Touted as the highest fat nut on Earth, pili nuts are being promoted by novel specialty brands marketing natural ketogenic foods and vegan alternatives to dairy products.
Before understanding this exotic nut unique nutritional profile that makes it particularly appealing to create tasty keto-friendly products, what do we know about pili nuts?
What Pili Nuts Are And Where They Come From
Pili (pronounced ‘pee-lee‘) nuts, also known as ‘Pacific almonds,’ are the edible seeds of Canarium ovatum, a tropical tree species native to Northern Australia, The Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia, but commercially cultivated in the Philippines, mostly in the Bicol region.
The pili tree is an evergreen, averaging 20 m tall with resinous wood and resistance to strong winds. It is regarded as an organically grown tree, without any application of chemicals, pesticides, and fungicides for the duration of growth, fruit production, and harvest.
The average pili tree starts bearing fruits six to seven years after planting with an estimated average fruit yield of 1,000‒2,000 fruits per tree. However, improved pili varieties can flower at three to four years after planting, and double or even triple their fruit yield per tree.
The older the pili tree, which can thrive up to a century if growing in healthy conditions, the more fruits it bears.
Like most false tree nuts (almonds, pistachios, pecans, etc.,) the fruits of the pili nut tree are drupes (stonefruits), similar to elongated olives 4 to 7 cm long and weighing 15 to 45 g.
The skin (exocarp) is smooth, thin, shiny, and turns purplish-black when the fruit ripens; the pulp (mesocarp) is fibrous, fleshy, and greenish-yellow with a pointed shape-end hard thick shell (endocarp.) The ovary contains three locules. Usually, only one of them fully develops, enclosing the embryo seed (kernel), representing the pili tree’s edible nut.
When tasted raw, the pili kernel flavor resembles that of dry sunflower seed; when roasted, the pili nut has a nutty flavor and a buttery texture similar to macadamia.
How Pili Nuts Are Produced, Processed, And Marketed
The Philippines is the only country that produces and processes pili nuts in commercial quantity, having the monopoly of processed pili in the foreign market.
The pili market’s current status is equivalent to that of macadamia 30 years ago, having huge potential to develop into a vital nut industry. Pili are in demand not only in Asia but also in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.
The Pili Nut Farm, established in 2010, is the only farm in all of the Philippines commercially producing pili nuts for export and adopting a self-sustainable system.
The presence of the Bicol Pili Board in the Filipino region serves as a vehicle to link various key commodity players to ensure industry sustainability. With unified efforts of the private sector and the government in the last decades, collection and processing centers for pili have been centralized.
Because of its high commercial value, the nut is the most essential product from the pili.
Unlike high-intensive nut production in Western countries, pili nut harvesting is not a mechanized process, but, like other soft commodities in tropical countries, it mostly occurs by human labor.
Pili fruit can be harvested all year round, however, harvesting is generally from May to October, peaking in June to August, and requires several pickings by local villagers who have to climb up each tree.
The fruit harvested is then typically boiled to remove the outer flesh, exposing the inner shell.
The next step is kernel extraction by cracking the hard shell with a ‘bolo,’ a sharp machete. Such time-demanding operation is still pretty manual at present since deshelling machines built explicitly for pili processing have not reached such an efficiency to leave nuts undamaged under an acceptable threshold.
The labor-intensive process for pili nuts would make production on a large commercial scale, taking many people and work but increasing employment for the local village communities.
A recently released pili cultivar in Hawaii, known as ‘Poamoho,’ may further stimulate this crop’s interest.
What Drives Specialty Foods To Incorporate Pili Nuts
Pili nuts have the highest fat and lowest sugar content of any other nut, and a good protein quality for being a nut, containing seven out of the nine essential amino acids. Pili nuts are also a great source of minerals, such as copper, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin E.
From stabilizing blood sugar levels to supporting bone health and boosting the immune system, the unique nutritional properties and the delicate flavor profile of pili are the main reason more specialty foods consider this novel nut.
Some specialty food companies, such as the American Pili Hunters or the Swedish Pilinöten, make entire product lines using pili nuts. Others crafting specialty chocolate, like the Filipino Auro Chocolate, are including it as a local specialty substitute to imported nuts.
Cleaner-label plant-based dairy alternatives are too increasing thanks to new manufacturing possibilities with pili nuts.
Lavva is the first brand on the market that launched plant-based milks and creamers made from pili nuts and coconut water, with no need to add sugar, alternative sweeteners, artificial emulsifiers and thickeners.
The Lavva pili nut ‘milk,’ which is comparable to whole dairy milk for calories, boasts a subtle nuttiness from the pili nuts that complements coconut water’s flavor, creating a richer flavor creamier texture than most nut-based dairy alternatives.
The Lavva yogurts have a shorter and cleaner ingredients list, with no gums, stabilizers, flavors, added sugars, or high-intensity sweeteners. This innovative composition makes them naturally appealing in texture and keto-friendly in nutrition thanks to a combination of buttery pili nuts, starchy young plantains (which contain resistant starch, a prebiotic), and creamy cassava roots.
Overall, seeing the new prospects of additional plant-based alternatives, specialty food companies and ketogenic consumers will contribute to further spreading the word on pili nuts.
Have you already tried pili nuts or a specialty food product that included them?