The ‘Chontapower’: these are the secrets of the fruit that gives a unique flavor to Cali

This Pacific fruit gathers the powers to be a saving food. It is the source of eternal youth and fertility, a source of work and a delicacy for chefs0.

“Chonta- power”

Three chontaduros are equivalent to a lunch for an average person. Researchers from the Universidad del Valle have scientifically proven that this fruit, which is grown in southwestern Colombia, and which seems to flourish on plates and carts in the central streets of Cali, is the most complete food in the tropics. It contains an excellent supply of carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, B complex, minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and copper, antioxidants and fiber. Solito brings together all the macronutrients and micronutrients that the body needs.

Not surprisingly, the World Health Organization declared it the fruit of the 21st century. This is confirmed by Jaime Restrepo, a teaching chemist at the Universidad del Valle with a doctorate in food biochemistry from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain, who has been studying this typical product of the region for 25 years.

“It is called the vegetable egg, due to its high protein content; its nutritional power is equivalent to that of olive oil and its fat is as beneficial as that of avocado,” he says.

Chontaduro, after being cooked and peeled, is sold with salt and honey in the Valley.

It is a kind of promised fruit, which could calm the hunger of humanity, according to science. “It is a resource that impacts the nutritional status of the populations that use it well, being a great support to curb malnutrition in Colombia and in other countries,” says nutritionist Sandra Patricia Alfaro, from the Imbanaco Medical Center.

The ‘peach palm fruit’ —chontaduro in English— in other corners of the world is known as pejibaye, pupuña, pipire, pijuayo, pixbae, cachipay, pifá, pibá, chima or tembe. Its scientific name is Bactris Gasipaes and it belongs to the family: Arecaceae (of palm trees). Scientific tests, such as proton nuclear magnetic resonance (NPMR), carried out at the Industrial Analysis Laboratory of the Universidad del Valle —in which the compounds of this food have been observed at a molecular level— have demonstrated its multiple benefits.

The fruit of the chontaduro palm contains essential amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids type omega 3 and omega 6, essential for nutrition, growth and development and with an important participation in muscle activity, production of red blood cells and transmission of nerve impulses.

Restrepo is currently studying a molecule within chontaduro that helps to suppress appetite. “This happens thanks to the oleic acid it contains, which develops a molecule called OEA (oleylethanolamide) in the body, which decreases the feeling of hunger. That is why with three chontaduros that are eaten at lunch you get the necessary nutrition, and by inhibiting the feeling of hunger, it can also influence the control of obesity.

Even the popular saying of ‘mature chontaduro, safe son, is scientifically verifiable. In a test with rodents, fed with this fruit, it was shown that “it improves reproduction by about 50%. This happens due to the presence of Vitamin E”, says Restrepo.
It also prolongs life and youth. Both in its pulp and in its shell, chontaduro contains antioxidants (Vitamin E and Beta-carotene) that when consumed act against free radicals, substances that weaken cells and age them.

This food is so functional that it not only nourishes but also has components that help control diabetes, improve heart health, improve vision —by containing a lot of beta-carotene—, prevent cancer, bad cholesterol and lower triglycerides. . It has as much Vitamin E as avocado and oleic acid, present in olive oil.

Its origin dates back approximately 2000 years. It has been used as a fundamental food by indigenous and Afro-descendants, who during the chontaduro ritual dance smeared themselves with chicha to ward off evil spirits. Christopher Columbus tasted this native fruit of the American tropics that was given to him by the pexibaes tribe of Costa Rica —hence the name pejibaye—. In the chronicles of the Spanish Conquest it is related that the indigenous people became happy, beautiful and fiery just they consumed it —it is used as a natural sexual enhancer for a reason—. Precisely Restrepo investigated ‘Why are people who consume chontaduro so happy?’ and concluded that it has arachidonic fatty acid, precursor of anandamide (AEA), a molecule that produces states of happiness.

Motivo de estudio y honores

Jaime Restrepo, químico y docente

In 1975, the United States Department of Agriculture declared chontaduro as the most promising tropical fruit, due to its high content of carbohydrates, proteins, oils, minerals, and vitamins.

