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The Next Big Thing: Baru – Brazil’s Overlooked Superfood

April 18, 2018

By Charmian Christie, The Messy Baker

It looks a little like an almond and tastes a little like a peanut, but there’s nothing little about Brazil’s baru seed. This superfood is loaded with antioxidants, boasts a 2-to-1 protein-to-carb ratio, is low-glycemic index, high-fibre, and won’t trigger peanut, tree nut, or soy allergies. Want more? According to Shand Santos, founder of Baru Baron, it could also help save the rainforest.

Overshadowed by Brazil’s flashier foods, such as wild cashews, baru is virtually unknown here in Canada.  A common “peasant food”, baru wasn’t anything Santos thought about —  until he moved to Toronto. Then he started craving it. Much to his surprise, despite a wide range of international foods from around the globe, he couldn’t find a single baru seed for sale.

At this time, Santos was enrolled in Entrepreneurship Connection, a business start-up program for  immigrants. He knew baru would set his business apart but thought he would simply act as a distributor or wholesaler. To build credibility and hard data for his requisite business profile, Santos began to seriously research baru seed. He discovered far more than intended. “Deforestation was worse than I originally thought,” he says, “And this is coming from someone living in centre of most deforested area of Brazil!”

Although baru doesn’t grow in the rainforest, it grows in the Cerrado savannah, which feeds the rainforest. “I realized it was not just a matter of introducing a new food to a new market,” he said. “It was also about raising awareness of the terrible deforestation situation. You don’t connect the pieces until you leave.”

Images by Baru Baron

Demand but No Supply Chain

Santos now sees his business as a calling. But he’s practical. “You can’t launch a product if you can’t produce enough,” he says. To get baru seeds into Canada, the seeds need to be export quality. Corruption, bureaucracy, large territories, and lack of infrastructure all combined to make a reliable baru supply chain challenging.

According to Santos, things have changed in the past decade and a supply chain is slowly evolving. “Ten years ago, no one was willing to extract the baru seeds since there was no efficient way to sell them,” he says. But with growing interest thanks to scientific research on its  health benefits, a supply chain is emerging.

Today, Santos’ family runs their own supply chain. “It’s a good thing for everyone — the local economy, the environment, a good thing for the local communities.” It not only gets quality baru seed to Canada, it helps the small farmer in Brazil. “It breaks the social gap, especially in the mid-west where the social gap is worst.”

The “everybody wins” approach seems to be working. Santos says he sees an industry shift, with people turning away from large-scale soy and back to native species. “They are doing the math and realize the return will be greater if they don’t deforest, and concentrate on wild species like baru.” This helps stop the deforestation. But is it viable? Santos thinks so. “These communities really rely on baru. They pay the bills with the baru, rely on it to buy resources, buy the food they need. These are all rural areas. They can now have a reliable source of income and don’t have to sell their land out of desperation.”

Shand Santos presented Baru Baron at Food Starter’ table in the St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market last month. Photos on the right are featured by Luana Maggion.

Food Starter Safety Net

Upon joining Food Starter, Santos immediately used our facility as a base to store his seeds thanks to strict adherence to food safety regulations. “It’s a safety net,” Santos says, adding Food Starter’s certification gives him public credibility and personal peace of mind.

He’s equally pleased with the mentoring and networking opportunities. “We are all facing similar difficulties,” Santos says. “The exchange of information is so valuable. It’s one of the things that really makes a difference on your path.” One Food Starter member wants to use Baru Baron’s baru seed for energy balls. “This would never happen if I tried to do things solo.” Santos says.

In the near future, Santos would like to import unprocessed baru seeds and make allergy-friendly baru butter “from scratch”. Down the road, he sees exporting the Canadian-made baru butter to the US and Europe.

With a supply chain and product in place, it’s just a matter of time before baru becomes a household name.

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