Fabaceae (Bean family)
Description. A short-lived perennial shrub (often annual, when cultivated), 3-4 m (10-13 ft) tall. Alternate, pubescent leaves with three lanceolate leaflets, 5-10 (2-4 in) cm long by 2-4 cm (0.8-1.6 in) wide. Flowers yellow, often with purple streaks in axillary racemes. Flat, pubescent fruit pods 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long, with 2 to 10 light brown, reddish or black, round seeds.
Origin and Distribution. Although the precise origin is unknown, the plant is probably native to semiarid savannas and woodlands of eastern India, where it was domesticated more than 3,000 years ago. Another possible place of origin is eastern Africa, where the plant has been in cultivation since prehistoric times. It is unknown in the wild. This drought and heat resistant shrub is grown on a small scale throughout the tropics, in semiarid and humid climates.
Food uses. Pigeon peas, which are a very good source of protein, are used similar to beans and peas. They can be employed in soups and stews or made into flour. Sprouted seeds are eaten cooked in a variety of typical Indian and African dishes. Young, tender seed pods are consumed as a green vegetable. In many parts of Africa the young shoots and leaves are also eaten.
In Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh pigeon peas are used to make dal, a thick stew made from beans, peas, and lentils.
Comments. Up to 16% of the dry matter of the pigeon pea is protein. The plant is an important forage crop for domestic animals.
Description. Large evergreen tree, 30-45 m (100150 ft) tall. Alternate, compound leaves 50-60 cm (20-24 in) long with oblong to lanceolate leaflets, each 15-20 cm (6-8 in) long. Dioecious, small yellowish flowers are produced in large panicles. Purple to purplish-black oblong fruits 3-4 cm (1.2- 1.6 in) long, with fleshy yellow mesocarp, contain a single large 3-angled seed. Unripe fruits are almost white in color.
Origin and Distribution. Native to Borneo. Occasionally cultivated in Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In Borneo, fruits are often harvested from wild trees. Very rare in other tropical regions. The plant grows as a canopy tree in lowland dipterocarp rainforests with constant high temperatures and humidity.
Food uses. Ripe fruits are consumed after soaking in hot water to soften. They have a rich, creamy texture similar to avocado and are used like olives in savory dishes and salads. They are often eaten with a soy sauce dip. Ripe dabais are sometimes sprinkled with sugar and consumed as a snack. The fruits are also used to make sauces, mayonnaise, and pickles.
The seed kernel, which has a delicious, nutty flavor and a crisp texture, is eaten raw or roasted. In Southeast Asia, kernels are often added to savory dishes like stir-fries and rice dishes.
Comments. The dabai fruit has high nutritional value; it is rich in unsaturated fats (38-44% oleic acid and 12-14% linoleic acid), protein, and carbohydrates as well as minerals like magnesium and calcium.
Description. Medium-sized evergreen tree with resinous wood, 15-24 m (50-78 ft) tall. Alternate, compound leaves, 30-40 cm (12-16 in) long with 3-5 pairs of oval, leathery, shiny green leaflets, each 1020 cm (4-8 in) long. Young leaves are reddish-pink in color. Small yellowish-green, dioecious (or sometimes hermaphroditic) flowers are borne in terminal or axillary, cymose inflorescences. Fruits are drupes with a shiny, purplish-black skin, 4-8 cm (1.6-3.2 in) long; a fibrous, greenish-yellow mesocarp encloses a single large brown seed.
Origin and Distribution. Originally from the Philippines and possibly other parts of Malesia. The tree is grown mainly in Southeast Asia and very rarely cultivated in other tropical regions. It requires a tropical climate with rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year.
