“Barùkas nuts are the best tasting of all the superfoods I’ve discovered,” says Barùkas founder Darin Olien.
Mention the Amazon, and you conjure up visions of flowing rivers surrounded by lush rainforests teeming with exotic flora and fauna. Legendary and well-publicized as in need of saving, the Amazon has passionate advocates who rush to find ways to preserve its glories, and rightly so.
Mention the Cerrado, and you conjure up—likely a blank stare. But the Cerrado is the world’s most biologically rich savanna. It covers more than 20 percent of Brazil, and is being deforested at an even faster rate than the Amazon.
And, no, the Cerrado isn’t as ravishingly photogenic; it can be a little scrubby and dry. One might say the Amazon is the popular princess in her sumptuous gowns, and the Cerrado is Cinderella in her ashy rags. But Darin Olien is determined that the Cerrado shall go to the Ball, and he believes that the Baru nut is the magic wand that will send her there.
Baru Nuts Are Unique to Brazil
The Baru nut is a revelation—packed with more protein than any other nut, and rich in fiber, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. Barùkas taste like a crunchy crossbreed of cashews, almonds, and peanuts.
The tree that produces the Baru nut is found only in the Brazilian savanna. With a single nut to be found within each hard-shelled fruit when it falls from the tree, harvesting and processing on a large scale is complicated and demanding. So bringing this delicacy out into the world and revealing its appeal takes a certain kind of magic.
Love at First Bite
Darin Olien is widely known as the “Superfood Hunter” for his years of traveling to neglected corners of the world to search out super-nutritious plant-based foods that can contribute to local economies and global conservation. Along the way, he founded the Superfood Conservancy, whose mission is “to bring awareness and access to quality superfoods; create funding, opportunity, and safe working conditions for small farmers; and conserve superfoods’ unique habitats by limiting or improving environmental impact and creating thoughtful stewardship.”
When Olien came upon the Baru nut in Brazil, it was love at first bite. “Barùkas are the best tasting of all the superfoods I’ve discovered,” he says. “You don’t have to make any compromises at all with Barùkas because they taste great, they’re really good for you, and they’re really good for the environment as well.”
The challenges involved in this Cinderella story are formidable, however. “We had to organize over 10,000 local villagers to gather Barùkas in the forests near where they live. And the Cerrado covers five of Brazil’s 26 states, each of which is about the size of California, where Olien’s company is based. So the distances are daunting when you’re trying to organize so many people over such a large area.” And that’s only the beginning, in terms of processing, supply chains, quality control, and other factors.
But Olien isn’t easily daunted, and he is determined to make this obscure nut—and its home in the Cerrado—household names. “Barùkas are a win all around. They’re the healthiest nuts in the world, they represent a remarkable opportunity to reforest the area of South America that acts as the lungs of our planet, and they bring a source of income to indigenous villages without harming anyone or anything,” he says. And that will surely provide a happy ending to the tale.