In previous posts, Flavors of Brazil has talked about some of the food products of this regions, principally fruits such as açaí and guaraná which have important cosmetic and medicinal properties in addition to their culinary importance. Such fruits, which have valuable nutritional properties, are sometimes known as "superfruits" for the multitude of beneficial properties they possess. Outside Brazil, the two fruits mentioned above are the most well known and have become nutritional buzzwords in North America and Europe.
In the same rain forest where açaí and guaraná grow there is another species of palm tree, the Mauritia flexuosa, which provides a large variety of economically, culturally and nutritionally valuable products, but which is much less known outside Brazil. It's English name is moriche palm, but it Brazil it's called buriti. This beautiful palm tree grows in swampy and flooded areas in the rain forest, and it is the source of numerous useful products:
1. The fruit of the tree. Rich in vitamins A and C with high levels of calcium, iron and protein, buriti fruit is traditionally eaten fresh, but is also turned into sweets and juices, flavors popsicles and ice cream, cooked in desserts, and is an important source of animal nutrition.
2. Oil extracted from the fruit. This oil is rich in carotene, and is used in traditional medicine as a vermifuge, to encourage healing of wounds and burns, as a source of physical energy, to tan and soften leather, and as a cosmetic, providing color and aroma to a number of creams, shampoos, and soaps. There is also anecdotal evidence that it has sun-blocking properties.
3. Palmito (hearts of palm). The buriti palm can be harvested at a young age and the growth point eaten as hearts of palm.
4. Wood. The tall tree is a good source of high-quality lumber.
4. Fibers from the fronds. These are used to make ropes, thatched roofs, hammocks, mats, baskets, toys and other artisanal products.
In Fortaleza, my Brazilian hometown, I've never seen fresh buriti at the markets. I only know the flavor through jams and preserves, and though my personal favorite, buriti ice cream. My local ice cream store, located on the city's seafront promenade, has many, many flavors of ice cream. It's always a difficult choice for me to make when deciding on which flavor to order, but more often than not, I go back to buriti. I should probably try something new and untested, but since buriti is delicious, AND good for you, why not?