- Peach palm
- Bactris gasipaes (scientific name)
Bactris gasipaes is a species of palm native to the tropical forests of the South and Central America. It is a palm which can typically grow to 20 m or taller, with pinnate leaves 3 m long on a 1 m long petiole. The fruit is a drupe with an edible pulp surrounding the single seed, 4-6 cm long and 3-5 cm broad. The rind (epicarp) of this wild palm can be red, yellow, or orange when the fruit is ripe depending on the variety of the palm.
The fruit, its most important product, was used in two ways: cooked (boiled in water) and as a slightly fermented cool drink. In both forms, it constituted the basic food during the harvesting period in the indigenous communities which grew it. For consumption out of season, it was preserved mainly in ensiled form and prepared in a very similar way to today, with storage in trench silos made in the ground. One month after being covered over, it was ready for consumption or could be stored until the next harvest. This fermented material was consumed mixed with water as a cool drink. It could also be carried wrapped in leaves during journeys and merely had to be diluted in water for consumption. Another important form of preservation was drying the fruit, exposing it to heat and smoke and then placing it on mats suspended above a fire. To be eaten, it just had to be boiled in water. It was also eaten in the form of tortillas made from its dough, as with maize, or as farinha. The oil, which separates out when the fruit is boiled, was occasionally used for cooking other foods. Prolonged fermentation - lasting one week - enabled the alcoholic drink, chicha to be made for celebrating festive occasions. Thus, the fruit of each palm constituted a basic source of energy, replacing the functions and uses of grain in other cultures. It was especially significant as a substitute for maize, which it surpasses in nutritional value.