Canarium ovatum

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Pili nut (Canarium ovatum).jpg
Unshelled pili nuts from the Philippines
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Burseraceae
Genus: Canarium
C. ovatum
Binomial name
Canarium ovatum
Pilinuts (Canarium ovatum), dried
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy3,008 kJ (719 kcal)
3.98 g
79.55 g
Saturated31.184 g
Monounsaturated37.229 g
Polyunsaturated7.605 g
10.80 g
Tryptophan0.189 g
Threonine0.407 g
Isoleucine0.483 g
Leucine0.890 g
Lysine0.369 g
Methionine0.395 g
Cystine0.189 g
Phenylalanine0.497 g
Tyrosine0.381 g
Valine0.701 g
Arginine1.516 g
Histidine0.255 g
Alanine0.509 g
Aspartic acid1.222 g
Glutamic acid2.393 g
Glycine0.650 g
Proline0.471 g
Serine0.599 g
VitaminsQuantity %DV
Vitamin A equiv.
2 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.913 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.093 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.519 mg
Vitamin B6
0.479 mg
Folate (B9)
60 μg
Vitamin B12
0.00 μg
Vitamin C
0.6 mg
MineralsQuantity %DV
145 mg
0.958 mg
3.53 mg
302 mg
2.313 mg
575 mg
507 mg
3 mg
2.97 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water2.77 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA FoodData Central

Canarium ovatum (Bicolan: pili, /pˈl/ pee-LEE; Malay: kenari) is a species of tropical tree belonging to the genus Canarium. It is one of approximately 600 species in the family Burseraceae. Pili are native to maritime Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, and Northern Australia. They are commercially cultivated in the Philippines for their edible nuts and is believed to be indigenous to that country.[2]


The pili tree is a symmetrically-shaped evergreen, averaging 20 m (66 ft) tall with resinous wood and resistance to strong winds. It is dioecious, with flowers borne on cymose inflorescence at the leaf axils of young shoots. As in papaya and rambutan, functional hermaphrodites exist in pili. Pollination is by insects. Flowering of pili is frequent and fruits ripen through a prolonged period of time. The ovary contains three locules, each with two ovules; most of the time only one ovule develops.[3]

The pili fruit is a drupe, 4 to 7 cm (1.6 to 2.8 in) long, 2.3 to 3.8 cm (0.91 to 1.50 in) in diameter, and weighs 15.7 to 45.7 g (0.035 to 0.101 lb). The skin (exocarp) is smooth, thin, shiny, and turns purplish black when the fruit ripens; the pulp (mesocarp) is fibrous, fleshy, and greenish yellow in color, and the hard shell (endocarp) within protects a normally dicotyledonous embryo. The basal end of the shell (endocarp) is pointed and the apical end is more or less blunt; between the seed and the hard shell (endocarp) is a thin, brownish, fibrous seed coat developed from the inner layer of the endocarp. This thin coat usually adheres tightly to the shell and/or the seed. Much of the kernel weight is made up of the cotyledons, which are about 4.1 to 16.6% of the whole fruit; it is composed of approximately 8% carbohydrate, 11.5 to 13.9% protein, and 70% fat. Kernels from some trees may be bitter, fibrous or have a turpentine odor.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Pili is native to regions which include maritime Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines), Papua New Guinea, and Northern Australia.

Pili is a tropical tree preferring deep, fertile, well drained soil, warm temperatures, and well distributed rainfall. It cannot tolerate the slightest frost or low temperature. Refrigeration of seeds at 4 to 13 °C (39 to 55 °F) resulted in loss of viability after 5 days. Seed germination is highly recalcitrant, reduced from 98 to 19% after 12 weeks of storage at room temperature; seeds stored for more than 137 days did not germinate. Asexual propagations using marcotting, budding, and grafting were too inconsistent to be used in commercial production. Young shoots of pili were believed to have functional internal phloems, which rendered bark ringing ineffective as a way of building up carbohydrate levels in the wood. Success in marcottage may be cultivar-dependent. The production standard for a mature pili tree is between 100 to 150 kg (220 to 330 lb) of in-shell nut, with the harvest season from May to October and peaking between June and August. There are high variations in kernel qualities and production between seedling trees.

