My trip through Guatemala got me giving some serious thought to superfoods. Many of North America’s highly sought-after superfoods are indigenous to Latin America, but while roaming around the area I rarely came across the likes of quinoa, chia, acai or agave (other than in tequila). I’m no expert but I guess the irony of North America’s globalization of ‘super’ crops, which have thrived for centuries in Andean and Aztec regions, means they’re not as easily accessible in their natural habitat anymore. So local fare in Central America largely consists of white rice, beans, tacos (often flour based) and refined sugar – which don’t always mesh with type 1 diabetes and a sensitive gluten-rejecting system.
Nonetheless, my mission to find those neighboring nutrient-dense superfoods persevered and I stumbled upon a few praiseworthy grocers in Guatemala. The backpacker budget has taken a heavy hit on these occasions, but I’ve also been rescued during a few full day bus trips where gas station pit stops have only offered gluten-filled, sugar-loaded fuel.
In the charming town of Antigua , I came across a sweet little whole foods grocer called Organica which supplies 100% natural fruit juice (most juice varieties in Guatemala are on average 25% fruit / 75% sugar), as well as raw energy bars, gourmet rice chips, stevia extract and even Kombucha drinks.
A block away from Organica, I found the Pitaya Juice Bar which serves up some tasty green juice and fruit smoothies, as well as vegan lunch dishes. I almost signed up for the locals’ loyalty card.
In San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, I also discovered a teeny tiny shop called the Health Food Store, where vegan gluten-free quinoa cookies cost $5 Quetzals for 2 (roughly 60 cents CAD). I’m ashamed to say I’ve probably spent $5 CAD on a single gluten-free cookie back home.
While traveling back up through Flores, we met some U.S. researchers exploring the cultivation and manufacturing of the organic Mayan fruit ramon, which apparently grows in abundance throughout Mexico and Central America. Have you heard of ramon? I sure hadn’t, and I was pretty intrigued to learn more. A superfood is usually qualified by ancient roots, revolutionary health benefits, high nutrient content, and the notion that a small quantity will somehow deliver optimal wellbeing. So ramon pretty much fits this profile to a T.
I learned the nutty inside of these fruits can be consumed raw, roasted, powdered or steeped. Referred to as the Maya breadnut, ramon can be stored for up to 5 years, making it a practical and nutritious food source in droughts and developing countries. Ramon’s flavor is a fusion of chocolate and coffee, so it’s an ideal caffeine-free coffee alternative. Its nutritional score card is high when it comes to potassium, fibre, antioxidants and the stress-reducing amino acid tryptophan. Sounds promising right?
Interestingly, the company Teeccino Herbal Coffee promotes their ramon nut blend as America’s #1 coffee alternative, and they’re also in partnership with ForesTrade Guatemala. On an even bigger scale than our superfood aisles, the Rainforest Alliance has co-launched the world’s first ramon nut-based school lunch program in Guatemala called Healthy Kids, Healthy Forests, where roasted ramon nuts are ground into flour for baking nutritious school lunches. So after meeting these research dudes and learning more about ramon, it seems this ancient nut is emerging as a strong contender in the modern superfood race!
With the ebb and flow of popular superfood marketing campaigns in North America, could this be the new acai berry or chia seed? Keep your eyes peeled at your nearest Whole Foods for ramon – it might just be the next super(food) star to rise from Central America…