Most have been highly localized and, until recently, not readily available to the public. Times are changing. The opening of world markets has made these rare products more widely available.
Consumers concerned with health and wellness are looking for natural foods that control free radicals, contain antioxidants, taste great and are organic. Health conscious individuals look to foods ones containing high vitamin and mineral content as well as high Omega and essential fatty acids. Exotic plants, fruits and berries provide low calorie, great tasting supplements with major health benefits. Let’s explore a few of these “superfoods.”
Fertile coastal regions of South and Central America harbor a wonderful palm tree known as the Acai Palm (pronounced asa’i) with excellent nutrients to be reaped. The palm hearts from the saplings of this species (Euterpe oleracea) are used widely in salads. They are very similar to those so common in oriental cooking. The large fronds of older palms are used to make roofing materials, clothing and fan blades.
The most important part of this palm, however, is the humble 1 inch round fruit. This berry looks like an oversized blueberry and has been described by many to taste like blackberries with a hint of chocolate. Yum! The Acai berry has a thin, dark purple skin and an extremely juicy inside, much like a grape. It surrounds a large, hard seed similar to that found in an olive. Acai berries are used locally as additions to cereals, eaten raw, or used in juices and teas. Berries shipped outside of local regions are generally available as ingredients in healthy juices.
This berry contains Omega-6, Omega-9 and nearly all other essential fatty acids that decrease incidents of cancer and cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks. Other benefits include a bolstered immune system and general good health. In addition, one serving of Acai contains protein equivalent to one egg.
Another important emerging berry is the Goji, or Chinese Wolfberry, which has been considered both a nutrimental food and a medicinal plant in Asian cultures for over 1900 years. The Goji berry is dried and eaten as a snack food or used in cooking. The Tibetan or Himalayan Goji is the most sought after and claimed to be picked only in the wild.
With the emerging emphasis on organically grown foods, China has implemented an organic growing program. Commercially grown Goji berry prices are beginning to come down while quality remains high. This makes them an excellent choice for people on the go who want to have healthy snacks at hand.
The pomegranate is probably the ugliest fruit on the outside and the most beautiful on the inside. The leathery red/brown outside holds small fruits resembling fields of rubies mixed with honeycombed inner passages. Many a child has sat for hours extracting the jewel-like seeds for their amazing flavor. A native of the tropical regions, this fruit is probably the best known of the exotic fruits. Its antioxidant properties have taken a back seat to its wonderful taste. Pomegranate juice tastes a bit like sweet ripe cherries, and the concentrated juice has been widely used in tropical drinks. Only recently have studies been done that show the incredible powers of this fruit in reducing health risks.
All fruits, berries and vegetables have great nutritional and food value. For people on-the-go who want to maintain the 5-8 servings of antioxidant foods per day, exotic berries, including Acai berry supplements, are a good snack choice. They contain up to five times more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable, including much touted prunes and raisins.