Over the past year, FoodTrients has been exploring foods and flavors from around the globe. This week, we take a look at the flavors of South America as part of our new series on the world of foods, herbs and spices that help create some of the distinctive dishes we have featured, and the age-defying benefits they deliver.
South America is a very diverse territory that combines traditional cuisine from a wide variety of indigenous cultures. Modern day cuisine often has influences from numerous countries like Mexico, Spain, Portugal, and other parts of Europe. Before Europeans arrived in the country bringing wheat, almonds, and meat, foods like corn, beans, potatoes, peppers, avocados, and chocolate were considered staples. Today, popular South American cuisine includes corn, peppers, fruits, cheeses, and cassava, the root portion of the yucca plant, that can be ground into a flour. Meats like chicken, beef and pork are commonly eaten and often have a spicy flavor due to the addition of chile peppers.
Also known as fetid goosefoot, this herb is grown in the northwest region of Argentina, and has been used medicinally to help with allergies, stomach, and skin issues, as well as insomnia due to its sedative effects. In South American cuisine, it is often dried and turned into an infusion that can be combined with yerba mate, a herbal tea, or enjoyed alone in a beverage. It isn’t commonly found around the world and in fact, may be at risk of becoming endangered or going extinct due to recent increased interest. It can be very difficult to find in the US.
The cocoa seed that is used to make chocolate has a variety of medicinal uses such as helping with gastrointestinal discomfort, lung issues, and may be used for brain health. Cocoa itself has a rich, savory flavor but when turned into chocolate to use for desserts, sugar is added so chocolate is generally associated with a sweet taste. In Argentina, you will find chocolate cooked in desserts like chocotorta, a chocolate cake with cream cheese, cookies, and coffee. You’ll find a rich chocolate bonbon-like dessert called Brigadeiro in Brazil and chocolate helado or helados de Paila (gelato or ice cream) in various regions.
A staple in South American cuisine, chile peppers are used medicinally for pain relief and brain health. In South American cuisine, not only can these spicy peppers be dried and used as seasoning, but they are added to a variety of dishes such as ceviche, a popular fish dish in Peru. You’ll find a wide variety of peppers used throughout South America from mild to very spicy.
A member of the Brassica family, maca contains similar health benefits to other cruciferous veggies but is best known for its potential for boosting libido and aiding in fertility and hormone imbalance. Maca grows wild at high elevations in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina and has a flavor similar to butterscotch. This root is often ground and can be added to soup and rice dishes, as well as used to season meats.
Used medicinally for gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, and kidney stones, this herb is used throughout South American cuisine. In cooking, parsley can be added to soups, salads, and is often used to make chimichurri, a tangy sauce that is used to season and marinade meat dishes. It is rich in nutrients like potassium and vitamin K as well as many unique antioxidants.
Spuce Eats. A Guide to South America, https://www.thespruceeats.com/introduction-to-south-american-food-3029236. Updated 1/7/21. Accessed 1/30/21.
Taste Atlas. Arcayuyo. https://www.tasteatlas.com/arcayuyo. Accessed 1/30/21
Natural Medicines Database. Cocoa. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=812. Updated 10/12/2020. Accessed 1/28/21.
Spruce Eats. Hot Chile Pepper. https://www.thespruceeats.com/fresh-hot-chiles-2215963. Updated 9/20/19. Accessed 1/28/21.
Natural Medicines Database. Maca. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=555. Updated 3/14/2016. Accessed 1/28/21.
Natural Medicines Database. Parsley. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=792. Updated 7/10/20. Accessed 1/28/21.