Cracking the baru nut market
With high levels of fiber, protein, vitamin E and calcium combined with the potential to develop food products, baru remains an anomaly in its native Brazil and for Western consumers. The US’s first importer, Cerrado Superfoods, however, is looking to change that.
The San Diego-based online merchant began importing this high-fiber, high-protein legume a year ago, but plenty of challenges lie ahead: baru is currently only sourced from wild plantations in the Cerrado savannah while logistics are complex in this extensive part of Brazil.
Rodrigo Figueiredo, founder of Cerrado Superfoods, told FoodNavigator- LATAM: “We're solidifying the supply chain but the production process is labor intensive. Grown on the baruzeiro tree, which takes seven to eight years to begin producing, the fruit has a tough shell containing just one single nut. It’s hard to crack, so local farmers have created clamps to open them by hand, one by one, before roasting them. As a production system isn’t in place – and which we’re in the process of installing – it costs more than other nuts.”
Logistics are also challenging, given that the online merchant sources baru from around 5,000 collector families in the Cerrado, an area three times the size of Texas. Figueiredo added: “We’ve partnered with co-ops already working with communities to organize collection in the three-month window ahead of the rainy season. The organizational aspect is a big challenge, as is transport, because the Cerrado so big.
“We also see the potential for positive impacts both environmentally and socially. The Cerrado is being devastated by cattle farming and the lumber industry, and while timber offers a one-time income, baru production ensures financial stability as well as ecological benefits for many years to come.”
Wider food industry interest
While Cerrado Superfoods currently sells pound and half-pound bags as well as snack packs online with plans to launch a baru nut butter, this latest superfood – known as the Viagra of the Cerrado – is being eyed up by the food industry, according to Dr. Simone Favaro at Embrapa, Brazil’s agricultural research institute. Her 2016 research article concluded that baru nut protein isolates presented more protein than those from soybean, casein, and albumin, “proving to be a very promising source of protein, which can be used in oily food preparations”.
Dr Favaro told FoodNavigator-LATAM: “We consider baru to have a healthy composition, with high fiber levels, linoleic acid and unsaturated fats; it’s also very tasty, like a mixture between cashew and almonds. Today, the principle protein isolates come from soybeans but after studying other sources of vegetable proteins, baru had a better performance. It presents an opportunity to develop food products.”
While baru remains relatively unknown outside her native Brazil, there are some finished packaged food products: Natuaris Muniz makes a Barutella spread similar to Nutella while various cooking oils and liquors are on the market. For the time being, however, the baru nut playing field is ready to crack.