listed benefits on organic lucuma powder package

Benefits of Lucuma Fruit & Powder Are Not Antioxidants

[toc]You’re used to seeing those brightly colored Navitas Organics bags for sale at Whole Foods, Costco, and seemingly every half-way decent grocery store these days.

You know they’re filled with healthy berries and powders like acai, maqui, goji, gelatinized maca, and other superfoods.

While you may not know all the superfoods they sell, you probably assume each is an antioxidant powerhouse.

Not the case when it comes to this!

Lucuma pulp only has an ORAC value of 70, which means it has less antioxidant activity than iceberg lettuce. The skin or peel is higher at 816. Since it’s thin, it only makes up a tiny fraction of the ground powder. Lucuma seeds are 129. That’s less than 1/10th the ORAC value of common nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, etc.

While not high in antioxidants, it does offer several other health advantages.

What is lucuma fruit?

lucuma fruit hanging on tree

Lucuma (Pouteria lucuma) is a sub-tropical fruit which grows native in Peru (88% of world production) and Chile (12%). The tree that produces grows 25 to 50 feet tall (8-15 m). At up to 2.2 lbs (1 kg) in weight, each fruit is large and elliptical to ovoid in shape. Its thin skin is typically green and sometimes yellowish-tan. Inside is a dry flesh, which makes up 64-82% of the fruit’s mass. Large seeds make up the rest; there’s usually 1-5 per fruit.

what the inside of a fresh lucuma fruit and seeds look like
Photo by Bùi Thụy Đào Nguyên [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikipedia
What lucuma tastes like depends on the form it’s in. Dried powder is the most popular use and it has a strong flavor which is a cross between butterscotch and maple syrup. When mature, there’s no astringency. Fresh lucuma has the same sweet taste but it’s less intense. Some say it tastes like pumpkin. The pulp is dry, not juicy.

Unlike apples, it doesn’t hold up well after harvesting. As an export crop, nearly 80% is in the form of frozen pulp. The rest is mostly lucuma powder, such as that sold by Navitas and other brands. (1)

Export data source: Asociación Macroregional de Productores para la Exportación (AMPEX). Not available online.

What is lucuma good for?

Among the nearly 30 million pieces of medical literature in the PubMed database, only four mention the Pouteria lucuma plant. There’s almost no formal research on the purported medicinal uses of the fruit and its seed.

Since lucuma perishes easily and it can have a mildly bitter aftertaste, what lucuma is good for primarily is a flavor additive. In Peru and Chile you will find lucuma ice cream, which is it’s most popular use. You will also find lucuma flavored pies, tarts, yogurts, milk shakes, alcoholic beverages, and even baby food.

Like maple syrup in the US and Canada, the taste of lucuma in Peru is universally recognized and generally liked as a flavor additive. Outside of South and Central America, very few people have experienced it. The fresh fruit isn’t available and rarely do you see shelf-stable foods incorporate it.

Health benefits of lucuma

1. Up to 40% fiber content

The dietary fiber content of lucuma fruit is comparable to bananas; it’s mostly in the form of insoluble fiber.

Terrasoul Superfoods, which is a popular brand selling organic powder on Amazon, reports 2g of fiber per 1 teaspoon (5g). That means 40% of the dry weight is in the form of fiber.

2. Powder can be used in place of sugar

Contrary to the claims you see on Navitas Naturals packaging, the glycemic index of fresh lucuma and dried powder has not been measured. Analysis of the carbohydrate content does suggest it should have a healthier impact on blood sugar than white table sugar (sucrose) and some other refined sweeteners.

There’s 25g of carbs per 100g (3.5 oz) of fresh fruit. The composition is:

  • 8.4g of glucose
  • 4.7g of fructose
  • 1.7g of sucrose
  • 0.06g of inositol

This makeup, combined with its high fiber, is good for you relative to refined beet or cane sugar. (2)

lucuma ice cream
Photo by Dawei20 [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Its delicious sweet flavor is a reason why it’s a favorite for making ice cream in Peru. Its popularity is the equivalent of strawberry in America!

