The pandanus nut epitomises several key principles that are important to Food Plants International. It is a very poorly documented, but highly valuable and valued nut tree from the very high altitude zone of Papua New Guinea, where people’s diets are vulnerable and malnutrition is rife. It may well have potential in other high altitude tropical regions.
The two main species that are used as food are Pandanus brosimus, which grows at very high altitudes above the limits of food gardens, and Pandanus jiulianettii, which grows near the food gardens in high altitude villages. There can be 25 – 35 different varieties of Pandanus in one region. It is a food with cultural, nutritional and food security value. Very little information has been published on this edible plant.
In some areas, people adopt a specialised ritual language when they go into pandanus groves. Amongst other things, this indicates that pandanus cultivation is a very ancient tradition. People are hesitant to give away certain varieties of pandanus nuts, as they are considered unique and linked with special sites on the mountainsides. A good pandanus harvest is an occasion for great celebration and the gathering together of scattered family members.
The pandanus head can weigh over 6 kg and contain about 1,000 individual nuts. An individual kernel can weigh 0.5g. An individual family may have 500 or more trees. As trees can yield 2 – 4 heads in a good season, it is a significant source of food for a family, and can be stored for many months or even a couple of years. With an energy content equal to root crops such as sweet potato or taro, and up to 14% protein, the pandanus nut can provide up to 500 kg of high energy, high protein non-perishable food, making it a major part of the diet for high altitude village people. It is also greatly enjoyed.