The newest health fad is a berry from the Amazon that boasts unreal amounts of vitamin C and has other antioxidant properties. (Illustration by Yun Yao, University of Art Academy)
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Step aside, açai bowls: Camu camu is the newest health food in the aisle.

From grocery shopping at Whole Foods to patronizing the juice bars that haunt every street corner, organic eating has found a solid footing in American food culture, a culture that has become increasingly obsessed with the latest diet fad. While açai bowls topped with goji berries and pomegranate seeds have dominated as superfoods in the world of clean eating for the past few years, a new antioxidant powerhouse is gaining recognition among organic foodies.

After the discovery of its incomparable immune system boosting power, camu camu began appearing on menus and in vitamin retailers in Japan during the late nineties, causing sales to surge. However, the craze surrounding the superfruit failed to resonate with markets in the United States and Europe, causing the Peruvian export’s valuation to drop dangerously low. Since 2007, the market has been climbing though, and now the U.S. is reportedly one of the primary importers of this Amazonian power-berry, taking in 12.1 percent of camu camu exports.

As a result, nutritionists are delving deeper into the health perks camu camu offers when consumed daily. So far, its multitude of immune system benefits continues to shock health-foodies, prompting them to craft recipes using camu camu and other ingredients known to promote wellness. At this rate, the day camu camu trumps açai as everyone’s favorite superfruit might be just around the corner.

In The Ring: Camu Camu Vs. Açai

Camu camu grows on trees located in the swampy riverside areas of the Amazonian rainforest, in countries like Peru, Brazil and Venezuela. When blooming, the tree produces small cherry-like fruits commonly called camu camu, but otherwise known as cacari, depending on the region.

As far as taste goes, camu camu, when fully ripened, closely mirrors the sweet flavor of açai berries — a mix of both blueberry and chocolate. Unfortunately, when camu camu berries reach maturity, they lose a great deal of their detoxifying powers. On the other hand, when the berry is at just a juvenile stage of growth, they exhibit an unattractive sourness, even though they are chock-full of antioxidants. So, farmers must decide whether they will opt for desirable taste or a potential superfruit sales for their berries.

Recently, consumers have discovered a happy medium: You can add camu camu to juices and bowls as a powder, which makes it practically tasteless. Nevertheless, given its incredible immune system boosting powers, the taste is easily overlooked. In fact, the berry contains more vitamin C than almost any other food source. According to Organic Facts, “camu camu has 200 times more vitamin C than a banana in terms of vitamin C per ounce.”

That’s a lot of vitamin C.

Feeling Sick?

Although its vitamin C content is its claim to fame, camu camu is also a panacea for everything from the common cold to improving cognitive ability.

The fruit can boost the immune system, especially when paired with other food sources of vitamin C. The little berries are strong enough to fight liver and gum disease, and their antioxidant powers can fight off the inflammation that leads to aging, arthritis and degeneration of visual acuity.

Camu camu has also been known to demonstrate antiseptic qualities, going so far as to aid the treatment of E. coli and a plethora of sexually transmitted diseases, wiping out bacteria and fending off viral infections.

Sharpening cognitive function, enhancing mood and soothing anxiety are a few more psychological superpowers camu camu exhibits as well. The vitamin C content clears plaque buildup in mental pathways, increasing focus, memory and concentration skills in young people. More importantly, vitamin C aids cognitive function, which means that the South American import might even be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Additionally, vitamin C deficiencies are often associated with people suffering from depression, so the berries’ ability to enhance mood might be linked to a possible therapeutic aid for depression.

Super Affordability  

As of 2009, açai sales reached approximately $130 million, which is unsurprising given the obsession health-foodies and organic eateries have for the fruit. On the other hand, in 2006, camu camu sales only totaled to around $2 million, as the fruit’s superpowers had not yet been fully explored.

Now, in light of its rising popularity, sales are increasing, boosting the market, and in turn, shaving some of the price off of importing and exporting the fruit. This means camu camu is actually obtainable for a reasonable price.

Although the sticker shock might remain in organic juice bars, selling their product at top dollar for the promised quality of their ingredients, the benefits of camu camu make the extra dollar added on top of the price of your $11 cold-pressed juice worthwhile.

If you are looking for an even more affordable way to incorporate camu camu into your diet, consider purchasing your own supply of the superfruit powder from your local vitamin shop or organic market. Also available online, camu camu usually sells for less than $20, which is a pretty good bang for your buck since the baseline daily dose is only one teaspoon.

According to Health Ranks, the top five camu camu powders include Feel Good Organics, Madre Nature, Maju Superfoods, Sunfood and Peruvian Naturals; the most expensive brand sells the powder for only $19.99, a steal for camu camu enthusiasts.

Try adding the berries to any smoothie, juice, yogurt, acai, grain or oatmeal bowl. Avoid soups and teas though, because camu camu loses its health benefits when heated.

So, why not test out the powers of camu camu at home, you health-foodie, you? Maybe you’ll wake up feeling so refreshed you’ll run to your local juice bar in the morning — to drink up some more camu camu, of course.

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