What Are Hearts of Palm, and How Do You Cook with Them?

published Jul 31, 2023
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2 cans of hearts of palm, one from Native Forest, one Sprouts brand
Credit: Alyse Whitney

My official introduction to hearts of palm happened by accident. Well, actually my friend Lauren’s grocery accident, where her husband, Chris, bought hearts of palm instead of artichokes for a dinner she was making. She pivoted and ended up searing them like scallops in a garlicky red wine reduction — even though she said they didn’t taste like scallops, they’ve become a go-to side dish that transforms a simple canned vegetable. As she told me this story, I realized I knew the ingredient by name but didn’t truly know what hearts of palm were, what they taste like, or really how to cook with them. So off to the store I went to experiment.

Quick Overview

What Exactly Are Hearts of Palm?

Hearts of palm come from the edible inner core of certain varieties of palm trees, such as coconut, peach, and palmetto, which grow throughout Southeast Asia, South America, and Central America. Hearts of palm are commonly sold in cans, in small, white tubular pieces. The vegetable is often praised for its nutritional value and is considered a good source of protein and an alternative to high-carb ingredients. Hearts of palm are also said to taste similar to artichokes and are commonly used in place of pasta and proteins like fish, seafood, and poultry.

Credit: Alyse Whitney

What Are Hearts of Palm?

Hearts of palm are the heart or the edible inner core of some palm trees — including açai, coconut, juçara, peach, and palmetto — that grow across Southeast Asia, South America, and Central America. The white, log-shaped vegetable is considered extremely nutritious, given its high levels of fiber, potassium, and iron. Hearts of palm are also a good source of protein, which has made them a popular meat replacement for everything from “calamari” to “pulled pork” — similarly to the way jackfruit is cooked. Because hearts of palm are also low in carbohydrates, they’re also commonly used as an alternative to pasta.

Credit: Alyse Whitney

Where Do You Buy Hearts of Palm?

Most major grocers sell hearts of palm in cans or glass jars, suspended in salt water. Fresh heart of palm is difficult to find because it spoils quickly — I searched four grocery stores to see if I could track it down to no avail. However, many stores do sell two types of hearts of palm: can-length cylindrical pieces and “salad cut” cubes. Stores like Trader Joe’s and brands like Palmini sell hearts of palm “pasta,” which are cut to mimic traditional pasta noodles. 

What Do Hearts of Palm Taste Like?

Fresh out of the can (you can eat them raw or cooked), hearts of palm have a slightly nutty, vegetal, and overall neutral flavor. They look a bit like logs of Korean rice cakes or strangely smooth mozzarella sticks, and appear quite firm but are tender-crisp in texture. The flavor is similar to an artichoke heart or white asparagus, and can swap in for either of those ingredients in many dishes.

Credit: Alyse Whitney

How Do You Cook with Hearts of Palm?

The most prevalent use of hearts of palm is used as a crunchy element in salad, and in recent years it’s even been turned into a low-carb pasta option (Trader Joe’s sells hearts of palm pasta). They can be sliced into coins and seared like scallops, braised like leeks, whipped into a creamy or chunky dip (hummus-ish or a new twist on spinach-artichoke dip).

I recommend rinsing them before prepping to eat raw or cooked, which gets rid of excess saltiness and any weird can flavors. Just make sure to dry them thoroughly, as they hold onto water like a sponge and that’ll make it harder to crisp them up.

As a meat replacement, hearts of palm have also been transformed into crab cakes, lobster rolls, calamari rings, ceviche, and carnitas. The vegetable is most often shredded to imitate seafood or pulled meat, similar to how jackfruit is used by many vegetarians and vegans. 

Credit: Alyse Whitney

My favorite way to use hearts of palm — after much experimentation — is as “heart fries.” The salad-cut hearts of palm look like cubed potatoes, so I treat them like a low-carb potato and make home fries! I toss the cubed HOP (fun acronym — let’s make it catch on!) with olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt, paprika, and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Then I let them cook over medium-low heat undisturbed until golden-brown on one side before adding chopped onions and a bit more olive oil and letting it all cook together until the texture is tender yet still toothsome. I do find that the dish needs some brightness, acidity, and balance, so I’ve taken a cue from gamja-bokkeum, a Korean stir-fried potato banchan (side dish), and add some soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, scallion greens, and toasted sesame seeds at the end.