Move over açai, there’s a whole new superfood-world to discover in South America!
You’ve no doubt heard of the incredible health benefits of açai berries, quinoa and Brazil nuts, the three South America superfoods being among the most famous nutritional produce in the world. Yet set foot in the continent and you’ll be amazed to discover a varied range of superfoods that are yet to be discovered by the outside world. From vitamin-enriched corn of the high Andes to nutritious fruits that have been consumed in the Amazon since time immemorial, our pick of the best 5 superfoods you need to try when travelling to South America are just the tip of the health-food iceberg.
Here are some of the best health-boosters to discover:
1. Lucuma – Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador
This heavenly fruit and all its derivatives pack a vitamin and mineral punch that’s hard to pass up, especially given their low-sugar content. Grown in the high Andes, lucuma is commonly known as the ‘Gold of the Incas’ and you’ll find it on sale in farmer’s markets in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Given its awesome sweet flavour yet low glycaemic index, and not to mention the fact it’s jam-packed with vitamin B, antioxidants, iron and calcium, lucuma is a smart choice when you need a pick-me-up and makes for an excellent hiking snack. In all three countries, you’ll also find lucuma-flavoured ice cream, smoothies and fruit shakes served in local eateries.
2. Sacha Inchi – Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil
The Inca Peanut, found in the Amazon basin of South America, is one of the best vegan sources of Omega 3 fats and is often mentioned alongside flaxseed and chia. This native seed (which looks like a nut and has a unique aftertaste) is also found in Southeast Asia and is being heavily marketed worldwide currently, thanks to its impressive health benefits. The Inca Peanut boasts eight essential amino acids and eight grams of protein alongside one of the highest concentrations of plant-based fatty-acids ever discovered. Back home, you’ll find Sacha Inchi sold in powder form (to add to shakes and porridge) and in capsule form, although you can’t beat grabbing a handful at a local market whilst travelling in South America.
3. Camu Camu – Peru, Brazil
The camu camu berry puts all fruits to shame when it comes to its amazing content of vitamin C, the medium-sized berry packing an astonishing amount of nutrition, including antioxidants and phosphorous. This native Amazonian berry is highly prized and is even threatening to dethrone the world-renowned açai from its illustrious position as the best superfood in the world. Camu camu grows in thick shrubs alongside the riverbanks of the Amazon and is highly coveted for medicinal purposes, the potent antioxidants helping fight inflammations of the nervous system. Outside of the Amazon region, you’ll find camu camu sold in powder form yet head to the Peruvian and Brazilian regions of the rainforest and you’ll find it served up in freshly-squeezed juices.
4. Aguaje – Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia
Yet another Amazonian treasure is aguaje, widely marketed as the miracle fruit for women given its extremely high levels of plant-based estrogen. In South America, it’s called the ‘fruit of curves’! Estrogens aside, aguaje is also bursting with vitamin A, C, beta-carotene, protein and a bunch of antioxidants and healthy fats. In the Amazon region of South America, the extracted oil is used to heal burns, yet the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon in Iquitos is constantly finding new benefits of the use and consumption of the fruit. Aguaje is the name used in Peru, primarily, whilst the fruit is known as buriti in Brazil.
5. Purple Corn – Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina
If you’ve visited the Andean regions of South America before, you will surely remember seeing purple-coloured drinks and foods sold locally. Purple corn has been harvested here for thousands of years although only recently have its health benefits risen in the spotlight. Purple corn has been found to contain high levels of antioxidants (twice those found in blueberries) and its anti-inflammatory and blood-sugar lowering properties have propelled it into superfood stardom, almost overnight. In South America and Peru specifically, you’ll find the bright blue corn offered as chica morada, a sweet and very refreshing drink that’s served all over the country (alcoholic versions are also widely served).
Discovering new superfoods to try in South America is just one of the many highlights of a trip and including visits to local fresh produce markets is an absolute must. The whole continent is home to an abundance of healthy and nutritious foods, most of which have yet to be discovered by the rest of the world.
Just one more reason to explore South America
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”