Health benefits of pequi include its ability to help lower total cholesterol, reduce inflammation in the body, decrease blood pressure, improve digestion, strengthen vision, treat certain skin conditions, and boost hair health.
What is Pequi?
Pequi is certainly one of these slightly mysterious fruits that people hear about, but rarely see. However, in central parts of Brazil and northern portions of Paraguay, pequis are as normal as apples and oranges. In fact, when fully ripe, a pequi is approximately the same size as an orange, although the color of a pequi shifts from purple to dark green to light green as it matures over its 5-6 month growth period.
The other common name for this rare fruit is a “souari nut”, as the nuts of this fruit are often eaten in the same way as many people eat roasted peanuts. In fact, in the local areas of Brazil where pequi grows, souari nuts are more popular than Brazil nuts!
The scientific name of this fascinating little fruit is Caryocar brasiliense. The yellow edible pulp has a strange taste, like its a mixture of citrus fruit and cheese. Also, the 1-4 pericarps inside the fruit mean that there is not too much pulp per fruit. The sharp spines on the inner seed, embedded within the mesocarp, can easily stick into your gums, so be very careful when scraping the pulp off to eat.
In fact, it is considered as one of the most dangerous fruits to eat. The inner seed resembles a Brazil nut and is often roasted like a peanut as a local snack. Overall, the pequi fruit is popular because it is a strong tree that is easily pollinated by bats and is locally accessible. There isn’t much of an international market for pequi, but Brazilians love it, and there are certain countries who import it depending on the demand. The pulp mixes very well in chicken and other protein dishes and complements the flavor nicely, but like many foods with an “off” flavor, most people consider the pequi to be an acquired taste.
Due to the relatively small spread of these fruits, scientific studies are quite limited, but there have been enough to reveal a wealth of health benefits associated with this unassuming little fruit.
Nutritional Value of Pequi
Like most fruits, pequis are good sources of fiber, as well as vitamin A, carotenoids, and beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids, including linoleic and oleic acids. Also, palmitic and stearic acids can be found in it, which are powerful organic compounds that have a number of positive effects on human health.
Health Benefits of Pequi
Let’s take a closer look inside these fruits to see what makes them so healthy and popular.
Regulates Heart Health
There may not be many research studies done on pequi, but one thing we know for sure is that it has a very high content of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are the same compounds found in olives and nuts, which are beneficial organic compounds that help decrease cholesterol levels in our blood and protect our heart. Oleic, linoleic, and stearic acid are found in pequi, which all improve the oxidization effects in the body, meaning that less cholesterol builds up on the artery walls and blood vessels, thereby protecting our cardiovascular systems from atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, and coronary heart disease.
Lowers Blood Pressure
The mixture of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, as well as the anti-inflammatory effects of the natural acids found in the fruit, can help to relieve the stress on the blood vessels and relax them, thereby increasing blood flow and easing pressure on the heart. Inflammation can cause blood vessels to tighten, which can further exacerbate heart issues like cholesterol clogging.
Reduces Joint and Muscle Pain
One research study specifically targeted athletes and put them on a pequi-heavy diet. It was found that their general inflammation of joints and muscles that they normally experienced after their workouts was reduced, potentially explained by the high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds in pequi. This could eventually lead to good news for people suffering from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Vitamin A is found in high quantities in pequi, and as you may know, beta carotene is one of the derivatives of vitamin A. The carotenoid content in it is high, and these act as antioxidants, specifically in the ocular cells. This means that by eating pequi and other carotenoid-rich foods, you can improve your vision by preventing macular degeneration and cataracts that are often caused by free radicals.
Skin and Hair Care
Pequi essential oil can be extracted from the nuts/seeds inside the mesocarp of the pequi fruit. This essential oil is often included in traditional shampoos and moisturizers in Brazil, but it is starting to gain ground on the international market as well. Furthermore, the high content of tocopherol and vitamin A in pequi mean that the skin and hair are protected due to the antioxidant properties of these compounds. Consuming pequi can keep your skin from showing blemishes, improve scar healing, add a rich glow to your skin, and prevent signs of premature aging. It has also traditionally been used for treating eczema and skin lesions.
Fiber is an important part of the vast majority of fruits and vegetables, and pequi is no exception. The high levels of fiber found in pequi help to improve your digestive health by adding bulk to your stool and thus reducing the occurrence of constipation, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Fiber also helps to eliminate excess “bad” cholesterol from your system, further improving your heart health.
Word of Caution: It is very important to remember that the spines on the outside of the seeds are very sharp and long. They can lodge themselves in your gums, tongue, lips, etc. and snap off making them very hard to remove. These are defensive mechanisms that the fruit has developed to ward off prey. Make sure you slowly scrape off the pulp with your teeth from the outside of the fruit; don’t bite it down like an apple!