Uses and economic potential


Principal use
Secondary uses


 

Principal use


The buriti's edible mesocarp is the most widely used part of the plant. From this fresh pulp a very popular juice is prepared, called "buriti wine" or "vinho de buriti". The fruit are prepared by softening them in warm water for several hours or leaving them covered by leaves for 3 or 4 days, so as to accelerate their maturation, since the fruit fall from the trees or are collected before they are fully ripened. Covering them with leaves for a few days is preferred, as it is reputed to enhance flavor. When ready, the pulp is separated from the seeds by hand and mixed with water. It is then "trained to separate the seeds and exocarp scales. The buriti wine is consumed fresh, with sugar, or mixed with cassava flour, as is done with assaí (Euterpe oleracea) wine.

The fresh pulp is also used to prepare "buriti sweets. or doce de buriti, as a flavoring for ice creams (excellent!), and made into a sweetened thin juice that is frozen in small plastic bags and sold like popsicles (called dim-dim in Brazil, curichi in Peru). All of these products are extremely popular and form the basis of an important segment of the local economies of the Amazonas River basin (Cavalcante 1988, Padoch 1988).

Doce de buriti is also being used in the Brazilian Northeast to treat or to prevent vitamin A deficiency. Lima (1987) reported on the use of doce de buriti as a food supplement for a group of children, aged 43-144 months, that presented hypovitaminosis A symptoms. A 20-day treatment was sufficient to eliminate all clinical and analytical symptoms in this group of children. Given the abundance of buriti in lowland northern South America, there is no biological reason to continue to accept the high levels of hypovitaminosis A so prevalent in many parts of this region.

In the Orinoco River delta, in Venezuela, the natives toast the pulp of the fruit and consume it as a type of bread (Braun 1968).

In the same region, Spruce (1908) reported that a mash of fresh pulp is wrapped in leaves of "platanillo" (Marantaceae), stored in a barrel made from boards of the palm Iriartella setigera, and left to ferment for several weeks. The fermented mash is then mixed with water to make an agreeably flavored beverage with a strong alcoholic content. The fermentation of starchy fruit pulps or other starchy products, like cassava or corn, is quite common in tropical America. Caissuma (Brazil) or masato (Peru) is a similar beverage prepared from the pejibaye palm (Bactris gasipaes); it is very nutritious, as well as intoxicating.

Table 1 presents a listing of analytical results on the composition of the fruit and the food value of the pulp of buriti, obtained from several sources. Although the pulp is only 12-13% of the fruit dry weight, it is an important source of calories, proteins and vitamins.

Interestingly, Wu Leung's (1961) and Bohorquez' (1977) data translate into approximately 11% protein by dry weight, which is on the level of that of maize. Beckerman (1979), evaluating the availability of vegetal proteins consumed by the Amerindian populations of Amazônia, commented on the fruit of buriti, "although the protein is a rather small fraction of the dry weight (of the 'whole pulp', data from Altman & Cordeiro 1964) - only 5% - it cannot be rejected as insignificant in a diet in which (a) large quantities of the food are consumed; (b) the food actually consumed may be considerably higher in protein content than the raw fruit because of removal of fiber and other non-nutrients; and (c) fermentation may actually increase the absolute amount of protein contained in the processed food". The great importance of buriti in the diet of several populations of Amazônia (fruit: Padoch 1988) and the Orinoco River delta (fruit and trunk starch: Suarez 1966, Heinen & Ruddle 1974) is well known, and for Beckerman (1979) this palm could assure them the major part of their dietary protein, with minor addition of other sources, such as meat and fish.

Potentially there may be economic interest in the carotene dissolved in the buriti's mesocarp oil (Table 2), mentioned by several authors as one of the largest reserves of carotenes known in the plant kingdom. Chaves & Pechnik (1949) reported 5,000 International Units of pro-vitamin A/g of oil, a level five times that of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Rizzini & Mors (1976) reported 300 mg of ß-carotene per 100 g of dry mesocarp, which is three times greater than that found in African oil palm. These data, and those of Aguiar et al. (1980), highlight the variability observed in buriti, which could certainly be exploited in mass selection improvement of natural populations. More detailed analyses are necessary to better identify the intra- and inter-populational variation in mesocarp composition and nutritional value to better guide its use and improvement.

Table 1. A. Components of the fruit (fresh weight).
B. Nutritional value of 100 g of mesocarp*.


