post-harvest ripening after they fall from the tree or are hand collected.
The pulp flesh usually surrounds one or two large glossy brown seeds that are comparable to durian seeds, although not quite as large.
The trees most commonly grow in temperate subtropical climate zones at elevations ranging between 9,000 and 10,000 ft (2,700-3,000 m), but have also adapted to elevations as low as 3,200 ft (1,000 m). Some propagation has been conducted in other countries with similar climates, such as New Zealand, using cultivars like the "la molina."
According to the "The Lost Crops of the Incas", first published in 1989 by the National Research Council, lucuma was one of the trees integrated into the Inca's sophisticated form of agriculture on the high plains of the Peruvian Andes. (Source) The fruits were considered a staple Incan food source and grown along with other cultivated crops like quinoa, passion fruit, maca, cherimoya, yacon and golden berry.
Lucuma trees are popular for their abundant fruit harvests, with some Peruvian varieties capable of producing close to 500 fruits a year from one single tree.
The specific species Pouteria lucuma is native to the highlands of western Chile and Peru as well as southeastern Ecuador. Today it is extensively cultivated in these locations, with Peru providing most of the world's lucuma powder as an export product.
The bulk of commercial production is processed into a dehydrated form with only a small percentage reaching local markets to be consumed fresh.
As we mentioned, it is virtually impossible to find fresh lucuma in countries outside of its natural habitat due to the fact that it ripens quickly with cracking skin that is somewhat delicate to transport. It is occasionally sold as a frozen fruit pulp, but is currently (as of 2016) a hard to find freezer item in most health food stores. It is sometimes available to a small degree from online suppliers.
Lucuma fruit and its dried powder is considered a healthy alternative sweetener that provides a sweet taste to drinks and recipes, but without substantially increasing sugar content.
Although there is not much data on lucuma and its researched sugar ratios, there is a significant amount of information stating that dried lucuma powders are known to be low glycemic food, usually referenced at about a 5 on the Glycemic Index. This essentially means that the fruit sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream, rather than causing a sudden rise in blood glucose.
Lucuma contains a relatively high amount of fiber content, being a whole fruit powder. This can ultimately help in its sugar metabolism which can often produce a lower glycemic index.
When you taste the powder directly, it is quite evident that the sweetness is very mild compared to other sugars.
Because of these characteristics, lucuma is often recommended as an alternative option for those with type 2 diabetes or for individuals with weight gain issues. However, again, be aware that to date there has not been much scientific investigation conducted on the health benefits of the Pouteria lucuma species or its direct effects blood glucose.
One study we came across, analyzing the "antihyperglycemia and antihypertension potential" of lucuma as well as other Peruvian fruits, including Physalis peruviana or golden berry, it was shown that lucuma had the "highest alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activities." Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors work to reduce the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar. In conclusion, Peruvian fruits in general were suggested as beneficial food-based strategies for those with diabetes or high blood pressure.
Although most fruits contain very little starch content, lucuma, like
plantain, is a starchy fruit variety. Starch molecules are storage polysaccharides
or longer chains of simple sugars known as "complex carbohydrates."
It is the most common carbohydrate in the human diet and is present in
many staple foods, like potatoes, legumes and grains. These long chain sugars are more gradually digested and
efficiently utilized as an energy source compared to refined sources and
simple sugars that cause a rapid increase in blood sugar.
In our inquiries we have not come across exact sugar profile of the fruit or dried powders, but besides the starch element it does contain glucose, fructose and sucrose. In the book "The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners", it was found that, according to a number of source estimates, 1T contains 60 calories and 13 grams total carbohydrate (with 2 grams of various sugars and 11 grams starch).
By comparison, the Sunfood Superfoods lucuma nutrition label states that 1T contains 60 calories, 5 grams of sugar and 14 grams total carbohydrate, which would seemingly include 9 grams of starch.
Keep in mind that lucuma is also harvested at different stages of ripeness, so depending on the brand some can be higher or lower in sugar which may affect level of sweetness.
While your own selection of sweetener options may be relative to what you are typically used to consuming, lucuma as well as other low glycemic sugars like yacon, stevia and Lakanto can be used on their own or blended with other concentrated sugars to create the best results for your own particular needs.
Although sometimes referred to as a "Peruvian superfruit", we would not necessarily classify it as such. While it does contain some nutritional value, it is more of a sugar alternative rather than an adaptogen or antioxidant-potent fruit variety.
It is claimed to be particularly high in the antioxidant beta-carotene and B vitamins like B3, folate or niacin. The beta-carotene orange-yellow pigment, while evident in the ripe fruit, is however largely missing from most powders which are typically a lighter pale yellow color, indicating lower beta-carotene amounts.
Most nutritional product labels do not reference exact bcarotene levels but commonly show its mineral content which includes potassium, zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium and calcium.
Moreover, as a low acidic fruit, the dried powders are much more alkaline in relationship to most sugars and natural sweeteners.
While lucuma can be picked and consumed as a raw fruit in native habitats, it is not usually eaten straight because of its dry texture. The seeded pulp is typical integrated fresh as a sweet ingredient in recipes or is sometimes frozen for later use. In other countries it is almost chiefly imported as a dried powder.
The flesh of the fruit can vary, but is usually between a pale to bright yellow-orange color. According to several sources we have come across the reason why the powders are typically a lighter pigment is because they are harvested when slightly immature. This is apparently better for processing into a type of flour, but may not necessarily provide a quality end result.
The deeper the color of the dried powders and more fragrant the
aroma; the riper the fruit was when harvested. These sweeteners, in our
opinion, are of a higher quality that indicates a slightly riper state
In addition, fruits grown in the Peruvian highlands, usually the Oxapampa region, are considered to be of superior flavor and are traditionally prized over other varieties.
In contrast, we have noticed that the ripe fruit pulp is significantly sweeter and has a stronger caramel-like flavor.
To experiment, we dehydrated the fresh brightly pigmented pulp and powdered it in a high speed blender to see if it was much different than the color and taste of the commercial sweeteners commonly sold.
Results revealed that when
dried and blender milled, it was a much lighter color with more yellow pigmentation than compared to
the fruit pulp it was created from. However, it had a much brighter yellow-orange color in contrast to most commercial lucuma sweeteners, but had only a slightly stronger flavor. The high speed blended powder also had a noticeable starchy texture, similar to corn starch consistency.
Not all commercially available lucuma is considered "raw" or is processed below 118° F
(48°C). It really depends on the brand and the integrity of the company you are purchasing from.
Some are dried and milled using a processed that employs or exposes the fruit to high temperatures when dehydrating or grinding.
Our recommended brands of organic lucuma fruit powder include:
Although there are others, these are the ones we have personally tried and enjoy.
Lucuma powder is convenient to use in recipes in substitution for other sugar types, especially when you don't want a super sweet taste.
Although versatile for use in many recipes, the dried fruit powder has a very similar consistency to flour and can add a particular creaminess to certain foods. For this reason, it is particularly favored in desserts, like puddings, custards, mousse and ice creams. It can also be used in preserves and pie fillings to create a thick texture and added fruity sweetness.
Blended with carob powder, which is a similar consistency, it can be used as a chocolate or cacao alternative in many bars or desserts.
We use it in our chia seed porridge recipe as well as our coconut cream pie and superfood ice cream.