Cutting-edge nutrition comes from every corner of the globe.
By Corinne Garcia
From ancient grains and berries to a root found high up in the Andes, a variety of new superfoods from around the globe are hitting store shelves. Why the emergence of these nutrient-rich nuggets? “People are always looking for the newest thing,” says Kate Magic, raw food expert and author of the superfood cookbook Raw Magic (Process Media). “We’re in the third generation of kids being raised on processed-food diets, and we’re seeing what a terrible effect it’s having: diabetes, obesity, cancer and intolerances to certain foods. People are now looking for solutions.” And they are finding many of them from ancient cultures that have used plant-based foods as medicine for centuries.
Here are some emerging superfoods to look for in a health food store near you.
Many brightly colored berries have superfood qualities, but the aronia just may have most of them beat. Known as “black chokecherry” because of their pucker-inducing flavor, these purple-and-blue berries are native to the swamplands of North America. “Studies on these are mostly related to cardiovascular health because they are exceptionally high in antioxidants called anthocyanins,” says Julie Morris, author of Superfood Kitchen (Sterling). Anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the darker colors in berries and other plant-based foods, and have been credited with helping to reduce blood pressure, inflammation and the chances of developing some kinds of cancers, among other benefits. Aronias can now be spotted in the freezer or juice sections of health food stores. “They are very tart, so you want to use them with something sweet,” Morris says. She recommends mixing them with banana for a smoothie or adding them to already cooked sauces, such as a glaze for mushrooms.
Good things tend to come in small packages, and teff, a nutrient-rich staple of Ethiopian cooking for thousands of years, is the perfect example. “It’s the smallest grain in the world—about 100 grains are the size of a kernel of wheat!” says Stephanie Pedersen, superfood nutritionist and author of Kale: The Complete Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Superfood (Sterling). High in fiber, iron, protein and calcium, teff is also an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient not commonly found in grains, she notes. “Teff has recently become popular with the gluten-free” crowd, Pedersen says. “Ground into a flour, it helps to create the soft, springy texture that wheat does in baked goods.”
Pedersen’s favorite use is as a hearty breakfast porridge. Combine one cup of teff with three cups water (or a combination water and coconut milk) and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Dress with your favorite sweetener and/or fruit.
And you thought brown rice was good for you? Introducing the chairman of the healthy rice department: Black rice is packed full of antioxidants, protein and fiber. Also called “Forbidden Rice,” it was once raised in small batches and only served to Chinese emperors; today it is still produced in smaller quantities than white and brown varieties. “The color is an indicator that it’s high in anthocyanin antioxidants,” Morris says. “It’s the most nutrient-dense rice out there.” This rice is black in dried form and a deep purple once cooked. It has a slightly nutty flavor similar to brown rice, and Morris recommends blending the two for a good contrast of color. “The color is really beautiful,” she says. “It’s like a faux fancy ingredient that cooks the same as normal rice, but it makes your meal instantly fancier.”
This root, AKA Peruvian Ginseng, grows in the Andes Mountains and is a member of the Brassicaceae family, related to cabbage and broccoli. “Maca is absolutely amazing,” Morris says. “The roots survive in a climate with huge temperature fluctuations and are able to adapt and adjust to their surroundings; it has a similar effect on the body.” The Incans used maca more than 3,000 years ago as a cure-all and a source of strength for warriors. High in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients, maca has been lauded as an aphrodisiac and fertility strengthener said to balance hormones and other bodily functions. “It gives you energy without being simulative because it helps you find balance,” Morris explains. She enjoys maca’s nutty, butterscotch flavor in powder form added to smoothies, baked goods and oatmeal.
Kids may have heard about the mulberry bush and the weasel, but that’s probably as far as our mulberry knowledge goes. Native to Asia, popular in Europe and brought to this continent before the American Revolution, it thrives in the eastern US. Today, the white mulberry is typically found in dried form and is what Pedersen describes as a “darling” among superfoods. “It’s low in natural sugar unlike raisins, boasts about 4 grams of protein per 1/3 cup serving and is outrageously high in antioxidants including toxin-ridding phenols,” she says. “They make a great snack.” Besides just grabbing a handful, dried white mulberries can also be added to cereal, baked goods or salads as a sweet serving of fruit.
Hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant, but without the intoxicating properties and full of whole-grain goodness. “It’s one of the best plant-based proteins out there,” Morris says. “It has all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, along with healthy fats from omega-3.” A recent study found hemp seed beneficial for cardiovascular health (NCBI 4/10); it has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties and may support a healthy metabolism. “Because it’s high in protein, it’s a great food for anyone looking to cut down on animal consumption,” Morris says. “It’s much more easily digestible than meat, and it makes you feel full but also energized.” Similar in taste to sesame seeds, Morris recommends sprinkling hemp seeds on salads, adding them to smoothies or just snacking on them.
You may have heard and celebrated the fact that dark chocolate has superfood qualities, and cacao, the raw form of chocolate, is the main reason why. Typically grown in West Africa, Central and South America, and parts of Asia, these are the crumbled seeds from the large pods that grow on cocoa trees. “It tastes like strong bitter chocolate, almost like a chocolate-covered espresso bean,” Morris says. Cacao nibs are exceptionally high in antioxidants, and also contain minerals such as magnesium, zinc and potassium. One study showed that the flavonoids in chocolate may help prevent coronary heart disease. Cacao also has anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and diabetes while promoting healthy brain function. Add cacao nibs to cereal, trail mix, baked goods and smoothies.
This tart berry, known as the Patagonian Super Berry originally grown in the wilds of southern Chile, has such a deep purple hue that it’s often used to make dye. Like the aronia and other purple fruits, maqui berries are rich in anthocyanins. “Specifically, maqui berries contain extremely high levels of anthocyanins called delphinidins, which demonstrate potent anti-inflammatory activity, helping to reduce the risk of a variety of degenerative diseases that involve inflammation and inhibit the growth of cancer cells,” Pedersen explains. She says it’s most often found in dried form or in syrups and powders. “It’s yummy, sweet-tart taste makes it fun to add to smoothies, fruit recipes, popsicles, sorbets or to just mix with water and a squeeze of lime,” Pedersen says.
The ground leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree, native to Africa and Asia, has been traditionally used as medicine and a dietary staple in many countries. It’s said to help with everything from arthritis to a low libido, and has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. “It’s a very well-balanced food, full of vitamins and minerals, protein, fiber and chlorophyll,” Morris says. “There’s a lot of bang for your buck when you consume moringa.” In the US, moringa is typically found in the supplement section of health food stores, and can be added to baked goods and smoothies or sprinkled into anything from soups to pizza.
Made from young green tea leaves and high in antioxidants. Uses: tea, lattes (from the powder form), smoothies, energy bars.
An ancient grain similar to quinoa that is high in minerals and protein. Uses: flour, cooked cereal, added to smoothies.
Green Garbanzo Beans
Harvested earlier than common garbanzos, and higher in protein, minerals, vitamins and fiber. Uses: salads, hummus.
High in vitamins, minerals and proteins, and said to improve allergies and asthma, increase energy. Uses: sprinkle in smoothies and cereals.
Another high-antioxidant purple berry, native to the North America with a long history in Native American culture. Uses: smoothies, oatmeal, cereals.