Most pili kernels tend to stick to the shell when fresh, but come off easily after being dried to 3 to 5% moisture (30 °C (86 °F) for 27 to 28 h). Shelled nuts, with a moisture content of 2.5 to 4.6%, can be stored in the shade for one year without deterioration of quality.[4]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Although they are grown as ornamental trees in many areas of the Old World tropics of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, Indonesia and the Philippines harvest and use it commercially. However, the latter's natives were believed to be the first to cultivate the aforesaid nut by boiling the pulp to make them edible.[5] It is also sold commercially in the United States of America under the Pili Hunters Brand.[6][7][8]

In Indonesia, it's mostly produced in the East.

In the Philippines, production centers are located in the Bicol region, provinces of Sorsogon, Albay, and Camarines Sur, southern Tagalog, and eastern Visayas.[9][10] The species is considered a flagship commodity of the Bicol region, the primary location of the pili nut trade.[10] There is almost no commercial planting of this crop; fruits are collected from natural stands in the mountains near these provinces. In 1977, the Philippines exported approximately 3.8 t of pili preparation to Guam and Australia.

The young shoots and the fruit pulp are edible. The shoots are used in salads, and the pulp is eaten after it is boiled and seasoned. Boiled pili pulp resembles the sweet potato in texture; it is oily (about 12%) and is considered to have food value similar to the avocado. Pulp oil can be extracted and used for cooking or as a substitute for cottonseed oil in the manufacture of soap and edible products. The stony shells are excellent as fuel or as porous, inert growth media for orchids and anthurium.

The tree's sap is also used for igniting fire, substituting for gasoline. Fresh saps were gathered from slashed tree trunk or shallow cuts, then gathered before it dries up completely.

Pili nut[edit]

Candied pili nuts from Camarines Sur province, Philippines
Pili brittle, made from Canarium ovatum nuts, sugar, and margarine.

The most important product from pili is the kernel. A testa (seed coat) is between the shell and the kernel.[2] When raw, its flavor resembles that of roasted pumpkin seed, and when roasted, its nutty flavor and waxy texture make it similar to the pine nut.[11] Research from the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines Los Baños, describes pili nuts of high quality as large, round kernel, and a thin pulp and shell. The contents should have a white pulp, high in protein and oils with mild nutty flavor.[12]

In the Philippines, pili is used in candies and brittle.[13]

In Indonesia, especially in Minahasa and Moluccas islands, the kernels are used for making cake, bobengka in Minahasan or bubengka in Maluku. Pili kernel is also used in chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods. The largest buyers of pili nuts are in Hong Kong and Taiwan; the kernel is one of the major ingredients in one type of the famous Chinese festive desserts known as the "moon cake".

The kernel is composed of about 70% fat, 11.5-13.9% protein, and 8% carbohydrate.[14] The light yellowish kernel oil is composed of about 44% oleic acid, 35% palmitic acid, 10% linoleic acid, and 10% stearic acid.[2] The pili nut kernal mineral content is highest in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium (in that order).[15] But high levels of phytic acid and tannic acid can prevent mineral absorption during digestion.[15]


Pili can be propagated by seed, marcotting, patch budding, cleft grafting, air layering, and inarching.[12][16] Germination by seed takes about 30 to 80 days, and in about three to four years, the sapling can reach a juvenile height of about 2 meters.[16][17] The trees are expected to start fruiting after 5 to 6 years from seedlings, reaching economic yield in the 10th year.[12][17] Though propagation by seedlings is most common, asexual propagation is becoming preferred, for production of more female plants, removal of the juvenile period, and uniformity of the genetics,[17][18] though to preserve genetic variability, seedlings are still created by sexual reproduction.[18] Marcotting and air layering are the simplest of asexual propagation methods for pili, though success can vary.[17] This issue comes from the branch unsuccessfully rooting after severing from the mother tree.[17] Commercially, in the Philippines, cleft or wedge grafting with defoliated budsticks is used with rootstocks in large containers or directly in the field during the months between November and February, when the weather is cool and dry. This has an average success rate of 85%.[17] Patch budding is found to be the most efficient for large-scale propagation work.[17] Similarly to cleft or wedge grafting, the rootstocks are well watered and fertilized and the defoliated budwoods are cultivated from young, actively growing trees.[17] This is also done in the months between November and February in the Philippines, having a success rate as high as 75 to 80%.[17]

