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Meet Ramón – the Maya Nut

Ramón: Breadnut, Ojite, Ojoche, Capomo, Jushte, Ash, and Ox… AKA the “Maya Nut”.


In 2014, when I travelled to Chiapas to see what I’d find there for Frutas y Verduras  I was hosted by a young couple who were working in a community in the rainforest of Chiapas as part of an NGO. The project was to make use of the seed from a tree they called ramón.

The fruit  and the seed from the tree were both edible, but the seed in particular was known to be highly nutritious, At times of famine it had been valued as a food source  but once the desperation for food was relieved, the process of drying, roasting and grinding them was more, perhaps, than local people wanted to do with this food they associated with harder times. Instead, the trees were being felled for lumber, an unsustainable practice that was endangering an eco-system where a great many foraging animals depended still on this tree for their food. Even, still,  some Maya locals were collecting not just the fruit, but the seeds themselves to eat with corn, either as a drinkable gruel (atole) or made into tortillas,  Since the early 2000’s, NGOs in Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua)had been working with communities to make best use of this resource, and, as this couple told me, it was important for Mexico to follow suit.



Thanks to Google, I was able to conclude that they were talking about the ‘Breadnut’, or ‘Maya nut’ tree. (Brosimum alicastrum). Although interesting, it didn’t fit my criteria for Frutas y Verduras as it wasn’t a fruit /vegetable that  the average traveller would likely stumble upon in a market setting and take home to cook or snack on, so I didn’t pursue it further.

The Bread from the Breadnut

Now 3+ years later, with a longing for some good bread, I wandered into Panaderia Rosetta*,  a bakery-cafe  in the Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City, and a mecca for all good things bready. There on the shelves, I sighted a hearty-looking round “peasant” loaf. Nut brown, with a sprinkling of oats on the top. My kind of bread. I asked what it was.

“Pan de ramón – un nuez de Chiapas”.

“It’s ramón bread – a nut from Chiapas”


I hadn’t thought about it since my visit with that young couple, so I was delighted to buy a loaf and taste what ‘ramón’ had to offer.

The bread from Rosetta was dense and chewy.  My first bite revealed a nutty and sweet earthiness that reminded me of the hot chocolate of Oaxaca.  Although it was described as a ramon and avena(oat) bread, it was made on a  base of wheat flour. However, ramon could  be well used in an assembly of ingredients for a gluten-free bread.

 

Reading up on it, I learned that this ramon powder, in addition to being used as an alternative flour,  is being added to teas and some coffee-alternative hot beverage mixes to add an earthy richness. Unlike coffee,however, it’s caffeine-free and is said to have a relaxing effect due to its content of the amino acid, tryptophan. According to the Maya Nut Institute, it’s even being used to add flavor (and nutrients) to beer.

 

 

Ramón’s Food Value

Ramón is not a ‘true’ nut, it’s a drupe, like a  plum, cherry, or almond. This means it does not contain the alkaloids or allergens that people with nut allergies react to.

Fat-free, gluten-free, ramón is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with 19 of 20 possible amino acids along with folic acid and proteins.

The seeds can be eaten fresh and, traditionally, when they are collected, they may be  cooked until soft and mashed – but as a food product for distribution they are more often dried and roasted after which they can be kept for up to 5 years without loss of nutrients.

 



To incorporate the flour into your baking, Refer to this RECIPE PDF FROM THE MAYA NUT INSTITUTE

 

 

 

For the communities where the tree grows, harvesting ramón is  accessible work for young and old – children can easily gather the fallen nuts which are easily split open to be processed into a usable food. With a supportive infrastructure for distribution, and a system to manage the forests to ensure that none are over-harvested, ramón, this “Maya nut” as you may see it called, is a sustainable food.  If you consider it, the common acorn is a similarly viable food source, one that native people in the northern parts of North America utilized, though Europeans never took to it as a food; it was left to the squirrels.

As many of us look upon our consumer food supply with skepticism, this is inspiration to look in our back gardens. After all,  foraging animals are one indication that a plant will be good to eat. Ramón is just one of many ingredients that are being “rediscovered”… naturally “organic” and an opportunity to sustain many.

 


TRY RAMÓN

If you can’t find ramón powder at your local health foods market, you can order it through Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Worldwide-Botanicals-Organic-Capomo-Masica/dp/B076L6WHJB

Teeccino is one company using ramón seed in its beverages.

