The pequi is an edible fruit, part of the Malpighiales genus, which grows in South America, especially in the central and western areas of Brazil. It is a tree that can reach a maximum height of about 10 m, quite popular in the so-called cerrado landscape of Brazil. It can be found in the area between the Brazilian states of Pará and Paraná, as well as in the northern parts of Paraguay.
Pequi has large size leaves, composed of three leaflets. They are covered with hair and have a very tough structure. The bloom is during the dry winter months of the Southern Hemisphere, between July and September. This is very unusual for the cerrado landscape. The flowers are very large and resemble a gigantic St John's wort flower.
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The flowers are also quite unusual because they are purple when young, turning into several shades of green as they ripen. The entire process is quite long and can last up to half a year. Despite the massive size of the flowers, fruits are not larger than an orange. Their inner structure is similar to the distant Malpighiales relative mangosteen, because it consists of 1 to 4 segments of fleshy pericarpinside. The flesh is yellow and the content of volatile esters gives it a unique taste and smell, with a mix of fruity and cheesy aromas. The light colored seed is protected by a black shell with tough woody thorns. However, seeds without spines also exist in the wild. Both the flesh and the seeds are edible. Many animal species also consume it, even the yellow-headed caracara and other species that are usually strictly carnivorous.
The pequi is extremely important in the life of the Cerrado natives, due to its many uses. Basically all parts of the tree are useful, either as food, construction material or for medical purposes. They are usually found cultivated around the villages of the area. Since seeds germinate very slowly, the local villagers often plant new trees in order to replace the cut ones.
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The pequi is extremely rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are rare in plants and only found in sizeable amounts in nuts and olives. These compounds are considered very beneficial by modern medicine, since they can reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood stream and thus protect the heart and arteries. The deposits of cholesterol on the walls or arteries and blood vessels eventually clog them, causing strokes, coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis or heart attacks. Compounds like the linoleic, stearic and oleic acids found in the pequi fruit are able to reduce these deposits, by increasing the oxidation reactions in the body.
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The pequi also benefits the heart due to the powerful mix of vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds with an anti-inflammatory effect. Their effect calms and expands blood vessels, which decreases the strain on the heart by allowing blood to flow more easily through the system. When veins are inflamed, they tend to shrink, which makes the effects of cholesterol deposits even worse.
According to a study, the anti-inflammatory effects of the pequi fruit are very strong. It was done exclusively on athletes, who are exposed to heavy inflammation of the muscles and joints after long periods of training. They were given a diet based on pequi fruits, which greatly reduced the negative effects. The results make the pequi a potential effective treatment for people who suffer from severe inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis.
Another major benefit of consuming pequi is eye health. It is a major source of vitamin A, of which beta-carotene is a derivative. Carotenes are natural antioxidants with a targeted action at ocular cell level. The tissues in the eye are protected from the destructive action of free radicals, which cause vision loss due to macular degeneration and diseases such as cataract. The effect is even stronger if the pequi diet is combined with other foods rich in carotenes.
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Like most fruits and vegetables, the pequi is also rich in fibers. These are considered increasingly important by doctors because they bulk up the stool, which can prevent a wide range of digestive issues like cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Fiber is also considered to be extremely valuable in cardiac health, since it can remove some of the toxic cholesterol from the body, which cleans up the arteries.
Pequi oil is found in large amounts in the seeds found in the fruit's mesocarp. It is considered very healthy and is used in numerous products. It is well-known in Brazil, where it is an ingredient of cosmetic products like moisturizers or shampoos. Lately, it has started to gain international recognition for its numerous qualities. The oil is a major source of vitamin A and tocopherol, two powerful antioxidants at skin level, which shield the skin and hair from damage. A diet rich in pequi can maintain the skin young and shiny, without blemishes or early aging. It can treat skin wounds and diseases such as eczema, while accelerating the healing of scars.
When applied on the hair, pequi oil is an effective conditioner, able to remove the split ends of hairs. It strengthens the hair in general, especially when it is damaged or fragile. The high concentration of fatty acids in the oil has a moisturizing effect on the skin, keeping it well-hydrated at all times. External use of the oil can treat any condition caused by dry skin, as well as eczema. It works well as a natural cosmetic, providing a general skin moisturizing effect. By boosting hydration, it can make wounds and scars heal faster than normal. Two applications per day, before going to bed, are recommended.
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A natural and very relaxing body massage fluid can be prepared using pequi oil. It should be mixed with virgin olive oil, rosemary oil and coconut oil. Let it work on the face for about 20 minutes, then rinse it.
The fruit's pulp is edible and very popular in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Goiás. It can be eaten raw but also prepared as a beverage or used as an ingredient in cooked dishes. A traditional and popular dish of the area is rice with pequi and chicken meat. However, this local specialty is an acquired taste, since the strong and particular taste of pequi is not easy for tourists to get used to. When fresh, the fruits should be eaten out of hand since its flesh can tarnish metal items, especially silver ones. Keep in mind that the seed is protected by sharp spines that can damage the mouth and cause deep wounds, so detach the flesh from the pit with great caution.
After consuming the flesh, you can leave the leftovers and the spiny pit to dry up in the sun for one day or two. It is easy to remove the thorns with a knife afterwards, and break the pit to get to the seed. It is edible and can be roasted like a nut and consumed with salt, similar to peanuts. Pressing the seeds produces the valuable and edible pequi oil.
The pequi is rich in some useful compounds found in many fruits, such as vitamin A, carotenoids and fibers, but also in linoleic acid, oleic acid and other monounsaturated fatty acids uncommon in plant sources. Some very powerful bioactive compounds, such as palmitic and stearic acids, can be found in the fruit and provide important health benefits.