Understanding the Andean fruit, plus a recipe for lucuma ice cream.
On the side of the Pan-American Highway south of Lima in the town of Chilca (Kilometer 63.5) is Helados OVNI, a small ecological ice cream stand that sells Peru’s most famous lucuma ice cream. Selling just one flavor (lucuma, with or without pecans), the brightly painted ice cream shop is named after the Spanish acronym for an unidentified flying object (sightings of which are frequently reported in the area), is plastered with UFO paraphernalia and a dust covered E.T. will welcome you.
I don’t think I’ve ever passed this roadside stand and not stopped at Helados OVNI. There’s something about lucuma in this form that has attracted me ever since I first arrived in Peru. On its own, lucuma (Pouteria lucuma) pulp has an unpleasant, dry and chalky texture and orange-yellow color, which is why it is often given the equally unpleasant name (for fruit) eggfruit in English. Yet, when puréed and mixed with cream, the smooth texture allows the unique flavor, which is something between maple syrup and pumpkin with a touch of earthiness, to unleash itself.
With a green skin, kind of resembling a round avocado from afar, lucuma is found in the slopes and valleys of the western side of the Andes from around 1,000–2,400 meters (3,280–7,900 feet), primarily in Peru and northern Chile, and to a lesser extent Ecuador. When ripe, the thin skin peels off and the pulp can be spooned off the brown seed. Pronounced “loo-koo-mah,” it is a member of the Sapotaceae family, which includes fruits such as zapote and caimito.
Lucuma Flour vs Pulp
In most instances, if you aren’t living in Peru or Chile, your options for fresh lucuma are likely non-existent as the fruit is quite delicate and ripens quickly so it’s impossible to export whole. There have been some attempts to grow it in Florida, as well as Vietnam, though harvests tend to be irregular and limited. So, your primary forms of attaining lucuma will be in two forms: flour and pulp.
Lucuma flour, or harina de lucuma (usually labeled lucuma powder in English), is something often found in health food stores. It’s made by dehydrating the pulp and milling it into a fine flour. For the most part, it’s just pure lucuma flour, though check the label to make sure there aren’t any additives. The flour is quite useful and can be used to make pasta or stir into smoothies, though it’s often marketed as an alternative sweetener and a superfood (to white people), so it tends to be expensive for this reason. There are a wide variety of options on Amazon.
When making sweets and ice cream, frozen lucuma pulp, is a better option. This isn’t marketed as a superfood (to white people), so the price is similar to most other frozen fruit pulps that you will find in the freezer section of Hispanic markets throughout North America and parts of Europe. Several import companies produce the pulp, including Goya and Peru Food Import.
Cooking with Lucuma
While lucuma lend itself to savory recipes, such as the filling of ravioli, it’s mostly used for sweets. The primary form of consuming lucuma is by ice cream (recipe below for paid subscribers). In Peru, lucuma ice cream regularly outsells strawberry and chocolate and even fast-food chains like Bembo’s have it on their menus. Pinkberry, who launched in Peru years ago, quickly realized they would have to add a lucuma yogurt flavor to compete.
Pastry shops in Lima usually have it in some form, such as mousse, cheesecake or to flavor a Suspiro a la Limeña. Sometimes lucuma is turned into manjar, like dulce de leche, and is used in the filling for alfajores and the northern Peruvian sweet King Kong. The Chilean food writer Pilar Hernandez has several great recipes with lucuma, such as Tres Leches Cake.
I’ve used the pulp in cocktails (lucuma pulp, pisco, amaretto and a touch of cream blended with ice), though it’s quite heavy and essentially a dessert drink. At juice bars lucuma is usually blended with milk.
At Cosme, James Berckemeyer’s neighborhood restaurant in the Lima’s San Isidro district, Coulant de Lucuma has been a staple of the menu since the restaurant opened in 2013. It’s served with chocolate ice cream.
In honor of my birthday at the end of the month, which conveniently aligns with Peru’s Independence celebration, I’m offering a 35% discount on annual subscriptions until July 31. That’s less than $25 for a full year instead of $40!!