Food uses. The seed kernel can be eaten raw or roasted. The raw nuts taste like roasted pumpkin seeds; when roasted, the seeds’ mild, nutty flavor and tender, crispy texture are superior to that of almonds. Roasted seeds are usually sold salted or glazed with sugar. The seeds are also used in the preparation of chocolate, ice cream, granola bars, and baked goods. They are an important ingredient in the Chinese dessert called “moon cake,” traditionally prepared during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The oil-rich pulp from the mesocarp of the ripe fruit is eaten boiled, seasoned with pepper and salt. The seed kernel produces a yellowish oil similar in quality to olive oil. Young shoots of the plant are eaten as a green vegetable in salads.
Comments. The seed kernels are rich in fat and protein and a very good source of calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. The main producer of pili nuts is the Philippines, where the fruits are collected from wild trees. The pili nut is still a minor fruit but has the potential to become equally important as the macada-mia nut (Macadamia integrifolia, p. 143) because of its superior taste and high yields. A single fully grown tree can produce up to 10,000 fruits in a single year.
Description. Small, perennial shrub. Leaves alternate, obovate to lanceolate with short, pointed apex. Small, greenish-white to yellowish-white flowers are produced in small clusters at the nodes. Elongated or round fruits, which are botanically berries, are usually bright red or orange when ripe and contain several round, flat seeds. Shape, size, and color of the fruits can be highly variable.
Origin and Distribution. It is confirmed by excavations that chili peppers have formed an important part of human diet in South America for at least 7,500 years. Columbus came in contact with chili peppers on his voyages to America; he called the unfamiliar spice “pepper” after the black pepper known from Asia. Portuguese and Spanish traders, who controlled transatlantic commerce, took this new spice to Europe, where at first it was considered a curiosity and planted as an ornamental. From there it reached the colonies of India, the Philippines, and China and spread to Persia and
Turkey. Chilies were reportedly grown in Indonesia around 1540.
Food uses. Hot chilies are made into spicy sauces like Tabasco sauce and used as an ingredient in curry powder. It is hard to imagine Indian curries, Hungarian goulash, or Indonesian sambal without spicy chili peppers. In several Asian countries the leaves are cooked as vegetables and used in soups.
Comments. The substance responsible for the spicy taste of chilies is capsaicin and related chemicals. These are found in the outer fruit walls and in the seeds. Nonspicy varieties lack this compound. Spicyness is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), with bell pepper rated at 0, jalapeno at 3,000-6,000 SHU, and the naga jolokia from India at more than 1 million SHU. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper sprays used for self-defense. Ripe chili peppers are rich in vitamin C and carotenes and contain considerable amounts of iron, vitamin B, magnesium, and potassium.
Description. Herbaceous, sparsely branched shrub, 2-4 m (7-10 ft) tall, with persistent leaf scars on the gray trunk. Alternate leaves clustered at tips of shoots. Cordate leaves 40-50 cm (16-20 in) long, blades deeply divided into 3 to 5 segments with long hollow petioles. Cream-colored female flowers are produced singly in the axils of leaves. Yellow, distinctively 5-angled, slender fruits 25-35 cm (10-14 in) long with yellowish-white, juicy, slightly acidic flesh. Fruits are produced parthenocarpically, as no seeds are present in the fruit.
Origin and Distribution. Native to inter-Andean valleys of Ecuador and northern Peru, where the plant grows in subtropical mountain climates at between 1,500 and 3,000 m (5,000-10,000 ft) elevation. The babaco seems to be a natural hybrid of Carica stipulata and C. pubescens (p. 53). Cultivated in mountainous regions of the tropics or in subtropical climates without frost.
Food uses. Fully ripe fruits are eaten fresh and used in fruit salads or desserts. The flesh is commonly blended with ice, water, and sugar to prepare refreshing fruit drinks. Babacos are preserved in syrup or used for filling pies and cakes. In Ecuador, the fruits are cooked with sugar and spices such as cinnamon and served as a dessert called dulce de babaco, often accompanied by ice cream or whipped cream.
Comments. The plant is also known by the synonym Vasconcellea x heilbornii. The babaco is cultivated mainly in Ecuador and southern Colombia and to a lesser extent in Chile, Australia, and New Zealand. Since the plant does not produce seeds, it is propagated through cuttings.