Future prospects[edit]

The immediate concern in pili production is the difficulty of propagation. The lack of an effective clonal propagation method not only hampers the collection of superior germplasm but also makes it almost impossible to conduct feasibility trials of this crop. Pili cultivars such as 'Red', 'Albay', and 'Katutubo' were selected in the Philippines. The Department of Agriculture has been working to synthesize a tree that is commercially viable.[10] The National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Hilo, USDA-ARS, has initiated studies of in vitro and vegetative propagation for the multiplication and long-term preservation of pili. A recently released pili cultivar in Hawaii, 'Poamoho', may further stimulate the interest in this crop. Besides the desirable production and quality attributes, its kernels separate easily from the hard shell without the need of prior drying (30 °C (86 °F) for 27 to 28 hours).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Energy Development Corporation (EDC) (2020). "Canarium ovatum". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020. Retrieved 27 July 2020.)
  2. ^ a b c Pham LJ, Dumandan NG (2015). "Philippine Pili: Composition of the lipid molecular species" (PDF). Journal of Ethnic Foods. 2: 147–153. doi:10.1016/j.jef.2015.11.001.
  3. ^ Chandler, W. H. 1958. Evergreen orchards. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia.[page needed]
  4. ^ Coronel, R. E., J. C. Zuno, and R. C. Sotto. 1983. Promising fruits of the Philippines, p. 325–350. Univ. Philippines at Los Banos, College of Agr., Laguna.
  5. ^ Ronica Valdeavilla. "Pili Nuts: Why This Delicious Philippine Superfood Can't Crack the Health Food Market".
  6. ^ "Canarium ovatum Pili Nut PFAF Plant Database". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  7. ^ "About Us". Philagrivest. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  8. ^ "Sprouted Pili Nuts". Pili Hunters. Retrieved 2020-02-19.
  9. ^ "Organic Pili Nuts". Pili Nuts. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  10. ^ a b c Chavez, Esther Misa. "Fancy that pili nut!". Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  11. ^ Bicol, Trade Winds (2012-05-10). "The Pili Nut of Bicol, Philippines: "In a nutshell, it's perfect!"". Trade Winds Bicol. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  12. ^ a b c Nakamoto, Stuart Tadashi; Wanitprapha, Kulavit (1992). Pili nut. Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii.
  13. ^ Making Crispy Pili Nut candy the traditional Filipino way, retrieved 2020-02-20
  14. ^ Kukuda Y, Jahaniaval F, Umali J (2000). "Characterization of Pili Nut (Canarium ovatum) Oil: Fatty Acid and Triacylglycerol Composition and Physicochemical Properties" (PDF). Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. 77: 991–996. doi:10.1007/s11746-000-0156-8.
  15. ^ a b Millena CG, SagumRS (2018). "Philippine Pili (Canarium ovatum, Engl.) varieties as source of essential minerals and trace elements in human nutrition". Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 69: 53–61. doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2018.02.008.
  16. ^ a b Coronel, R. E. (2000, November). Collection, propagation and conservation of indigenous fruits in the Philippines. In International Symposium on Tropical and Subtropical Fruits 575 (pp. 211-219).
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i Coronel, R. E. (1994). History and current status of pili nut (Canarium ovatum) production in the Philippines. South Pacific Indigenous Nuts, 134.
  18. ^ a b Coronel, R. E. (1996). Pili nut, Canarium ovatum Engl (Vol. 6). Bioversity International.

Further reading[edit]

  • Coronel, R. E.; Zuno, J. C. (1980). "Note: The correlation between some fruit characters of pili". Philippine Agriculturist. 63: 163–165.
  • Coronel, R. E.; Zuno, J. C. (1980). "Note: Evaluation of fruit characters of some pili seedling trees in Calauan and Los Banos, Laguna". Philippine Agriculturist. 63: 166–173.
  • Mohr, E.; Wichmann, G. (1987). "Cultivation of pili nut Canarium ovatum and the composition of fatty acids and triglycerides of the oil". Fett Wissenschaft Technologie. 89 (3): 128–129.
  • Neal, M. C. 1965. In gardens of Hawaii. Bernice P. Bishop Museum. Special Pub. Bishop Museum Press.
  • Rosengarten, F. Jr. 1984. The book of edible nuts. Walker and Company, New York

External links[edit]