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.
If you can’t find ramón powder at your local health foods market, you can order it through Amazon
Teeccino is one company using ramón seed in its beverages.
READ MORE ABOUT IT:
http://mayanutinstitute.org/ ( you can donate to their initiatives here)