Chaves & Pechnik (1946, 1949)

Bohorquez (1977) @

FAO (1986)

Altman & Cordeiro (1964)

Wu Leung (1961)

A.






fruit weight (g)

50

-

50

40-55

-

exocarp (%)

30


23

23

-



>49<




mesocarp (%)

10


21

20.5

-

endocarp (%)

20


12

12

-



>51<




endosperm (%)

40


44

44.5

-

B.

f.wt**

f.wt

d.wt

d.wt

f.wt

energy (cal)

120.0

143.0

-

-

265.0

humidity (%)

71.8

72.8

-

68.0

72.8

proteins (g)

2.9

3.0

5.5

5.2

3.0

fats (g)

10.5

10.5

31.0

26.2

10.5

N-free extract (g)

2.2

12.5

38.0

38.2

12.5

fiber (g)

11.4

11.4

23.0

27.5

11.4

ash (g)

1.2

1.2

2.4

2.9

1.2

Ca (mg)

158.0

113.0

-

-


P (mg)

44.0

19.0

-

-

-

Fe (mg)

5.0

3.5

-

-

-

vitamin A (mg)

30.0

12.0

30.0

-

-

thiamine (mg)

-

0.3

0.1

-

-

riboflavine (mg)

-

0.23

-

-

-

niacin (mg)

-

0.7

-

-

-

Vitamin C (mg)

50.5

26.0

52.5

-

-

*Chave & Pechnik (1946, 1949), Bohorquez (1976) and Wu Leung (1961) based upon 100 g of fresh edible pulp, while FAO (1986) and Altman & Cordeiro (1964) based upon 100 g of dry edible pulp.
@ Bohorguez combined exocarp w/mesocarp, endocarp w/endosperm.

** f.wt = fresh weight, d.wt = dry weight.

Table 2. Vitamin A, as retinol equivalents (Dg/100g) in buriti.


Chaves & Pechnik (1949)

IBGE (1977)

Rizzini & Mors (1976)

Franco (1982)

Lima (1987)

in mesocarp

5.000

6.000

-

6.000

-

in mesocarp oil

50.000

-

50.000

50.000

50.667

doce de buriti

-

-

-

-

1.116

oil from doce de buriti

-

-

-

-

17.167

Unfortunately, buriti never attracted agricultural research attention as a perennial edible oil crop. This is probably due to the small quantity of oil in the mesocarp and to its ecological requirements. Pesce (1941) commented on this and suggested the utilization of its seeds (40-50% of fruit weight) for the production of alcohol for energy, by transforming the manocellulose in manose, followed by fermentation. Altman & Cordeiro (1964) extended and elaborated on this suggestion and proposed a scheme for the integral utilization of the whole fruit through a series of simple processes, which could be carried out by small processing plants located adjacent to natural concentrations of buriti. These processing plants would produce (1) juice (34% of fresh weight), to be sold as "vinho"; (2) vegetable oil (4.5%), which contains 0.013% pure carotene; (3) extraction residue (14.6%) rich in carbohydrates (52%) that could be used for animal feed or as a feed stock for alcohol production; (4) charcoal (9.1%), pirolenic acid (7.4%) which can substitute acetic acid, and pitch (1.2%). These processing plants could attend local and regional markets and provide raw materials for other industries.

Lleras & Coradin (1988) showed that palms in general yield two types of vegetable oil with numerous uses in the food and chemical industries: the oleic oils - obtained from the fruit pulp and generally similar to vegetable oils obtained from most annual crops in terms of fatty acid composition; the lauric oils - obtained almost exclusively from palm seeds. These authors estimate that buriti can attain yields of 3.6 T/ha of oleic oils (assuming a density of 150 female plants/ha), significantly above current yields of most annual oil crops, such as soybean (Glycine max), sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and peanut (Arachis hypogaea), although lower than that of African oil palm.

The full potential of the buriti fruit has not yet been exploited anywhere in its range. Since it occupies ecological habitats that are not suitable for most other agricultural options, the full exploitation of natural populations of buriti could play a major role in Amazonian development without contributing to further environmental degradation (Peters et al. 1989).

Secondary uses


The young inflorescence can be cut or tapped to collect the sweet sap, which can be consumed directly, fermented to obtain an alcoholic beverage, or boiled to obtain sugar (Corner 1966). Pesce (1941) reports on the chemical composition of this sugar: 92.7% sacarose, 2.3% reducing sugars, 1.9% ash and 3.1% unidentified. In some areas, the harvest of the sap is a predatory process, involving the felling of the palm, followed by defoliation and stimulation of the sap flow with fire (Corner 1966). If the harvest is managed correctly, buriti could supply large quantities of palm wine sustainably, as occurs in parts of Africa and Asia (Corner 1966).

The terminal meristem is the heart of palm, which is locally exploited in some parts of Amazônia (Bohorquez 1976).

The starchy pith of the buriti stem can be processed to yield an edible flour (nearly pure starch), similar to that obtained from the Asian palm Metroylon sagu. This flour is an essential part of the diet of the Warao Indians, of the Orinoco River delta, in Venezuela. To extract the starchy pith, the female buriti palm is cut, its trunk is split, and the pith removed with a small hand hoe, frequently made from the wood of the trunk itself. The pith is placed on a circular screen above the excavated trunk, which serves as a receptacle for the starch. The pith is washed and mashed by hand, and the starch is leached out and accumulates in the trunk. The water is removed and the starch is dried in the sun. It is then stored as dried flour or baked into large round breads (Suarez 1966, Heinen & Ruddle 1974).

Two starch samples, taken at 1 and 13 m in height from a male buriti palm, and therefore possibly not representative of the female starch, yielded the following analysis (dry weight): ramnose - 0.2% and 0.1%; arabinose - 1.3% and 2.2%; xilose 5.6% and 4.4%; galacturonic acid - 3.2% and 2.5%; galactose 0.8% and 1.4%; and glucose - 12.0% and 9% (Borgtoft-Pedersen & Balslev 1990).

Amongst many indigenous populations in South America, the starch of the buriti is also used medicinally as a cure for diarrhea (Plotkin & Balick 1984).

Larvae of Rhynchophorus palmarum (Curculioniodae), a large palm trunk borer, proliferate in the rotting trunk of cut palms. They are widely consumed raw or cooked by the indigenous populations of the Orinoco River delta (Suarez 1966), Ecuadorian (Borgtoft-Pedersen & Balslev 1990) and Peruvian Amazônia (Padoch 1988).

The leaves of the buriti are used to thatch houses and manufacture numerous household items in Amazônia, including hats, baskets, fishing traps, rope, and hammocks. From the edges of young tender leaves a very fine, pale yellow fiber is extracted. These are tied in bunches to dry, after which they can be twisted by 'hand to make fine threads or ropes. This fiber is especially fine and supple and suited for hammocks and other fine handicrafts. The petioles furnish a spongy light pith, similar to balsa wood, and used to make corks for bottles, handicrafted toys, or even mattresses for chairs and beds (Balick 1984, Borgtoft-Pedersen & Balslev 1990, Cavalcante 1988, Correa 1926, Schultes 1977, Suarez 1966, Wallace 1853).

Collection methods and yields


When the fruit mature they are dark red in color and fall from the infructescences. At this point they deteriorate rapidly. If they are to be transported, they should be collected just before they are ripe. In the wild, individual plants start to bear at a height of about 6 m above the soil at 7-8 years of age. Trees yield for several decades, with reduced harvests after 40-50 years (Bohorquez 1976, FAO 1986).

The occurrence of large natural buriti zones and the lack of interest in rational management and exploitation of the species, has inhibited detailed studies of buriti production. Up to a certain height, the infructescence can be harvested with a machete or a curved blade tied on the tip of a long pole, but as the palm grows it becomes increasingly difficult because the infructescences are interfoliar and difficult to reach. Consequently, the felling of the trees is frequent. Near Iquitos, Peru, a majority of the female plants have already been cut, leaving aguajales with only male plants. Today buriti merchants bring fruit from 2-3 days away by boat (Padoch 1988).

"Climbing bicycles" and other similar technologies could easily be used, since there are no branches to impede the climb, although it may be necessary to regulate the trunk bands as the buriti trunk increases and decreases in diameter due to starch reserves in the trunk parenchymatic tissue. The use of this technology would eliminate-the felling of female plants and would make sustainable harvesting a reality in Peru. The extension services could provide plans for constructing simplified technologies or the local development agencies could provide access to capital to locally build or buy higher technology climbing bicycles.

The harvest of palm heart and sagu from the trunk require the felling of the plant, as buriti only has one meristem. Harvested by the Warao Indians, of the Orinoco River delta, sagu production is sustainable, but only because of the low population density of these people. Consequently, harvesting for a wider market would be unsustainable. Harvest of buriti sap, however, could be sustainable if entrance of Rhynchophorus palmarum into the trunk were avoided.

Lleras & Coradin (1988) estimate that an individual plant could yield 200 kg of fruit per year, which could yield 24 kg of oil from the pulp. At a density of 150 plants/ha, which is possible for almost all Neotropical palms of large growth habit, this could result in a harvest of 3,600 kg of mesocarp oil per year. Bohorquez (1976) reports yields of 19 MT of fruit/ha/year in plantations with 100 palms/ha in Peru, which corresponds to 190 kg fruit/plant.

In the Peruvian aguajale described by Kahn (1988), Peters et al. (1989) estimated a yield of 6.1 MT/ha/yr of fresh fruit, with an Iquitos market value of US$ 1,525. It is probable that the majority of Amazonian buriti zones could yield similar quantities of fruit. Although no estimate of the total area occupied by buriti zones in Amazônia is available at this time, it is probable that there are at least 1,000 km2. This estimate suggests that the annual yield of buriti in Amazônia is close to 600,000 MT, the great majority of which is consumed by fish and other wildlife.

Based on Bohorquez' (1976) analysis of the chemical composition of 100 g of fruit mesocarp, Borgtoft-Pedersen & Balslev (1990) estimated that the nutrient loss to the ecosystem by the harvest of buriti fruit is approximately 42 kg of nitrogen, 9.9 kg of calcium, 1.7 kg of phosphorus and 0.3 kg of iron. This suggests that the buriti zones along nutrient-poor black water rivers might diminish with intensive exploitation through the years, unless fertilizers were used or long periods of fallow were permitted. In the buriti zones along the varzeas (periodically flooded river terraces) of the white water rivers this would not be a problem.

The yield of trunk starch is estimated at 60 kg/trunk (Ruddle et al. 1978, Borgtoft-Pedersen & Balslev 1990). Reported leaf fiber production in Brazil was 1155 MT in 1987, with Pará and Maranhão the major producing regions (IBGE 1989).