Customers have “absolutely no” awareness of baru nuts, says Hiromi Stone, director of Kinomi, which means nuts in Japanese, and is the first supplier of baru nuts in the United Kingdom. Despite this, she is convinced, as are many others, that baru nuts are set to be the next superfood to hit our plates.
Baru nuts hail from the Cerrado, a savanna region in Brazil, a place so remote many have not even heard of it. They are a highly nutritious nut that comes from the baruzeiro tree which exclusively grows there.
The baru nut grows inside a fleshy fruit that can be eaten or used for sugar. The nuts can be treated like other nuts and roasted, flavoured or eaten raw. They have the taste somewhere between a peanut and a cashew.
The baru nut is part of the local diet in the Cerrado and has been used traditionally in the preparation of local sweets such as Pé-de-Moleque and Paçoquinha. The oil extracted from the baru nut is used to flavor local dishes or as a treatment for rheumatism. Locals praise baru nut's fertility enhancements due to its high level of zinc.
Growing alongside other trees, instead of a monoculture, the baruzeiro can be grown as part of a forest system.
Unfortunately, the savannah, which is well over the size of Texas and covers 2.045 million km2, is under great threat from deforestation due to the introduction of soy and corn farming, which is greatly harming the local delicate ecosystem.
Luckily, it is the baruzeiro tree, that could hold the answer to sustaining what is left of the local ecosystem. The largest underground aquifers in Brazil are found in the Cerrado region, not in the Amazon as many may think. The very deep roots of this tree mean that it needs very little irrigation, and also provides structural support for the soil, which is lost when shallow-rooted crops such as soya and corn are grown on it. The loss of these aquifers would have devastating consequences for rivers across the country.
A number of local cooperatives are making efforts to save the tree. And protecting baru nuts is one of 500 of the small projects supported globally by Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.
This is one of the reasons why Ms. Stone has chosen the supplier she has for her baru nuts.
“I deal with a company that works very closely with the local cooperatives to get the barus. They also give saplings to the local people, so they can plant more barus as well,” she says. “The guys are very passionate about growing the crop and protecting the areas, so it all works out very, very well.”
As baru nuts are grown in such a remote area with so little infrastructure, obtaining them in the first place can be difficult. Ms. Stone is the first to introduce the baru nut to the UK and is currently supplied by Labra connecting the world. Based in California and with an office in Brazil, Labra has been working to introduce the nut to North America and to the world, as well as assisting small farmers in Brazil to ensure the nuts that reach new markets come from an ethical supply chain.
“I discovered the baru nut during a trip to Cerrado, around 100 miles from Brasilia, in December 2015. Despite being Brazilian, I had not learned much about this nut and many Brazilians have no idea about its nutritional value either,” says Ricardo Pavan, founder of Labra. “The baru nut as a sustainable source of income to the Cerrado region, which encompasses a vast land between five states in Brazil, has the potential to change the mindset of farmers in the area,” he adds.
Since most people overseas have never heard of them before, marketing of baru nuts is particularly important.
Mr. Pavan has done samplings and tastings, so people can get an idea of the product.
“My first store was Erewhon in Los Angeles, which is considered the best in California. We are now in 25 stores in our area and start receiving media attention. The bigger brands and supermarket chains will follow.” Mr. Pavan also opened an online store via Amazon to serve more customers directly. “Today our strategy is developing strong partnerships with large firms and selling more in bulk from Brazil and less under our own label. Nuts.com and some big nut roasters in the US are now great partners too.”
“We first learned of the Baru nut from Labra itself (thanks, guys!), and soon thereafter saw it featured on social media. We knew we had to learn more about this unique product! Here at Nuts.com we're always looking to introduce our customers to new and exciting items (especially nuts!) and baru nuts moved to the top of our list,” said Pamela Sidran Director, Brand Strategy. Nuts.com just launched the baru nuts and the demand exceeded their expectations, nearly selling out! “Our customers were excited to learn about and try a new nut variety, and so far, the feedback has been positive.”
