Maya nut (aka breadnut, ramon, and capomo) may be the most useful and least-known superfood of the tropics. This highly nutritious food harvested from the huge tropical rainforest tree Brosimum alicastrum can be boiled like potatoes, roasted and ground into flour, or brewed into a caffeine-free coffee. However it is prepared, Maya nut is a conservation commodity that’s helping communities restore degraded landscapes while working towards food sovereignty.
Maya nut as a global commodity
Unlike cacao or coffee, Maya nut (more accurately a seed) is little known in global commodity markets. Historically it was a subsistence food of Indigenous Mayan society, growing in tropical forests from Central Mexico to northern Brazil. More starchy than fatty, the nut is packed with nutrients the body needs. But knowledge of its value in daily diets was largely forgotten as corn and other agricultural commodities took their place. Today that is changing, as communities reclaim Maya nuts for food and as a forest-positive export.
Quek'chi children exploring the Maya Nut tree nursery in Laguna Lachua, Alta Verapaz, Gutatemala. Image by Heather Finnecy.
Maya nut’s forest footprint
Once a dominant tree species in its native range, Brosimum alicastrum disappeared as forests were cut for fuel wood, then replaced by corn fields, livestock, and other agricultural commodities. Cattle love to munch the young tree saplings, which has prevented their growth and replacement of old trees. The Maya Nut Institute, which works to document and promote its resurgence, estimates that only 5% of historical tree cover remains.
The forest-positive opportunity
Fortunately, Brosimum alicastrum is a hardy and productive tree that is already helping to restore degraded rainforests, bushlands, and riverbanks. Tolerant of heat, drought, and seasonal flooding, it is well adapted to meet the stresses of climate change while creating wildlife habitat, preventing erosion, and maintaining quality of water springs and streams. Moreover, with no inputs, the tree produces a bountiful harvest. After an establishment period of about five years, the trees fruit every year, producing up to 300kg of seed per year in their prime!
For all these reasons, communities, especially of women, are planting and collecting Maya nuts in Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, and Haiti. With this abundant, nutritious food source, women are empowered to feed their families and help them focus on school, life, and work. The Maya Nut Institute has trained more than 17,000 thousand women from 1200 communities, and estimates that more than 1.8 million trees have been planted since its inception in 2001. More communities, organizations, and businesses are getting involved. For cities with a taste for forest-positive food and drink, a Maya nut purchasing commitment stands to go a long way.
Cows that eat the leaves of Maya Nut trees produce over 30% more milk a day than cows that eat grass or grain feed. Image by Maya Nut Institute.
Learn more about Maya nuts
Find out more about the health benefits of Maya nut by reading this Canopy Bridge article here.
Learn how Maya nuts can be used in a green ranching strategy by reading this Maya Nut Institute article here.
Learn about the role Maya nut can play in boosting global climate resilience by reading this Our World article here.
Watch this Red Cross video on how a Maya nut program in Belize is increasing food stability while reforesting valuable forest ecosystems.