What’s the jucara berry? Not another superfood…
You know everyone loves to attach that buzzword to a berry. Plus, people are claiming it could be the new acai to sell to health-conscious millennials.
Anyway, it’s native to Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest and comes from the jucara palm, which has long been prized for its fibrous, white palm heart – it’s even considered a vegetable delicacy over there. The jucara palm looks similar to the acai palm, which sometimes cause confusion, but it is actually a different species.
However, unlike other palm species that regrow when their hearts are harvested, the jucara palm dies. After years of unregulated harvesting, it is now on the endangered list. It’s a long time between planting and producing too, as the fruit takes seven years to grow.
That’s not good news. You’re making me nervous with this whole endangered issue.
Never fear – using the berry more could actually be the solution to ensure its survival. That’s according to George Braile, who founded Jucai, a company that created jucara berry sorbet.
“When it became an endangered species, the fight started, but it was very hard to enforce a ban because people just went deeper into the forest,” Braile told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator-LatAm. “My idea was to stimulate those people to collect the fruit and pay them more for fruit than they would get for the palm heart.”
He began teaching people in and around the rainforest to harvest jucara berries in 2008, and six years later launched his sorbet. He also owns a 60ha swathe of rainforest that he gifted to the government to ensure its protection and distributes seeds with high germination power to farmers, environmental agencies, NGOs and anyone else who wants them.
Braile’s idea isn’t so crazy either. Last year, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was campaigning for restaurants and chefs to put historic breeds of pigs, cows and sheep on the menu to ensure they don’t die out.
Eating endangered is a thing now, go for it. Tell me about this sorbet.
It comes in three flavour: passionfruit, banana and cambuci, a sour-tasting green fruit. All of the sorbets are organic and also contain raw brown cane sugar for sweetness and inhame, a yam native to the Amazon, which is used to add creaminess.
The company produces around 8 tonnes of sorbet a month, which sells in supermarkets in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and south Brazil, and is also exported to Chile.
There’s not just sorbet either. Jucai also produces jucara pulp to sell to Brazilian juice company Green People.
So what’s this berry’s selling points then?
Its deep burgundy colour means high levels of anthocyanin, according to Braile. He claims it contains four times as many antioxidants as acai and more potassium and iron. It also has a fruitier flavour.
Brazilian scientists have also identified jucara extract as a potential ingredient in sports and cereal bars, yogurts, ice creams and jams. Researchers from Sao Paolo tested the berries on obese individuals and found that it improved certain health markers.
But Braile admitted that price was a challenge. “People love acai here so we can’t be much more expensive than acai, otherwise we wouldn’t sell. But our cost is higher because jucara is an endangered species. We also do not have as many people harvesting and we grow in the southern region where the cost of labour is higher,” he said.
So is Sparkie jumping for jucara?
It’s an interesting idea – using the food it produces to save an endangered plant. There will be some very good ethical points scored for the brand, especially in a market where that is becoming more and more important.
As for consumers, I think that the ‘superfood’ moniker still holds weight despite it being fairly common knowledge that it is purely a marketing term. I think this is because it’s convenient and actually doing the research and finding what’s actually good is really hard work for most people.
Balancing the ethical implications with the nutritional properties will make this an attractive ingredient to that health food market, but the endangered tag worries me a little. Do they mean there is not enough of it to fuel the market if it does become successful? If there is going to be a huge delay while waiting for plants to grow then that will be an issue.
The other concern is that if they use its endangered status as a way of making it an exclusive product, which then comes with a price tag beyond what the mass market will pay, they risk pricing themselves out of the game.
Without hands-on experience, it seems like jucara would be used practically like any other berry. It doesn’t seem to have other properties that make it unique.
Overall, it seems like something to be aware of if you work in health food products, but I can’t see it being something huge until the above issues are worked out.