3. Rich in vitamin A

Given the orangish-yellow color of the fruit, it’s no surprise that lucuma has high amounts of beta-carotene. The fresh pulp has 2,300 mcg per 100g (3.5 oz). The amount of vitamin A will vary based on the fruit’s color and ripeness.

4. Moderate source of B vitamins

Per 100g (3.5 oz) of the fresh fruit, there’s 13% of the daily value for niacin (B3) and 10% for riboflavin (B2). Thiamine is present but in trivial amounts.

Unfortunately the dried powder won’t be a great source of these, because you’re eating such a small amount per serving.

There’s not much vitamin C in fresh lucuma or the dried powder. 100g of the fresh pulp only contains about 2.2 mg of ascorbic acid, which is 3% of the adult RDA. At least some of this vitamin C should remain intact in the raw powder. Though given how low the amount is, it’s not really a benefit one should tout.

5. Moderate protein content for a fruit

There’s 2.3g of protein per 100g of the fresh fruit, which is 143.8 calories. That equates to about 6.4% of the calories coming from protein.

Nothing to sneeze at, but you can do much better with the highest protein fruits.

6. May have blood sugar lowering effects

Although preliminary, lab research using lucuma fruit and powder has found it to have alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activity.

Alpha-glucosidase are one of the enzymes responsible for breaking down and digesting carbohydrates.

Because it may inhibit the enzyme, in theory this should slow down the digestion of carbs and possibly even prevent some from being absorbed altogether.

Human clinical studies are needed to determine, but this evidence suggests that lucuma might be good for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight loss, since some of the calories may not be absorbed. (3) (4)

7. Seed oil is good for skin

The fruit is virtually fat-free and therefore contains no oil.

Lucuma seeds are pressed to derive an oil which has a composition similar to avocado oil.

The fatty acid profile of lucuma oil is 39% linoleic, 28% oleic, 19% palmitic, 9% stearic, 3% y-linolenic, and 0.61% arachidic. The fatty acids make up about 2.5% of the seed by weight. While people don’t normally eat the seeds, sheep herded among habitats where the plant grows will naturally eat both the fruit and seeds if they’re on the ground. (5)

Rutger’s University published animal research reporting that lucuma oil has wound healing benefits. In Petri-dish like experiments, it “significantly promoted” the growth of human fibroblasts cells too, which are a primary building block of skin tissue. (6)

While eating it may not help the skin, topically applied forms of lucuma seed oil may be good for scars and promoting healthy looking skin.

Nutrition facts

Here’s the nutrition facts label for the lucuma powder from Navitas Organics:lucuma nutrition facts

Side effects of lucuma

Despite its potential alpha-glucosidase inhibitory activity, people prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are unlikely to experience that side effect when eating lucuma. The fruit still contains plenty of digestible carbs.

Adverse reactions from eating lucuma fruit or powder are not documented in medical literature and as a potential food allergen, no case studies have been published documenting an allergic reaction. While a lucuma allergy is certainly possible, it’s no doubt rare, given how widely consumed this food is throughout Peru and beyond.

Growing from seed

It thrives in thee Andean Mountain valleys, at elevations of 2,700–3,000 meters (8,900–9,800 ft). This explains why growing lucuma from seed in California doesn’t work; the temperate climate there is only near sea level. Attempts in Florida often fail, too. Because it’s not frost tolerant, truly sub-tropical temperatures are needed. There’s some success growing lucuma trees in Hawaii but not on a widespread scale.

Since fresh lucuma is not exported to the US, Canada, United Kingdom, and Europe, if you live in these areas your only options for eating it will probably be the freeze-dried powder. It preserves much of the phytonutrient content.

Where to buy

While you can’t buy lucuma fruit fresh outside of South and Central America, the powder is sold as a superfood supplement at health food stores.

On Amazon, there are many brands selling it. For USDA certified organic lucuma, buy Terrasoul or Navitas. Both are raw.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.