Peru has a knack for introducing superfoods to the rest of the world. Its rich geography, which includes portions of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest, has already brought forth high-protein quinoa and açai berries. The latest nutritional powerhouse to appear on global menus is lucuma, a fruit that grows at altitudes of about 9,000 feet. Long prized in Peru, it’s gaining traction in U.S. cities.
While it resembles a large, round, orange-fleshed avocado, lucuma has a pronounced caramel taste. It’s almost impossible to find fresh outside South America; unusually delicate, it starts to spoil soon after picking. But the fruit, esteemed by the Incas for purportedly enhancing fertility, is increasingly available powdered or frozen at American health-food stores; Walmart stocks it, too. That’s because lucuma is high in beta carotene, iron, zinc, calcium, protein, and fiber. It also contains antioxidants and potassium, which are said to be good for your heart, immune system, and skin.
In Peru, lucuma is known as the “gold of the Incas” and also the “egg fruit,” as it has the crumbly texture and starchy mouthfeel of a hard-boiled egg yolk. But when it’s mixed with milk or yogurt, a rich maple flavor emerges. The powdered product, often promoted as a sweetener, is showing up as a booster on menus at such juice bars as Pure Green in New York and LA Press in Los Angeles. It’s also becoming a popular flavor at sweet shops including Mitchell’s Ice Cream in San Francisco.
Peruvian food is growing in global visibility. Central, the Lima-based restaurant, came in No. 6 on the 2018 World’s 50 Best list, and its chef, Virgilio Martinez, has opened restaurants in London and Dubai. (Hong Kong is next.) At La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in San Francisco, Gastón Acurio serves lucuma ice cream with chocolate mousse. Rosaliné in Los Angeles makes lucuma ice cream bonbons, while Nazca Mochica in Washington offers it in tiramisu form.
At the Llama Inn, a Michelin “bib gourmand” restaurant in Brooklyn, Erik Ramirez has concocted a multitextured dessert composed of creamy lucuma mousse with milk chocolate sauce, crumbled chocolate cookies, and dehydrated milk wafers. He plans to make an even bigger deal of the ingredient at his soon-to-open rotisserie chicken spot Llamita in Manhattan’s West Village. “We’re going to give lucuma more exposure,” he says. He plans to offer it in a smoothie mixed with Peruvian coffee. “It’s going to be on display in all its glory.”
In Lima, one of the best places to experience lucuma is at the trendy Armónica Café in the Miraflores district. There it appears in a breakfast smoothie bowl with bananas and vegetable milk—also in pie and ice cream. “I think what’s been hindering lucuma’s popularity is that we have not publicized it,” says Solange Martínez, Armónica’s general manager. “As we do, people will see that there are millions of dishes for it.”