Jaime Restrepo is a chemist, a professor at the Universidad del Valle with a doctorate in food biochemistry from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain, and a master’s degree from the San Carlos University of Guatemala in food science and technology. He announces that this year there will be a great forum on chontaduro, in the days leading up to the Petronio Álvarez Pacific Music Festival.

“I’m sure that chontaduro would solve the problem of hunger in Colombia,” says Restrepo, who has prepared it with rice, yogurt, wine, bread and empanadas; but he has also studied it in his laboratory.

En la alta cocina

Erlendy Leather is a community leader from Buenaventura who works with a group of Afro women victims of the armed conflict, gathered in the association El Camino Propuesta, offering and promoting products from the Pacific such as chontaduro, as well as cakes and yogurts made with the fruit, as well as such as coconut and blackcurrant, with the María Chepa Chontaduro con Estilo brand.

With her there are a total of ten Afro women heads of households who for 12 years have worked with the Intercontinental Hotel, the Valle del Pacífico Event Center, Andi, among other entities, and who, dressed in colorful costumes, act as ambassadors. of this typical fruit of its region.

“My mother brought chontaduros from Buenaventura to Cali, where she sold them wholesale. On one of those trips she killed herself on the highway arriving at the Port and I resumed her work. Chontaduro has been my lifesaver, when I find myself in trouble, it gets me through,” says Erlendy (photo p. C4), who says that now they are bringing it from Putumayo and El Tambo, Cauca, because the Picudo weevil has affected crops in Buenaventura.

Restrepo says that “a plague called Weevil fell on the Pacific crops, which has killed them due to lack of adequate pest control management. In El Tambo, Cauca, they have organized themselves, they have a cooperative and all the chontaduro that is sold in Cali and in the Valley comes from there. Buenaventura’s is a little fattier, softer; the one from El Tambo is drier, more sandy, but they have the same nutrients”.

In Putumayo they are even capable of producing more chontaduro than in any other region of Colombia. “Right now they produce 4,500 tons a year, but they can reach up to 10,000 tons. In Buenaventura, due to culture problems and poor management of pest control, it has been decreasing,” adds Restrepo.

In Cali, several restaurants have already implemented it, such as La Zarzuela, from Hotel Spiwak, with dishes such as ‘Salmon in chontaduro sauce’; the Marriott, with its ‘Spring rolls’ or mixture of chontaduro and pork rolls served with Sriracha sauce, or the new Acento restaurant, of Intercontinental Cali, an Estelar Hotel with its crema ‘La del Pacífico’, a casserole made with chontaduro, with seafood and coconut milk.

“The chontaduro is a very kind product when cooked. You can work it not only in soups, but in salads, in vinaigrettes, in desserts, in sauces. We make cake or muffins and chontaduro chips,” says chef Marlen Bonilla Pardo, from Intercontinental. She says that in the Estelar pizzeria they include a pizza that has a Pacific sauce and pieces of the fruit.

Restaurante Platillos Voladores. Cebiche de chontaduro

Bernardo Peña / El País

“Germán Patiño, the founder of the Petronio Álvarez Festival (he has already passed away), told me that one of the first products used in Valle del Cauca was chontaduro and one of the first preparations, masato,” says Bonilla.

Peruvian chef Miguel Ángel Cruz reveals some secrets of his powerful recipe ‘La del Pacífico’: “the cooked chontaduro is peeled, the seed is removed, and a puree is made. Prepare a dressing consisting of onion, garlic and liquor. Then a bisque, a highly concentrated shellfish base, is added to give it strength, and minced prawns are sautéed in preparation. Everything is mixed, liquid or stock is poured, maroon and coconut milk, which gives it the thickness. It is accompanied with a whole shrimp and fried potatoes”.

And before our mouths water, Cruz is full of praise for the most versatile fruit, “it can be eaten sweet or salty; It can be mixed with rice, made as a risotto and can even be accompanied with pasta, or turned into a sauce, combined with fettuccine and red meat, used in salads, citrus, sweet or bitter cocktails”.

