Fruit is a major food group in the Amazon with many of the delicious options coming so packed with nutrients they can easily qualify as superfoods.
One very popular superfruit in particular is aguaje.
Grown on a type of common palm tree, it is estimated that there are five million hectacres of aguaje found in the Peruvian Amazon alone. The fruit is especially popular in the upper Amazon jungle and is sold literally by the boatload in many Amazonian towns and villages.
Extremely healthy, with five times more vitamin A than a carrot and lots of vitamin C and E as well, this small fruit definitely helps balance out the smaller number of vegetables eaten in the Amazon.
Aguaje though is far more than just a fruit to the people of the Amazon.
The aguaje palm tree has been nicknamed the “tree of life” and the “mother of the forest” by various indigenous tribes. In addition to the fruit, Amazonian tribes collect the palm tree sap, use the fibers of the bark to make rope, and even eat a type of insect that burrow into the tree trunk.
The palm tree has been described by scientists as hosting its own little ecosystem of insects and birds and each tree holds three to five times more carbon than the average tropical plant.
While aguaje is a major part of the upper Amazonian native diet, it is not well known outside of the Amazon. It is imported and marketing by a few companies in North America but unfortunately, these companies have kind of missed the mark when it comes to the value of aguaje.
In the Amazon, lots of people eat aguaje but it is especially valuable and important to women.
Said to help regulate female hormones, aguaje is eaten by women trying to boost fertility, by breast-feeding mothers hoping to increase milk production, and by menopausal women to ease symptoms.
To North American marketers though, all this is boiled down into the tagline “big butt superfood.” Due to its ability to help regulate female hormones, some evidence suggests aguaje can also enhance a women’s secondary sexual characteristics, i.e. butt and breasts.
What a shame that such a significant and valuable Amazonian tree - the mother of the jungle - has been reduced to such a marketing gimmick.
Aguaje hasn’t found much of a market outside of the Amazon but perhaps that might be because we haven’t given the fruit or the tree its fair dues.
To take a product from an indigenous community - where it is held in such high regard, where myths and legends surround it, and where it is known to help so many people - and to turn that product into a quick fix, quick money pill is disgraceful.
Embracing a new culture through its food is not just about marketing a product or grabbing what you might see as valuable. It is about listening to the whole story.
Taking an ingredient, like aguaje, and not paying attention to the culinary heritage and stories behind that ingredient is just disrespectful.
Generations of native Amazonians have discovered and enjoyed the full value of aguaje. That knowledge, along with the fruit, could help many women around the world, whether they are trying to get pregnant or looking for natural relief from menopausal symptoms.
The next time you learn about a new exotic ingredient or superfood, think about the story you are being told.
Support companies that go above and beyond the marketing gimmicks. Look for people telling the whole story or at least giving a voice to the native people and farmers who have shared their products with the wider world.
Aguaje is enjoyed raw with a little salt, as a sweet drink (aguajina), or as a frozen treat in larger Amazonian towns where electricity and freezers are more common
3 cups (800g) agauje pulp
3 cups (700ml) water
1 cup (200g) sugar
Splash of lemon or lime juice
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour mixture into popsicle molds and freeze.
*As you are unlikely to find whole aguaje outside of the Amazon, you can alternatively use a few tablespoons of aguaje powder mixed in 6 cups water.