 *if you are in Mexico City, Panaderia Rosetta (and its various outlets) currently offers Pan de Ramón on Fridays.

 

READ MORE ABOUT IT:

http://www.new-ag.info/en/focus/focusItem.php?a=424

https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/species/ramon-tree

http://mayanutinstitute.org/ ( you can donate to their initiatives here)

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Cooks in the Food System – Connecting the Dots

woman selling vegetables in a market in OaxacaAgriculture starts with seeds and ends on the plate. The cook stands in the middle. By influencing our food habits to become more respectful of family farmers, cooks have the potential to be great “shakers”.

~Phrang Roy
“Link biodiversity with the pleasures of food” by Janneke Brull

Article in full, here.

 

The Slow Food movement,  the 100-mile Diet, Monsanto and other agriculture giants – awareness of the many issues we face as eaters have, for years now,  influenced my choices any time I considered a recipe. Is it in season? (Living in Canada, the answer to that for 9 months of any year, would be no). How was it grown, what’s its carbon footprint… cooking is a responsibility.

As a cook in Mexico, it’s possible to go straight to the source, to cook and eat locally and responsibly. There’s almost always going to be a mercado or tianguis where you can go and buy your ingredients from people who are directly connected to where the food was grown or raised. It’s remarkably easy to stop supporting Big Agriculture.

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nabo or turnip greens

Get Your Greens!

nabo or turnip greensCraving Kale? Give Some of Mexico’s Local Greens a Try.

Kale has been, for a few too many years now, considered the superfood you must eat for good health. How that trend started, I have no idea, but be assured, there are other greens to rival it.  Sure, now, you can find it in Mexico, in part because big Agro grows it here in Mexico to meet the demand in US and Canada, and also because the Norte American buzz has created a demand among the food-conscious and affluent (ask an average Mexican about kale (kel) and it won’t register). But who needs it in this country where there were already plenty of fantastic, hearty, and just as “super” healthful greens to be had already?

So let’s leave (my gripes about) kale aside, for a moment, shall we?  “Hojas de nabo” (turnip leaves) are a cruciferous green that has been naturalized in Central and Southern Mexico and has become integrated over time into milpa plantings. When you buy this from a regional vendor there’s a very good chance it is grown organically (versus kale from the supermercado) as the milpa is a healthy, biodynamic and sustainable system.

Flor de nabo is easy to recognize by its little yellow flowers. Pictured with it, to the right, malva (mallow)

“Nabo” means turnip, of no specific variety, and along with collards and broccoli rabe (rapini) are all of the same family.

When you refer to ‘Hojas’ de nabo’, you emphasize the desire for the leaves… likely a vendor will understand that to mean the type in the main photo with wide leaves more akin to collards.  But by putting the word “Flor” in front of “nabo” (as in, flor de nabo) you can expect the flowering type like broccoli rabe with small yellow flowers, inflorescence like broccoli, and juicy stems.

As “naming” is largely a concept that is agreed upon, it can always happen that in any particular region, farmers have come to know their plants by certain names that may not follow conventions. Just be sure to ask  ¿es para comer o para pájaros?  (Is it for eating, or is it for birds?) If it’s for eating… just take it home and cook it as you would any other green. It’s all good!

 

 

 


Find out more about this and more than 50 other regional fresh ingredients of Mexico….

Frutas y Verduras – The Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico, is your handy digital “field guide” . Now available on iTunes and Kobo stores (Android, Windows and iOS using Kobo reading app)

 

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Super-Fruit from a Cactus – Garambullo

Think you are seeing blueberries?

Think you are seeing blueberries? Nope, these are garambullo,  one of many cactus fruits enjoyed by locals in the central parts of Mexico. Like other  red-purple-blue fruits such as cranberry, pomegranate and blueberries, the pigment indicates high levels of anthocyenins which is among those flavonoids highly recommended for good health.

Wait…what are flavonoids again?

Just think about eating a broad spectrum of color – each colour group plays a role in protecting your body’s cells against disease and boosting function of organs. This particular red-blue family is understood overall to be anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial; for guarding the  liver against damage, reducing blood pressure, improving eyesight. And if you have heard before of “free radicals” these anthocyanins scavenge for them. Feel better? You should– free radicals are troublemakers; un-paired molecules that float around damaging  healthy cells which, in the worst case scenarios, leads to cancer and heart disease.