In Peru, where it is called Pijuayo, he warns, it is not as popular as in Colombia, or better, in Cali, where they have invented the Chonta Arepa. Yes… a chontaduro arepa. Gali Paz, from Sahavi (bakery), incorporated it into his menu on April 1 and it has been a complete success. “It is very rich, soft, gluten-free. We offer the Chonta Arepa with Cheese and Honey, at $7,000, and the Chonta Arepa Criolla with hogao, cheese, and egg, at $9,000, for breakfast, accompanied with chocolate or coffee,” he says, adding that those who visit can also enjoy a mouse of chontaduro.

Chefs like Carlos Yanguas, Maura de Caldas, Martha Jaramillo, from Ringlete; Claudia Ruiz, from Pacífico Restaurante, and Lola Serna, from Carambolo, have taken it to haute cuisine. The latter conceived the dish called ‘Celia Cruz’, breaded prawns with coconut and
chontaduro The prawns come standing up, like the wigs from La Guarachera, with a chontaduro and mango sauce.

Guapi’s cook, the great matron of Pacific flavors, Maura de Caldas, warns of the aphrodisiac power of chontaduro: for a reason Tumbacatre contains the essence of this and borojó. In the hands of a Colombian chef, this fruit can also be transformed into a montadito de chontaduro with shrimp ceviche, puree or jam.

It has also been included in children’s songs such as “Mature Chontaduro sells black Arturo, chontaduro with salt, they buy and they don’t give him”, a composition by Jairo Ojeda, and of course, in a classic by Petronio Álvarez (1967), such as the abosao ‘La palma del chontaduro’, by composer Miguel Vicente Garrido, performed by Peregoyo and his Combo Vacaná.

Very stiff and very nice, chontaduro crosses borders. It is a well-known fruit in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where they prepare a chicha based on it with panela and boiled water, a drink that the peasants serve in the corn planting mingas or consume it as a refreshment. It also replaces cassava and plantain. And in the mornings it is not missing combined with ripe and milk, in a nutritious and powerful colada.

In Panama, where these fruits are known by the names pifá, pibá and pixbae, they are consumed hot and with salt. In Costa Rica, the so-called pejibayes are accompanied with mayonnaise or custard, and they even have a national fair, being a typical product that is
prepared in many ways, from pejibaye flour to ceviche, picadillos, ice cream and even liquor

Even the seeds, quite hard, are chewed by chontaduro addicts —despite the warnings of dentists— to take advantage of the coconut they contain. Total, they are not wasted, they serve as food for dogs and pigs. Even the shells of the cooked chonta are nutrient for chickens and fertilizer for crops. The wood of the thornless chonta is used as posts for huts, pens for pigs, firewood and to make spears. And the orioles make their nests on the tips of the young leaves of the spiny trunk of the palm to keep their chicks safe from snakes and felines.

The seeds do not all germinate at the same time. For example, about a hundred are planted, and a month 5 or 10 germinate and then many others come out. After three months, 60 palms are given, others are not born. “I discarded those that were delayed and kept the vigorous ones. From there he transferred them to some transplant bags and hoped they were 30 centimeters high.
This process lasts between eight and eleven months. Then the hole is made in the ground and they are planted. I made holes 40x40x40 centimeters deep, laid out six meters apart.distance from each other”.

When they ripen, some fruits —green at first— turn fully red, others orange, and some yellow. It is when they have 70% or 80% of the color that they are collected. It is not wise to wait until they are completely the color they remain, because they become very fragile and are damaged when transported.

Before the fruits, the palm blossoms. It is estimated that during the inflorescence several thousand male flowers provide pollen and fall off, leaving several hundred female flowers that give rise to the chontaduros. At first the flowers are white, both male and female; then they turn cream, yellow and finally green. It takes four months from when the flower opens until the fruit is ready to harvest. In the last month and a half it takes on the final size and color. The weight of a bunch ranges between four kilos and 20 kilos, most are eight kilos.