The Maya rainforest remains one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, second only to the Amazon rainforest. We tend to think of ancient rainforests as virgin forests, untouched by human hands. It might be more appropriate to think of the Central American rainforest as The Garden of the Maya, because the Mayans found numerous ways to utilize its incredible diversity. Studies have shown that 90% of the plants found in the rainforest are useful to humans, and there is evidence to suggest the Maya nut was an important food source for the Mayans.
You may have never heard of the Maya nut. This nut grows on a tree (Brosimum alicastrum) indigenous to central and southern Mexico and Central America. Commonly called ramón or breadnut, the Maya nut is believed to have been a food staple of the Maya civilization dating back thousands of years. Now it is part of a revival effort helping to feed the hungry throughout this region.
Indigenous people in Mexico and Central America roast the nuts and then grind them to varying degrees of coarseness. They mix it with cinnamon to make a healthy tea drink, and children love it for its chocolaty flavor. The tea contains traces of tryptophan, which is great in the evening for helping children relax and get a good night’s sleep.
The Maya nut is a superfood, high in antioxidants, fiber, calcium, potassium, folic acid and vitamins A and B. It is also a good source of complete protein with a chemical structure similar to that of red meat. With additional minerals like iron, it is a healthy nutrient for pregnant women and helps lactating women produce more milk.
Many indigenous people in Mexico and Central America have barely enough food to avoid chronic hunger. The Maya nut is now being cultivated as a food source that is nutritious and sustainable. There is the temptation to sell Maya nuts to industrialized countries where many people seek its nutritional benefits. However, the profits from sales of the nuts alone are insufficient to replace the food needed to maintain a healthy diet. Efforts are underway to provide refined products like tea and flour for sale to industrialized countries because sales of these items provide significantly higher profits.
Cecilia Sanchez Garduño, PhD, the featured speaker at a recent meeting of the Newcomers Club of Cuernavaca, is a doctor of botany. At this meeting I was able to taste a sample of a snack cake she shared with us, and it was delicious! It reminded me of gingerbread. Her years of work both with the Maya Nut Institute¹and on her own have benefitted hundreds of rural and indigenous women and helped them form numerous businesses to produce and market Maya nut products and to teach workshops to other women.² Anyone interested in learning more of her work and how to help can contact her via email at email@example.com.
³ Photo credit: Maya Nut Institute
⁴ Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons