The pili nut tree is native to the coastal areas of
South East Asia, although the pili nuts are only commercially produced at the moment in the Philippines. It is a member of the Burseraceae family of plants so is a relative of Commiphora myrrha, which produces myrrh, and Commiphora wightii which is the Indian Bdellium or guggul producer, and to Boswellia serrata, from which we get frankincense. The Pili tree also produces a resin which is soft like honey and is known as breabianca or Manila elem. This is used in the manufacturing of perfumes, plastics and printing inks, but is also used externally for swollen legs in Philippines traditional folk medicine.
The tree itself can grow to heights of 35 metres in primary forests, although the cultivars in the
Philippines and Hawaii only reach about 20 metres. It has white flowers which give way to the fruit which contains a hard-shelled triangular seed, known as the pili nut. The smooth glossy fruit is green when immature, but when ripe turns purple black. It has a pulp which is yellow or brown, and which can be cooked and is said to have a texture similar to that of a cooked sweet potato. This pulp is considered to have much the same nutritional value as an avocado.
cotton seed oil substitute in many food products, so it has great commercial prospects. It is also being investigated as a source of biofuel for the future.
The stony outer shells of the pili nut may be used as fuel or as growing material for some orchids, so gardeners say. That means that all of the fruit has some value, although at the moment it is not being used to its full capacity, which may or may not be a good thing for the preservation of the pili nut tree.
The pili nuts are used in baked goods and feature in one type of Chinese “moon cake” which are eaten on special occasions and at festival times. They are used for chocolate, ice-cream and eaten raw, when they are said to taste like roasted pumpkin seeds. When roasted they are said to taste like almonds.
At the moment the nut producing industry is in its infancy as was the Australian macadamia nut thirty years ago. Perhaps soon we will all know what these mineral-rich nuts taste like.
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