Milpesos Palm Oil

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Milpesos Palm Oil

Milpesos palm oil is obtained from the fruit of a variety of palm that grows wild in tropical moist forests at an altitude of less than 1000 meters. The palm’s scientific name is Oenocarpus bataua Martius (of the Arecaceae family) and it is also known as seje, batuá, trupa, chapil, aricaua and milpesos. It can grow 25 meters tall and the trunk can measure 30 centimeters in diameter. The leaves grow up to 7 meters tall. The bunches, four per palm, can yield up to 1,000 fruits, which are like small coconuts, around 4 cm in diameter, with a smooth black or purple skin that protects a very oily, white flesh. Though the leaves, branches and fruit of this tree are edible, it is the fruit that is mainly eaten to prepare traditional desserts, ice cream, juice, edible oil and even fuel oil. The tender stems are sometimes eaten, seasoned with aromatic herbs. The fruit is rich in protein.

Milpesos palm oil is highly prized for its delicacy and is used for cooking stews, preparing rice dishes and for frying. It is used for medicinal purposes as a laxative and to treat respiratory problems, gastritis and malaria. The robust branches are used to make tools and utensils and to extract a waterproofing material. To obtain the oil, the fruits are immersed in a container of water for three or four days to soften. Then they are peeled and the flesh is separated from the skin. Next, the flesh is passed through a sieve to obtain a liquid that is then passed through a finer sieve. It is then put over the heat and left to cook until, once all the water has evaporated, the oil is left, which keeps for up to a year once bottled, without any preservatives. The residue left by the oil turns black when fried and called "chichoté". It is used as a seasoning for dishes with plantain, banana, rice and yucca.

In the Chocó region, and particularly in Quibdó, it is eaten much less due to competition from cheap, mass-produced oils. Less than a ton of oil is produced per year, as the raw material is difficult to find. It can be found at the market, but there are only four or five people left who sell it. This palm grows wild and is harvested primarily for family consumption. Sales of the oil have fallen significantly. Milpesos palm oil is at risk of disappearing because increasingly fewer people – including as a result of people moving to cities – are interested in harvesting the fruit in mountainous areas.

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