Q: What’s green on the outside, yellow on the inside, and grows on trees?
A: A lot of things!
Oh. Okay, let’s try again.
Q: What looks like a round avocado, tastes like butterscotch and sweet potato, and grows on trees in the tropics?
Bingo! This crazy South American fruit isn’t commonly found in the United States, which is too bad because it deserves much more recognition than it has up here. Lúcuma’s been grown in California, but it’s hardly ever found fresh here. (You can easily find it in dried and powdered form, and sometimes as prepackaged pulp.) But because exports of lúcuma have gone way up, I have a feeling that it’s about to have its moment as the new shrilly marketed superfood.
It’s always alarming to eat something that doesn’t taste like what you think it should taste like, right? For instance, if you were to eat a red candy and find it’s got grape flavoring. So it’s strange to find a fruit that tastes like anything but a fruit. Lúcuma (LOO-koo-ma) has a deep base that whacks your taste buds’ kneecaps with caramelized sugar and butternut squash, finishing with butterscotch and vanilla.
In Peru I ate lúcuma ice cream in the towns along the Callejon de Huaylas, where lúcuma trees were growing all around, including on the grounds of one of our hotels. (At first I wondered what the funny pointy things were on the trees -- then I put two and two together.) Eating lúcuma ice cream is kind of like what I imagine eating sweet-potato-pie ice cream would be like, but there’s still an element of fragrant fruit that intrigues your palate.
Though I could make a serious nutrient-stuffed smoothie with it, I prefer to highlight the sugary flavor in horrible-for-me treats. I’ve found that I can make my own lúcuma ice cream just by taking a standard vanilla base and adding lúcuma powder to taste (usually about 1/4 cup) when I’m cooking the custard on the stove. Even though my version tastes good, it isn’t as yellow and pretty as the experts make it in Peru. And lúcuma shortbread is easy too: take a recipe for green tea cookies and substitute lúcuma powder for the matcha, sprinkling extra lúcuma on top.
Have you cooked with lúcuma?