Friday, July 15, 2011

Three New Products added to Slow Food Brasil's Ark of Taste

The Ark of Taste, just one of the many projects of the international Slow Food movement, is an international catalogue of heritage foods in danger of extinction. Traditional crops, methods of cultivation or production, or wild food sources are identified by Slow Food as food practices threated with extinction and worthy of preservation. Once a food item enters the Ark of Taste Slow Food members work to ensure that the item is nurtured and preserved and that it doesn't disappear in our increasingly homogenous 21st century world.

Flavors of Brazil has previously highlighted some of Slow Food Brasil's entries into the Ark of Taste - the small green fruit called umbu, and the colossal Amazonian fish piracuru. There are also 22 additional products in the Brazilian Ark, including three that were just recently confirmed by Slow Food International upon the request of Slow Food Brasil.

The three new entrants bear the impenetrable names of piracuí, jatobá and maracujá da Caatinga . Faithful readers of this blog and anyone who's been to Brazil is likely to recognize the word maracujá. It's the Portuguese word for passion fruit, but the other two words most likely draw a blank. So what exactly has just been granted access into the Ark of Taste? Let's find out.


piracuí
This is one of the more unusual entries in the entire list of Brazilian Ark of Taste Products. It's a type of flour. What makes it unusual is that the flour is made from fish. Piracuí comes from the Amazon and is a traditional method employed by the residents of the forest, the ribeirinhos, to preserve the bounty of the wet season for use during the long months of the dry season when many of the smaller rivers and streams of the forest dry up.  To make piracuí the ribeirinhos sun-dry small fish which they've netted in the river, and then grind these tiny fish to make the flour.


jatobá


Here we have another flour used by indigenous populations. This time though the flour comes not from fish but from the fruit of an enormous hardwood tree whose habitat is the dry savannah known as the Cerrado. The  tree can grow up to 130 ft (40 m) high and can live for hundreds of years. It is a valuable source of hardwood for furniture making and for flooring, but it's the seeds of its fruit that have earned it a place in the Ark of Taste. These seeds are ground into flour by natives of the Xingu tribal family. The natives use the flour to toast simple cakes and breads over open fires. Jatobá seeds and flour have a strong characteristic aroma which is highly appreciated by the natives, but which many others find extremely unpleasant. Which might explain some of the English-language names for the  tree - stinktoe, stinking toe and old man's toe. It's said though that the taste of the flour is sweet. This combination of strong, offensive odor and sweet taste is something that the  shares with Asian durians.
maracujá da Caatinga


Passion fruit (maracujá in Portuguese) is a native Brazilian species of fruit that has spread around the globe and is appreciated in tropical climates, where it flourishes, and non-tropical climates, where it's a highly valued import. The maracujá da Caatinga is a related species of fruit which grows wild in the region of north-eastern Brazil called the Caatinga. The Caatinga is a harsh, semi-arid landscape that is suitable for raising cattle and goats and very little else. The maracujá da Caatinga often grows spontaneously at the edges of pastures and communal feed ranges and has been loved by local ranchers and farmers for hundreds of years. The fruit of the  is highly flavored, with a strong perfume. Both the taste and the aroma are reminiscent of honey, and the taste of the fruit is denser, sweeter and more acidic than the fruit of the cultivated . Maracujá da Caatinga, like all varieties of this family of fruits, has a tranquilizing and relaxing effect on humans and inhabitants of the Caatinga rely on this property as an aid to sleep.

Like their cousins on the Brasilian Ark of Taste, these three heritage foods are threatened by encroaching populations, loss of habitat and all too frequently, lack of interest in preserving them. Once a food has been identified as a threatened heritage by inclusion in the Ark of Taste, the next step is the implementation of something called a Presidium, an organized development plan to preserve and protect the food. Let's hope that these three very unusual foods move quickly into the shelter provided by a Slow Food Presidium.

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