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The Superfoods of Brazil - Fruits of the Cerrado

April 12, 2021
Buriti Palm Tree

One of the highlights of a trip to Brazil are certainly the many exotic fruits of the country. If you keep an eye on the various juices and fruit stands at the markets during a round trip, you will quickly notice regional differences and discover true curiosities. Depending on the particular ecosystem, many native fruits are unknown and hard to find outside of Brazil. These include Cerrado fruits such as pequi, mangaba, baru, mutamba, aratikum, pitomba, jatobá, cagaita, buriti and murici.

The fruit and nut trees of the Cerrado savannah are hardly cultivated. They usually only grow in the gardens of the locals or are picked in the forest and sold at street stalls and weekly markets. Yet they are true superfood fruits, containing record amounts of trace elements and vitamins.

The food industry and nutritional sciences have discovered the richness of these products of the forest. Some of the fruits of Brazil, such as açai and acerola, can already be found in smoothies or as lozenges in the United States and Europe. But the range of Brazil's nature is immense. Due to increasing demand, the fruit and nut trees are increasingly planted in agroforestry and permacultures. However, the plants of the Cerrado generally grow very slowly, are sensitive to external influences, and supply chains are only established in isolated cases. Brazil travelers should therefore not miss this healthy and intense taste experience when they pass a street stall or market.

Pure Exoticism - The Buriti Palm

The Buriti palm is found in practically all of central Brazil and grows along river courses. In the Pantanal and the Cerrado, the mostly free-standing and up to 98 feet high (30 meters) palms are hard to miss. Wildlife watchers particularly appreciate the buriti, as parrots and macaws breed in the trunks.
The leaves and trunks are used for furniture and handicrafts. But a real treasure are the fruits of the Buriti palm. From the pulp of the fruit is obtained edible oil, which has a high content of vitamins A, B, and C. The same oil is also used medicinally for burns, as it has a soothing and healing effect. Besides, the pulp is widely used for making ice creams, creams, jellies, liqueurs, and juices with exotic flavors.

Baru - The Nuts of the Cerrado

The Baru tree has unfortunately been almost completely deforested in many areas due to its beautiful wood. But the full taste of the Baru nuts, which are usually roasted in salt, brings a more lasting appreciation to the tree. Approximately 0.8 to 1.2 inches (2 to 3 centimeters) in size, the elongated oval nuts are enclosed in a rock-hard shell that can only be cracked with proper tools. Baru nuts have a high protein content and are rich in omega-6 and 9, zinc, fatty acids, protein, fiber, minerals, and iron.

Pequi - Intense flavor

Pequi, the fruit of the Pequizeiro, belongs to the Cariocaceae family and grows throughout the Midwest region in the states of Rondônia, Minas Gerais, Pará, Tocantins, Maranhão, Piauí, Bahia, Ceará, and Goiás, where all species are native.
The strong, peculiar smell and taste are not for everyone, but once you learn to love pequi, you can't get enough of it. Pequi is traditionally eaten cooked, plain, or mixed with rice and chicken. Pequi oil can also be extracted from the pulp, which is used as a spice and in the production of liqueurs. Since pequi is rich in unsaturated oil, vitamins A, C, and E, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and carotenoids, eating it prevents tumors and cardiovascular problems and prevents the formation of free radicals. However, eating pequi requires caution, as there are countless tiny spines under the flesh of the fruit. One should therefore gnaw around the pit instead of biting it. In Tupi, the language of the indigenous people of Brazil, "pequi" means "prickly skin".

Pitomba - In native gardens

The pitomba tree is found almost everywhere in Brazil. It grows in the Caatinga, the Amazon, the Atlantic Rainforest, and especially in the Cerrado. The fruit is about 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) in size, has a brown, hard, but easy to open skin, and a fine, juicy sweet flesh that surrounds a large pit. The pitomba fruit is rich in vitamin C and can be eaten raw or made into liquor or juices.

Jatobá - The concentrated power of nature

Not only the noble wood of the Jatobá, which is used for furniture and the production of traditional canoes, is very valuable. The resin is used in the paint industry and the fibrous, dry pulp, bark, and seeds of the tree are also anchored in folk medicine in Brazil.
Jatobá has antibacterial, antispasmodic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, laxative, decongestant, diuretic, stimulant, stomachic, and expectorant properties. It is therefore widely used and recommended for the treatment of respiratory diseases (asthma, bronchitis, rhinitis), gastrointestinal problems (ulcers, gastritis, heartburn, reflux), urinary problems (cystitis and water retention), and kidney stones. One of the traditional uses of the indigenous people of Brazil is to take the seeds of jatobá before meditation rituals, because they believe that this helps to cleanse, balance, and calm the mind.
A powder or flour made from the fruit and bark is usually sold in markets. It is increasingly finding its way into society and is also popular as an additive to smoothies, cereals, or baking thanks to its subtle flavor.

Mangaba - Sour, fruity, fresh

The mangaba is a typical representative of the Cerrado fruits. It has a juicy, slightly milky, and sweet-sour flesh. The milk of the mangaba tree, which is extracted from the leaves and trunk, can also be used to make latex.
Mangaba pulp is usually bottled pure, frozen, and sold at street stalls. Because mangaba is very flavorful, only a fraction of pure fruit is mixed with water and sugar for juice production. However, the mangaba fruit also makes wonderful ice cream.

Mutamba - A medicinal plant of the forest

The Mutamba tree is a pioneer plant, grows fast and reaches a height of up to 49 feet (15 meters). The fruits are highly valued by humans and animals and are black and capsule-like when ripe. The entire inner part is woody, sweet, and edible. The fruits are crushed, made into candies, or used for liqueur production.
Mutamba is used medicinally to treat various health problems such as abdominal cramps, diabetes, gastrointestinal pain, high blood pressure, and hair loss. Teas, tinctures, or extracts can be prepared from the leaves, bark, and dried fruits.

Murici - Culinary specialty

Murici trees are common throughout the Cerrado region and in some Amazon regions, and the plant prefers sandy soil. The name means "small tree" in the Tupi language, but Murici can grow up to 65 feet (20 meters) high in good conditions. Murici fruits are small, orange, round, and are prized for the excellent flavor of the pulp. They offer enormous potential due to their nutritional properties and gastronomic possibilities, as Murici is rich in fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamins C, B1, and B2, and niacin.
The fruit is sold fresh from the tree but also processed in the form of juices, liqueurs, jellies, sweets. Murici also has medicinal properties and is considered anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.

See, Smell, Taste - Taste Experiences in Brazil

A visit to the Cerrado, the savannah landscape in the heart of Brazil and the second-largest biome in Latin America after the Amazon, is not yet on the list of classic desired destinations on a Brazil vacation. Also, the products of the forest and the exotic fruits of the Cerrado are hardly known so far, since they are mostly neither commercially cultivated nor industrially processed.
Brazil travelers can find these culinary curiosities most easily during overland trips in the interior of the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Goiás, Tocantins, and Bahia. The fruit is sold fresh from the tree or as a jam at roadside stands and in the markets of small towns. In restaurants and snack bars, the fruits are rarely on the menu, as they are usually only available seasonally.

Source: Árvores Brasileiras (3 volumes) by Harri Lorenzi.

Source: Aventura do Brasil