Now that you know ‘why’, let’s talk about ‘how’ to enjoy garambullo fruits.

When you are in parts of Central Mexico (from Queretaro, north to San Luis Potosí, generally) where cactus dominate the landscape, you’ll find garambullo in season in May. It’s a short season, but the harvest is frozen, so thereafter you can find it … well, until it runs out. As a paleta (popsicle) or nieve (fruit sorbet) it’s absolutely delicious. Slightly blueberry, a bit of grape or raspberry to the flavor, and a color of technicolor magenta. . While there will be added sugar, there is not much–the fresh fruit flavor is allowed to shine through and the little seeds just slip down your throat easily. You could easily justify it as a ‘not-so-guilty- pleasure’.
Right now, I am experimenting with using it to make a  naturally fermented fruit vinegar. You can follow any standard recipe you like.
Try this link for some ideas
http://www.instructables.com/id/Fruit-Vinegars/
Any thoughts on other ways to use these special fruits?  I’d love to hear your ideas!
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Aliens in Chiapas?

It looked a lot like an alien invasion –’Day of the Triffids’ comes to mind. Enormous mounds of  golfball-sized hairy red fruits, like peculiar creatures– swarmed the area around the market of San Cristóbal de las Casas in chariots wheeled around by local vendors. Rambutan is a fruit I was familiar with from Asian markets  but for a moment,  I was confused: Was it native to Mexico and I’d thought it was Asian?
In fact, no; The climate of the Soconusco region of Chiapas is well-suited to growing these and other exotic fruits of Southeast Asia. In the mid-1980s, Alfonso Pérez Romero, a Mexican specialist in botany, brought seeds,  collected in Asia, of rambutan and other exotic fruits, recognizing  the great demand by about 10 million Asians living in the United States (and Canada), not to mention the Asian population in Mexico itself.
It’s turned out to be a worthwhile commercial effort–  thousands of tons of fruits are exported to the US each year, and its flavor is reported to be superior to the rambutan imported from SE Asia.
What was interesting to me was the flood of these into the streets of San Cristóbal. The trees must certainly be thriving, considering it’s only 30 years since the start of the efforts to establish them, and given the  interruption by Hurricane Stan in 2005. After that storm, some of the exotic fruits that were part of the original project perished, but the rambutan thrived. It must be hardy, indeed, and my first question, then, is – is it invasive? And – what plants might be threatened by it?
More recently, however, another question came to my mind when I came across an article about  a mysterious illness in India causing children to die suddenly  – about 100  each year reported for 20 years (how many unreported deaths and over previous years?) . New research, published in the medical journal The Lancet suggests they were poisoned by a toxin contained in lychee fruits:
“Most of the victims were poor children in India’s main lychee-producing region who ate (lychee) fruit that had fallen on to the ground in orchards”
rambutan fleshLychee contains hypoglycin, a toxin that prevents the body from making glucose. Ackee fruit contains the same toxin and similar illnesses, though rarely fatal,  have been reported in the Caribbean. Rambutan contains the very same toxin as both these fruits.  In India, once health officials had a grasp of what was happening, and were able to deliver advice to parents  that they should ensure young children got an evening meal and not eat too many of the lychees, the number of reported deaths dropped dramatically.
What about the children of Chiapas, Mexico? This new fruit is a novelty: sweet, refreshing and fun to eat. In this state where there is poverty and illiteracy, where this fruit  has not been tested by centuries of traditional wisdom,  it’s not a stretch to think that there may be not a few children who come upon these fruits and fill their little tummies.  Has this information of the potential harm it can do reached those families who grow, harvest and sell this fruit? It’s fortunate that the native subsistence foods of corn and beans are ubiquitous and abundant where this alien fruit is grown.
Perhaps rambutan has been good for the economy of this region of Chiapas, but there’s always  more to consider when it comes to agriculture and food supply.
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READ MORE:
Following articles are in Spanish:
http://www.radioformula.com.mx/notas.asp?Idn=351169
https://www.elheraldodechiapas.com.mx/republica/temen-productores-que-trump-rechace-exportacion-de-rambutan-de-chiapas/
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