Fad or Future

Will the pili send health nuts, well, nuts?

It’s being backed by exercise-oriented adventurers, but could it have more widespread appeal?

11 January 2018
nuts and seedsingredientshealthnutrition
image credit: marekuliasz/iStock/Thinkstock

You’ve probably heard about the breakfast of champions, but how about the nut of adventurers?

We’re talking about the pili, a nut popularly cultivated in the Philippines. In recent years it’s been gaining traction in the US and UK, thanks to the efforts of a handful of companies headed by people who discovered the healthy foodstuff on their globe-trotting travels.

The nut is notably buttery – Vogue even went so far as to describe it as “plant-based foie gras” – and is touted as being relatively rich in potassium, magnesium, iron and vitamin E, as well as manganese, copper and good fats. This means it could have a positive effect on everything from bones and kidneys to cholesterol and inflammatory diseases.

And though scientific studies to verify these benefits are non-existent, that’s never stopped a so-called ‘superfood’ from blowing up before.

The nuts and bolts

Yiannis Thrasyvoulou, founder of UK-based Raw & Wild, was introduced to the pili in Singapore while teaching a movement workshop, prompting him to journey to the Philippines’ volcanic Bicol region to find the source. He describes the nut as “a cross between macadamia and cashew and almond,” adding that “the taste is very subjective. They’re not really like any other nut.”

Raw & Wild are stocked by Whole Foods, Planet Organic and Selfridges, as well as several other health-food stores, and come in five flavours: plain ol’ original, raw chocolate and coconut, chili, Himalayan pink salt and the achingly trendy turmeric and ginger.

The pili nuts are ‘activated’ (pre-sprouted), which is meant to make it easier for the body to absorb the nutrients.

While Raw & Wild are the most prominent sellers of pili nuts in Britain, over in the US, the head of the tribe is Hunter Gatherer. Founder Jason Thomas became acquainted with the pili while kite surfing in the Philippines. A self-described “outdoor endurance athlete,” his products are also pre-sprouted, and extend beyond a variety of flavours to include pili nut butter.

In addition to their potential as a butter, pilis can easily be transformed into a milk alternative, and a company called Lavva has already created a dairy-free yoghurt, stocked in select Whole Foods in the States from the end of last year. There’s also the possibility to turn pili nuts into a functional flour, and some companies have even employed it in cosmetics.

In with the new

The major appeal of the pili stems from its impressive nutritional profile and the desire for an exotic new nut. One recently launched company to get in on the pili game, Mount Mayon, specifically references its product’s origin in fertile soil with the slogan “volcanic: the new organic.”

Nuts in general are a nutrient-dense food. As registered nutritionist Dr. Laura Wyness notes, they contain a “variety of micronutrients and antioxidants, as well as healthy fats that benefit heart health, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

“Importantly, these effect seem to occur without undue weight gain.”

But manufactured nut drinks are dominated by the almond, plus a few cashew- and hazelnut-based ‘milks.’ (The notable exception is the tiger nut, which Rude Health began selling in supermarkets last year.) With the desire for free-from alternatives booming, there seems to be a space in the market for a new nut to crack.


Sparkie says:

Pili nuts have potential as a new ‘superfood,’ certainly added with birchers and yoghurts and things like that. If you think about where teff, the Ethiopian grain, was, I think pili has the potential to occupy a similar space. It’s also well suited to a ketogenic diet, because it’s low in carbs and high in fat.

Given its health benefits – it’s highly nutritious – it’s definitely one to watch. 

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