FOODS     TOOLS     ABOUT        

10 South American Superfoods to Try

Published: October 3, 2018

10 South American Superfoods

Foods like acai, maqui, quinoa and maca may be relatively new to the global health food market, but Latin Americans have been harvesting and eating these and other nutrient-dense superfoods for a long time. Here are 10 superfoods that have a long history of use in South America and that are now also readily available in many North American and European health food stores, typically in powdered form.

1. Acai Berry

Acai berries, which are among the most famous superfood berries cultivated in South America, are famous for their exceptionally strong antioxidant properties. Indeed, research suggests acai berries have even stronger antioxidant properties than blueberries. The potential health benefits of acai berries range from prevention of age-related diseases to anti-diabetic and cardioprotective effects.

How to use: Buy unsweetened frozen acai puree from Whole Foods or online, and blend it with a banana to create the perfect base for a smoothie bowl. Or, mix a teaspoon of acai powder into your favorite smoothie for an antioxidant boost.

2. Acerola Cherry

Not to be confused with acai, acerola is the red fruit of a small tree native to Central and South America. Because of its extremely high vitamin C content, this sour-tasting fruit frequently lands on superfood lists showcasing vitamin C rich foods. Indeed, fresh acerola cherries have been reported to contain up to 1,357 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams (3.5 ounces), which is about 25 times the amount of vitamin C found in oranges.

How to use: Acerola powder, which can be purchased in many health food stores as well as online, makes a healthy addition to smoothies, energy bar recipes, bread doughs, and pureed soups. Like other foods rich in vitamin C, acerola powder can also be used to improve the bioavailability of iron from plant sources like spinach or moringa.

3. Maqui Berry

After being overshadowed by the acai berry for years, the maqui berry is finally gaining popularity among superfood fans, and rightfully so: this South American berry is supercharged with antioxidants. In fact, an in vitro study that compared the antioxidant activity of acai vs maqui berries found that maqui berries generally had even stronger antioxidant properties than acai berries.

How to use: Available at well-stocked health food stores as well as online, maqui powder can be used to boost the antioxidant properties of smoothies, sauces, homemade energy bars, and breakfast dishes like oatmeal and yoghurt.

4. Maca Root

Next up on our list of top South American superfoods is the maca root. This turnip-resembling vegetable may look unassuming, but it is packed with a whole slew of nutrients and phytochemicals that have health-giving properties. For example, maca is loaded with hair health promoting nutrients such as calcium, zinc, iron, copper and B vitamins, and there is some evidence suggesting that maca may help boost fertility.

How to use: Widely available in health food stores in North America, maca powder can be used to boost the nutritional value of both sweet and savory recipes. The flavor of maca goes particularly well with cacao, which makes maca powder a great addition to everything from hot chocolate to raw food chocolate bites.

5. Camu Camu

The camu camu fruit is a small, orange-red fruit that grows on a bushy riverside tree in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil. Given the exceptionally high levels of vitamin C in camu camu – more than 40 times the vitamin C of oranges and more than 20 times the vitamin C of the kiwi fruit – it is not surprising it frequently pops up on superfood lists. In fact, when it comes to providing vitamin C, it seems that the camu camu fruit even beats the kakadu plum which was once touted as the world's best natural source of vitamin.

How to use: Some of the best ways to use camu camu powder include mixing it into smoothies and salad dressings, adding it to energy bar recipes, and incorporating it into frozen desserts. Vitamin C rich superfood powders such as camu camu or acerola powder can also be used to boost the action of yeast in baking.

6. Inca Peanut

Chia seeds and flaxseeds may be the best known food sources of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, but there are also many other foods that are supercharged with this plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. The Inca peanut, for example, is loaded with health-protecting ALA. Better known as sacha inchi in Latin America, the Inca peanut is a nut-like seed that has been cultivated and used in South America for thousands of years, but that has only recently started to gain attention from health-conscious consumers in the rest of the world.

How to eat: The easiest way to reap the health benefits of sacha inchi is to get a bag of roasted sacha inchi seeds, and eat them out of hand as a healthy snack.

7. Quinoa

There are a lot of superfoods that hail from Peru, with quinoa being perhaps the most famous of them all. Naturally gluten-free and a great alternative to grains or rice, quinoa owes its superfood status to the high levels of B vitamins and minerals it contains. Quinoa, especially red quinoa, is also an excellent source of flavonoids, compounds with strong antioxidant properties.

How to use: Cooked quinoa is great as a side dish, in salads, and even as a substitute for oatmeal at breakfast.

8. Kaniwa

Kaniwa is native to the Andean region of northwestern South America where it has been a staple crop for millennia. This grain-like seed is closely related to quinoa, and it has a nutty flavor similar to quinoa. The health benefits of kaniwa can be attributed to the wide range of minerals and vitamins it contains, as well as to the exceptionally high levels of flavonoids it contains. In fact, research suggests that kaniwa contains even more flavonoids than quinoa!

How to eat: Use cooked kaniwa the same way you use cooked quinoa.

9. Amaranth

Amaranth is a bushy plant native to South America. Both amaranth grains and leaves highly nutritious, which is why amaranth frequently pops up on superfood lists. In addition to providing a truckload of minerals like magnesium, iron and phosphorus, amaranth contains a peptide similar to lunasin (found in soybeans), which is believed to have cancer-fighting properties.

How to use: Amaranth leaves are can be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Amaranth grains can get quite sticky when boiled, which is why they are usually best combined with other grains. Or, toast the grains in a hot, dry skillet, and use as a topping for salads.

10. Brazil Nut

When it comes to the best natural sources of selenium, it is hard to beat the Brazil nut. A single Brazil nut provides a whopping 96 micrograms of selenium, which corresponds to 137 percent of the Daily Value for this important mineral! But the selenium content of the Brazil nut is by no means the only reason this South American food deserves superfood status: this Amazonian nut is also rich in other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus and copper.

How to eat: Eat Brazil nuts in moderation as a snack, or turn them into nut butter in a strong blender that can handle nuts (tip: Vitamix has many good blenders for making nut butters).


Superfood Smoothies

Looking for tasty ways to incorporate superfoods from all around the world into your diet? There's no better place to look for inspiration than the New York Times bestseller Superfood Smoothies by Los Angeles-based natural food chef Julie Morris! From antioxidant-rich pomegranates and blueberries to vitamin-packed camu camu and maqui berries, the key ingredients in this much-praised book definitely tick the superfood box. To learn more or to order a copy through Amazon, click here (affiliate link).