“What the Forest has” (Part II): Culinary Exploration in Brazilian Territories of Socio-Environmental Diversity

Posted by Gregory Prang on

On Saturday, August 5, the “What the forest has” extravaganza at the Pinheiros Market in São Paulo offered tasting sessions organized around three Territories of Socio-Environmental Diversity from 3 biomes: The Rio Xingu basin, Vale do Ribeira (quilombolas) in São Paulo, and the Rio Negro Basin. Below we summarize the discoveries we made that day. Culinary Culture Connections hopes to introduce many of the products offered in the tastings in the near future.

The Rio Xingu Basin
Xingu Territories of Socio-Environmental Diversity (Source: https://www.socioambiental.org/pt-br/noticias-socioambientais/populacoes-tradicionais-da-amazonia-exigem-gestao-conjunta-de-territorios)

First was a tasting of foods originating from the Xingu River basin, representing two regions: the Xingu Indigenous Park in Mato Grosso and the extractive reserves of Iriri, Riozinho do Anfrísio and Xingu, in the state of Pará. The peoples of this area have deep historical relationships with the forest and rivers of the region and have endured many challenges to their traditional territories and basic civil rights, especially those associated with health, education, and lack of income generation alternatives. The examples of products provided visitors offer great opportunities to reach more consumers interested in preserving socio-environmental diversity.

One of the stars of the Xingu tasting was the honey from the bee species Apis mellifera, by the Xingu Indigenous Land Association (ATIX). The association involves 100 beekeepers from 39 villages of the Kawaiwete, Yudja, Kisêdjê and Ikpeng communities, all of the residents of the Xingu Indigenous Territory in Mato Grosso. On Sunday, September 17 in New York, ATIX received the Equatorial Award 2017 of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for the pioneering work on self-certification of an organic product and is branded “Honey of the Xingu Indians.” Since 2002, the Equatorial Award has been awarded to local groups and indigenous communities in rural areas who have developed innovative solutions to protect, restore or promote sustainable management of nature with a view to achieving local sustainable development, including food and water security, sustainable jobs and reduction of disaster risk. “Honey of the Xingu Indians” can already be found on the shelves of the Brazilian supermarket chain Pão de Açúcar, and is now primed to expand in Brazil and abroad.

We were really impressed with the sampling of Katamuto chili and Kisêdjê pequi oil. Katamuto chili powder is cultivated primarily by the Waurá, but other indigenous groups as well, and was well received by those who enjoy a little hot spice in their food.

Kisêdjê pequi oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory, is used to prevent liver diseases, and contains no cholesterol. Pequi is one of the fruits most appreciated in the traditional cuisine of the Cerrado (savanna) biome. It is harvested in Goiás, north of Minas, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. Chef Alex Atala serves rice with pequi oil as an accompaniment to chicken in his DOM restaurant.

Visitors also experimented with Farinha do babaçu (babassu flour), which was prepared in a delicious porridge with cocoa. Babassu flour can be used as an ingredient in baked goods as well. Although not on display, babassu oil also can be used in a variety of foods, and has a variety of health benefits: improving cholesterol levels, balancing blood sugar, increasing energy and boosting metabolism. It is used as a skin emollient, hair moisturizer and an ingredient in soaps.

Lastly, we were treated to cocoa nibs, perfectly toasted Brazil nuts and a drizzling of Brazil nut oil on whole grain bread. Brazil nut oil is cold pressed and has more selenium than any other nut oil. The oil is high in oleic and linoleic acids, plus vitamins A, E, C and D, copper, zinc, and phytosterols.  It has a slightly sweet and nutty taste, a very delicious, light oil for making salad dressings. It can be a good olive oil substitute with medium heat smoke point of 408°, ideal for sauteing.


The Vale do Ribeira (Valley of the Ribeira)

Vale do Ribeira
(Source: https://site-antigo.socioambiental.org/prg/rib.shtm)

The second tasting was composed of products from Vale do Ribeira that were produced by quilombolas (maroons), residents of quilombos which are settlements of descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves who escaped from slave plantations before abolition in 1888.

Offerings included light and crispy plantain chips, manioc flour, rapadura (panela in Spanish) made from unrefined whole cane sugar derived from boiling and evaporating sugarcane juice, and taiada.

Taiada is a traditional confection from the city of Caçapava, São Paulo. It is made from cane juice, with manioc flour and ginger, that gives it a distinct spicy flavor.

Several of the residents of the community of Morro Seco from the municipality of Iguape in the Vale do Ribeira came to entertain the visitors by performing a traditional dance of Fandango with pairs of men and women.

The Amazon
The Rio Negro Territory of Socio-Environmental Diversity
(Source: https://www.socioambiental.org/pt-br/mapas/bacia-do-rio-negro-uma-visao-socioambiental-2015-2a-edicao-portugues)
The Yamomami Territory of Socio-Environmental Diversity

The final tasting event represented indigenous peoples of the state of Roraima and the Rio Negro basin, in the state of Amazonas. Of all the products on display, only two are available to consumers in the market presently, the other novelties are still in development, and should be available soon. 

Already in production are Sanöma mushrooms and Pimenta Baniwa. One of the most anticipated tastings, was a consommé made by Alex Atala, and seasoned with tucupi preto (see below) and Pimenta Baniwa. The mushrooms are collected by Yanomami women in their gardens. The project is supported by the Instituto Socioambiental (Socioenvironmental Institute), Instituto ATÁ (ATÁ Institute), Restaurante Banzeiro, the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) and Hukutara. Chef Beto Bellini, who runs his restaurant, Le Garage, in Boa Vista in the state of Roraima, was the first to work with the Sanöma mushrooms, attracting attention from many renowned chefs, such as Alex Atala. The Sanöma Indians are part of the Yanomami ethnic group. They inhabit the region of Awaris, Yanomami Indigenous Land, in the mountain forests of the extreme northwest of Roraima. Hunters and gatherers, the Sanöma have a great knowledge about the biodiversity of their territory, including more than 13 species of mushrooms.


Pimenta Baniwa is the brand name for a blend of more than 70 local varieties of 5 species of Capsicum peppers known as jiquitaia.  The name jiquitaia refers to a small ant, whose sting burns. It is produced by the women of Baniwa communities of the Içana River (upper Rio Negro) and its tributaries and has been cultivated in their gardens using traditional, organic, and sustainable methods for centuries. Just in Brazil, there are 93 Baniwa communities, covering around 3 million hectares, participating in this network and now are organizing to share Baniwa peppers with other communities, including parts of Colombia and Venezuela. This huge diversity of pepper varietals is the result of local seed exchange networks developed over millennia, and an important component of the traditional agricultural system of the Rio Negro. The Baniwa people are excited to share a part of their culture by selling one of their most traditional aromatic condiments. This project is managed by OIBI (Indigenous Organization of the Içana Basin), which has also led the award-winning Baniwa Art Project.

Another from the region of the upper Rio Negro was the Uará nut (Parinari sprucei Hook.f., family: Chrysobalanaceae). The species is limited to the upper Rio Negro, in the state of Amazonas as well as the Colombian and Venezuelan Amazon, in upland or seasonally flooded forests. It grows from 20 to 30 meters high with a trunk of up to 60 cm in diameter. The nut is super tasty with a buttery flavor. It is similar to the Brazil nut, but not as crunchy, a bit smaller, and a little sweeter and oilier. It is used locally in tapiocas and porridges but has a great market potential for several culinary uses such as cakes, confections, and salads, as well as out of hand. Tapioca com Uará was also on display.

A product that we are really excited about, and is currently in development is tucupi preto or black tucupi. It is made after cooking traditional tucupi for hours and can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. With an umami flavor, although thicker and a little sweeter, it can serve as a substitute for soy and Worcestershire sauce. It can be used in the preparation of beef, pork, and chicken. It can also be used in the finishing or seasoning of fish or seafood. Chef Beto Bellini has even used it in desserts: Forest Gold, a dessert made from caramelized banana, Brazil nuts, tucupi preto, Sanöma mushrooms, and cumaru.” We think chefs in the US will love the variety of flavor profiles they would be able to create with this unique and distinct product.

We had eaten many times the sweet called bananada, made from plantain pulp and organic sugar. It makes an excellent, healthy snack, low in calories and high in carbohydrates and potassium. The probable origin of this traditional sweet occurred during colonial Brazil, where bananas that were very ripe were discarded by the plantation owners and given to the slaves, who used them in a variety of ways, including confections and sweetmeats. At the Event, we were treated to two fascinating variations of the snack, one flavored with açaí (Euterpe oleracea) and the other with tucumã (Astrocaryum aculeatum). Because açai is already well known and accepted in the US for its health and wellness properties, we’ll just say that it was simply delicious. The bananada was delicious and a serious culinary innovation, made with tucumã, the thin, mealy, orange mesocarp contains three times or more vitamin A than carrots. It is typically eaten raw or mashed into a thick beverage called vinho de tucumã (tucumã wine), or made into a delicious, nutty tasting ice cream seen frequently in Manaus, Brazil. The palm hearts of this spiny palm are appreciated by consumers throughout Brazil and abroad. Many indigenous groups burn the leaves as a source of vegetable salt. We can’t wait for these products to enter the market here in the US, not just because they are healthy, satiating snacks, but because they are unique and delicious.

The unique products from the Amazon continued with a sampling of puxiri (Licaria puchuri-major), pronounced pu-shiri. The seeds have the color of chocolate with the presence of a butter-like oil, which can be extracted by hot-pressing or by boiling in water. They are strong and aromatic, with a slightly acrid and pungent aroma similar to that of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans). In fact, puxuri is often referred to as Brazilian nutmeg. A strong antimicrobial, it is a commonly used Amazonian folk medicine to treat stomach problems such as heartburn, gastritis, and ulcers in the form of tea or a cold extract of dried, grated seeds (powder). It not only has medicinal properties but culinary uses as well, being used as tonic and stimulant and also to flavor foods. Puxiri is used variously for a finely grated addition to dishes for its anise/cinnamon/laurel flavoring. The dried seeds are grated like nutmeg, preferably at the time of use to keep the aroma intense and pleasant. In the form of powder, it is used as a condiment in sweet dishes (e.g., such as fine chocolates) or savory dishes (e.g., soups and chicken broth). It has similar uses to nutmeg. Freshly dried leaves are popularly used for tea in the Amazon.

Finally, we were introduced to massoca, a flour made of soft manioc that was soaked 3 days, very finely milled, and slowly roasted in a large warm griddle, typically used to make chibé (fermented massoca with water), Beijuzinho (dough made from manioc or tapioca, usually served in the form of a disc), as an accompaniment to meals.

Read Part I of "What the Forest has" here

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