by Marta Szumiata
on September 18, 2020

Superfoods, part 1

Superfood – what does it actually mean Scientifically speaking, “superfoods” don’t exist. The term has been coined by savvy marketers to enhance excitement and sales of their product, and is generally used to refer to an ingredient that is rich in nutrients (fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc.) and presumably possesses health benefits.

Who created ‘superfoods’?

The term “superfood” goes back farther than you may expect, first appearing in the early 20th century during World War I. The United Fruit Company was looking for a way to promote their leading import, bananas, by convincing consumers of the fruit’s nutritious content. In addition to touting their prices, flavor, and nutrition, they also used the help of medical researchers who claimed their bananas helped to relieve celiac disease.

Superfood today

“Superfoods” began springing up like mushrooms as consumers eagerly sought out the products they thought to be most beneficial to their health. Although these foods do have some health benefits, it is important to remember that only a well-balanced and diversified diet can ensure the right amounts (and not too much) of any one nutrient. There is no organization in major consumer markets (USFDA/USDA/EFSA) that has an official definition of “superfood”. It is typically only used by large companies in order to boost their marketing results. In 2007, the European Union forbade companies from using the term unless they have specific scientific research to back their claim.

The list of superfoods is lengthy and still growing. Below, you’ll find an analysis of the flavor and aroma profiles of some of them. We will focus on the latest trends in berries: açaí, goji, acerola, and mulberry. They all share some common characteristics, like the aroma molecules that give floral, citrusy, green, grassy, and nutty notes resulting in a berry flavor.

Touching legend

Goji came from China, while the home of açaí is on the opposite side of the globe—the Amazon Rainforest. In the native language, Tupi Guarani (açaí) means “fruit that cries”. The berry is indeed full of liquid, but the name can also be attributed to its legend.

The origin story begins with a tribal leader called Itaqui. A long-lasting drought had caused starvation, and the tribe was at risk. The elderly members issued a decree that each baby would be sacrificed for the greater good. The edict was to include the chief’s daughter, Iaçá, and her newly-born son. Iaçá suffered unrelentingly. One night, she heard a cry of a child. It was her beloved son, smiling at a beautiful palm tree. When the mother went to hug her boy he disappeared, and she found herself hugging the tree. The woman spent the whole night there until she succumbed to her grief and died. Itaqui found her smiling daughter under a bunch of dark purple berries. He sampled the fruit, making the juice from it and discovered its nutritional value. He baptised it as a token of Iaçá, and reversed her name for the new food.

Açaí and goji applications

Goji is also called “Wolfberry” or “the happy berry”, and is so delicate that it can only be picked by hand. This is why it is only sold frozen, dried, or juiced. There are numerous ways to use this unique ingredient; start your day with a goji smoothie or porridge, or use it to enrich pancakes, scones, muffins, and other pastries. you can also add them to savory soups, stews, or roasts. In contrast, açaí has a very tough skin so it can’t be eaten raw. First, the berries are soaked until they have softened. Then they are usually mashed into a paste that is used as the base for special wines, drinks, sweets, jellies and ice cream.

In the northern regions of Brazil açaí is traditionally served as a main dish, while younger fitness enthusiasts use it as a source of energy in cereals and juices. Unfortunately, it is extremely prone to fermentation so it has to be processed every day as it can't withstand even 48 hours without spoiling. Therefore, the berry is exported as a powder, frozen purée or juice. As Brazilians say: “Without açaí, I’m still hungry”.

Flavor

Both goji and açaí have green/grassy aromas with notes of apple, which is also present in many other fruits including blueberry, plum, peach, papaya, grapefruit, date, strawberry and apple. Surprisingly, these aromas can also be found in cherry tomatoes, dill, roasted beef, and even smoked bacon.

Açaí is more floral with a honey-like taste and sweetness, due to 2-phenylethanol, a compound that also occurs in sourdough, Bourbon whiskey, and various types of beers and wines produced by ‘méthode champenoise’. Açaí pairs well with many kinds of tea such as Ceylon, Darjeeling, green, and white teas. It also gives refreshing, citrusy notes with faint hues of orange because of linalool – the volatile compound typical in many lemony spices and herbs like lemon balm, lemongrass or lemon verbena, ginger, Sichuan pepper, or coriander seed.

açai.jpg

On the other hand, goji berries have a green apple-like aroma and plum-like aftertaste, thanks to the combination of the fruity apple-like flavor combined with some citrus / orange-like, green / cucumber-like and flowery violet-like scents.

goji

Health benefits

Goji berry may also help in depression, calmness and sleep. Açaí possesses a rich amount of fatty acids (Ω-3 and Ω-6) similar to olive oil, and thus contributes to reducing the level of bad cholesterol (LDL fraction) and decreasing the probability of heart disease. It is suspected to produce an antibiotic which is helpful in fighting against Staphylococcus aureus and schistosomiasis, a disease that is transmitted by snails and affects more than ten million Brazilians.

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by Marta Szumiata
A confectioner, food technologist and culinary reenactor. Loving food, Marta is still exploring culinary world looking for new inspirations and bewildering dishes. She likes to try her created recipes on her family and friends, especially fermented ones

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