Holidays are times to unwind, rejuvenate, discover new places and cultures and expand our horizons and knowledge through travel. With the email auto-responder switched on and the mobile phone switched off, the monotony of the daily routine and self-imposed dietary rules get thrown to the wind and the urge to splurge takes over. A couple of weeks later, you find yourself in a state of mad detox trying to eradicate your conscience and cleanse your body of all the carbs and sugar bombs that you gorged on whilst enjoying out your “care free, I’m on holiday” diet. Sound familiar?
Well, there’s good news when heading to Peru, as you can return feeling positive and full of energy, having treated yourself to exotic delicacies, fruits and powerful powders. There is no denying that Peru has witnessed a huge culinary boom and triggering many Peruvian restaurants to pop up in major destinations. Lima now boasts the biggest food festival in South America and is a well-established culinary think-tank that drives the evolution of new creations and fancy dishes. Without taking any credit away from the talented nucleus of Peruvian chefs, one of the countries secrets to success has been a well-stocked larder with a huge selection of ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It just so happens, that Peru is home to the most potent superfoods on the planet, and is the epicenter for many new western health alternatives. The answer lies in its microclimates and diverse typography that provide optimum conditions for a staggering amount of powerful, antioxidant, phytonutrient-rich and anti-aging foods to grow in abundance.
So What Exactly Constitutes a Superfood?
According to Peruvian raised and born specialist nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, superfoods are “foods that not only have higher than average concentrations of vitamins and minerals, but also have antioxidants.” According to Manuel they have four characteristics:
1. They are healthy for the heart, decrease cholesterol, help reduce blood pressure and are anti-inflammatory.
2. They are great immune boosters as they are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients.
3. They have anti-aging properties and protect our insides from any diseases that make us age.
4. They are brilliant for the gut and facilitate digestion as they act as prebiotics.
What Superfoods Can I Find in Peru & What are Their Benefits?
Quinoa was one of the Inca’s most important crops earning it the title “mother grain”, which ironically it’s not, as in fact it is a seed. Grown from the coast to the dizzying heights of the Andes it packs a high protein content of 18%, making it a great energy source. Packed with all the 8 essential amino acids, quinoa comes in a red, white, and black variety and can be found pretty much everywhere in Peru. As a delicious addition to a salad or a healthy alternative to rice, there are endless combinations. If you fancy trying something different, keep your eye out for the quinoa-based beer by Cumbres, where they blend malts and hops with the ancient Andean grain to yield a distinctly authentic and unique craft beer.
2. Sacha Inchi
In Quechua, Sacha Inchi means “The People’s Seeds” and can be found growing on vines in the Peruvian Amazon. Inca tribes have consumed these seeds for centuries, providing them with a potent dose of omegas, and the highest found in any food source known to man. In Peru, locals have caught on how delicious these little nuts are when toasted and they can now be sourced in many of Lima’s gourmet markets. The Inca peanut is an ideal snack for both vegans and vegetarians that you can be stuffed in the rucksack whilst trekking or travelling, providing a healthy alternative to biscuits and chocolate whilst offering rich nutrients and minerals.
The mighty Yacon is a sprawling plant that has been grown and consumed for centuries in the highlands of the Andes. Possessing an inherent sweetness and juicy crunch, it is widely used in indigenous communities as a food source, and a medicine for treating various ailments. Containing only half the calories of your average sugar source, the root makes for a brilliant and healthy sugar substitute, whilst regulating blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol. This natural sweetener can be used in the same way one would use honey or other sweeteners, and is suitable for diabetics and makes for a great way to entertain kids with something different that tastes great and avoids the sugar high and low tantrums.
Many people consider eating chocolate to be a “guilty pleasure”, which stems from the tarnished reputation that chocolate has earned itself as a junk food. The detrimental effects of commercial processing, adding white sugar and refining techniques, is what really gives chocolate its bad name. However, in its raw unadulterated cacao bean state, is the highest plant based form of iron, good for the brain and provides a natural state of happiness. In Peru, the cacao pods are grown organically in the Peruvian jungle where they are firstly harvested before being fermented and lastly toasted dry, breaking into small pieces called nibs. Nibs are a quick, convenient and healthy snack that can be great when on the go and moving around. If travelling with kids, or even for the big kids amongst us, the Choco Museo in Cusco and Lima offers a hands-on beans-to-bar experience where you can make your own chocolate bar!
Originally from the Andes, maca is a root that often comes in powder form making it a great option to add to your morning smoothie. Traditionally, it was taken to improve sexuality and fertility, but also in ancient times the Incas would take it before they went to fight in a war or started a monumental construction project, as it increases oxygen consumption and energy levels. Maybe more importantly, maca helps you to recover after a big night out, which can be a lifesaver, especially after a few too many Pisco Sours. If visiting any of the local food markets in Lima or Peru, just ask them to add a pinch to your smoothie and kick start your day.
A tropical fruit that is seductive and sweet, with notes of caramel, pumpkin and maple. Known by the locals as “the gold of the Incas”, it has been valued as a reliable food source and a religious offering connected with fertility for centuries. The fruit has a cultural importance on the dessert table in many Peruvian celebrations, as it is the countries favorite flavor of ice cream. Packed full of antioxidants, loaded with healthy carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals it makes a perfect and healthy after dinner treat, that can be found on most menus in Peru.
This tropical fruit may be small in size but looks can be deceiving. The Peruvian Amazon rainforest is home to a shrub that sprouts a berry called camu camu. The reddish and purplish fruits are approximately the size of a cherry that have a tart taste and is one of the world’s most potent sources of vitamin C, squeezing in more than 60 times per serving than the orange. Used in various foods camu camu has a variety of culinary uses and can be found mainly in beverages and desserts. As a popular jungle juice drink make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the bright pink juice that is often served as a pleasant refreshment with breakfast or lunch.
With no room for excuses, you can now enjoy all the benefits of the holiday foods on your next visit to Peru. From a fruit to boost your antioxidants, a powder to keep the heart in check and an organic juice to uplift the soul, Peru’s wealth of superfoods will mean you return home relaxed, rejuvenated and reenergized.