Versatile and healthy, nuts are a popular global food crop, and now there’s a new contender vying for shelf space with the more established names such as almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios – the little-known pili. Pronounced ‘peeley’ this tear-shaped nut is native to Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where it is a common and important food source and a bit of an all-round wonder ingredient.
Besides being enjoyed simply as a nut, in its native countries, the pili kernel is also used in chocolate, ice cream, candies and baked goods, and is one of the major ingredients in Hong Kong and Taiwanese versions of the famous Chinese festive dessert moon cake. And It’s not only the kernel that’s good to eat – the young shoots and fruit pulp are also edible, with the shoots being used in salads, and the pulp boiled and seasoned to form an oily paste that resembles sweet potato in texture but with a similar nutritional value to the avocado.
When eaten raw, the kernel has a taste reminiscent of pumpkin seeds, but when roasted, it develops a rich buttery, nutty flavour and a waxy texture similar to that of pine nuts. In Filipino cuisine, the roasted nuts are often added to dishes to lend a delicate, sweet-bitter flavour and velvety texture. Alongside its versatility as an ingredient, the pili is also a nutritional powerhouse, containing a huge range of essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium, as well as being rich in fats and protein.
With so much going for it, it’s little surprise that the pili is now being discovered by Western chefs and food companies. In the UK, Raw & Wild has developed a range of pili-nut snack packs, which are stocked by retailers such as Wholefoods and Planet Organic. Its Filipino-sourced nuts are pre-sprouted, activated and then dehydrated to capture their full nutritional value and are available either plain or flavoured with chilli, turmeric and ginger, Himalayan pink salt or raw chocolate and coconut. Singaporean company Pili Pushers has a similar product, with the addition of cinnamon and raw honey as a flavour, while in New York, Lavva is using the pili as a base for its innovative plant-based, dairy-free probiotic yoghurts – the nut lends the finished product a deliciously smooth and cream-like texture.
Despite the increasing interest, it’s still early days for the pili nut, especially as the only place it is commercially cultivated is the Bicol region of the Philippines. Even here, there are no actual plantations – the nuts are harvested by hand from wild trees. Nonetheless, it’s hoped this sustainable, healthy food will catch on in global markets and be developed as a profitable global commercial crop – as the rapid development of Australia’s macadamia nut in recent times has proved, it’s by no means an impossible nut to crack.
Images courtesy of Raw & Wild
Content: courtesy of Flavour Feed