Nuts.com is an 89-year-old enterprise serving not only wholesale and retail customers but also end consumers from coast to coast. “We sell a whole lot of nuts to a whole lot of people, businesses and animals with over 100 million in-shell peanuts sold each year. Plus, in our almonds category alone we have 120+ unique products. In addition to snackers and bakers, some of our most loyal customers are actually squirrels, birds, bears, and chimps,” said Ms. Sidran.
Mr. Pavan has been working in the development of a strong supply chain that will feed the growing demand and a healthy business for all involved. He says he wants to develop a concept that is inclusive and transparent. To protect the Cerrado Mr. Pavan anticipates the need of a strong cooperation with all key players: independent small growers, those in farmer cooperatives, the owners of large cattle farms, and the kilombos (settlements located in inaccessible areas that were created by fugitive slaves during the four hundred years, when Brazil practiced slavery of people from African origin.)
“At Nuts.com we are always looking to work with suppliers that secure sustainable supply chains that have a positive impact on local farmers and communities,” said Ms. Sidran. “It is our intention to provide excellent quality products to our customers via mutually beneficial relationships with our suppliers, and we have appreciated our partnership with Labra for this reason.”
“We will also work with partners in Brazil to develop a product range that includes the raw and roasted nuts, baru flour, oil and perhaps other products with Brazilian ingredients, for instance a chocolate with baru nuts,” says Mr. Pavan.
Why will the baru nut become a superfood in high demand? Besides the potential it has to help protect the baruzeiro and bring some sustainable income to the Cerrado region, Mr. Pavan points to its high nutritional value and gluten-free nature. The nut contains comparably high levels of protein and fiber, alongside a variety of different vitamins and minerals.
Alongside cashews and almonds, Kinomi launched its baru nut range in the UK in 2017. Ms. Stone’s Baribari Burus are flavoured with coriander, lime and chili, and she is considering introducing new flavours and a dry roasted flavour, so people who haven’t tried baru nuts before can get a taste for them.
Ms. Stone also says that holding tasting events has proved key to ensuring that people get to know the product. “If I do a tasting then they sell, as they are delicious but also, they are great nutritionally, so it is a pretty easy sell once they have tasted them,”. But as it is the case introducing any new food, “it is an uphill struggle to get people to a) know that they exist and b) to actually try them to the point they want to buy them.”
Ms. Stone has been promoting the baru nuts to people interested in fitness but is also providing freebies to anybody looking for them as a marketing tool for conferences.
In the almost three years Mr. Pavan has been involved in the promotion and development of a supply chain for the baru nut, he has already seen positive results. People that try the baru nut for the first time are loving it; cattle farmers that did not even know they had baruzeiros growing on their properties are now not only collecting the fruits, (only picked when they fall off the tree), but excited planting thousands of new trees. “Under this new project where Labra is actively involved, we plan to plant one million trees in the next four years; we have created a partnership with COOPBRAZIL, a cooperative with thousands of families that will benefit from our activities; we are telling the COOPBRAZIL story in every batch and product we sell; we will guarantee fair prices and buy all the fruit they collect,” he says. There is high potential for the baru nut oil in the cosmetics sector as well. “It could become mainstream like argan oil. We are all excited to be creating a value for something that was not even considered so important before.”
Mr. Pavan is attracting partners in Brazil and overseas that believe in organic and regenerative agriculture, that avoid monocultures and protects biodiversity. There are other trees, for instance, the babaçu that is also native to Brazil and grows in the same region as the baruzeiro. “The babaçu could become a sustainable alternative to palm oil. It has a very hard shell that until today has been broken by hand. “We are working with partners to develop equipment that will make the process faster and less expensive. And when this development is ready, the babaçu will provide COOPBRAZIL an additional source of income.”
Though the nut is very new to the market in both North America and Europe, it will be interesting to see how improved awareness of its benefits and a well-coordinated effort to a sustainable development in the Brazilian savannah may pave the way for the next superfood, no mean feat for a tiny little nut.