If you haven’t heard of lucuma, it’s because it’s a fruit indigenous to Peru, Chile, and Ecuador that hasn’t really had much play outside of its native region, especially since it only thrives in subtropical climates. It has a dark green skin, and a pit (sometimes two) that look like avocado pits. Its yellow flesh is dry and often compared to hard-boiled egg yolk, and its mild flavor has been likened to maple syrup, caramel, and sweet potatoes.
Indigenous Andean peoples used lucuma not just as food but medicinally as well. The Incas believed it to be a symbol of fertility and creation and it was dubbed “Gold of the Incas.” Modern studies of lucuma show that the fruit contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. It aids in warding off heart disease and hypertension, maintaining skin health and blood sugar levels (and it is hoped that it will help people with diabetes), and supporting healthy digestion.
You will most likely not find fresh lucuma in the U.S., but you can find frozen lucuma or paste in Latin markets or online. Powdered lucuma (i.e., flour) is also available and can be added to baked products or smoothies.
I first learned about lucuma in 2011, when I was in culinary school. For my class’s final assignment—a complete vegan dinner for about 80 people—we decided to do a Peruvian menu. In researching Peruvian cuisine, I discovered lucuma. Lucuma is used mainly in desserts, the way we would use any fruit. I didn’t know, however, that they made a flour out of it but I stumbled upon it at my favorite Latin Market in Queens. And I finally had an opportunity to use it!
It’s Easter weekend and instead of making a traditional Italian dessert, I decided to do something with the lucuma. I used it in place of wheat flour to make a gluten-free cake, and combined it with ground almonds. The cake has a unique flavor and it reminded me of some Italian cakes. If you can get your hands lucuma flour, give this a try.
Makes one 8-inch cake.
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup lucuma flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
¼ cup buttermilk
Combine flours in a medium bowl.
Beat butter with brown sugar, zest, vanilla, baking powder, and salt until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating each one in.Alternate adding the flours and buttermilk in two parts, starting with flour and ending with buttermilk. Transfer batter to the prepared pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.Place on wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Invert it onto the rack, then invert it right-side up.Let cool completely, then frost or decorate as you like. I decided to stay simple and use just confectioners’ sugar and some sliced strawberries. Stencils are really nice for things like this.Keep tightly wrapped at room temperature up to 3 days, then refrigerate (will keep another few days). Copyright © R. Roberti