Camu camu is a superfood well worth the label. It has been growing in popularity because it is the highest natural source of vitamin C...but the benefits don't stop there. Read on to learn all about this powerful little fruit.
Camu camu (Myrciaria dubia), also known as camocamo or cacari, is a berry fruit that grows along the river of the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil. It resembles a cherry in both shape and color, as it comes in beautiful hues of purple and red. The camu camu fruit grows on an evergreen bushy tree, and the blooms are known for their sweet fragrance. It takes 4 or 5 years for the plant to start producing fruit, but it is well worth the wait!
There are very few camu camu fields of cultivation in the world, although there is a growing interest in intentionally growing this superfood as its demand increases. In Peru in particular, there is an emphasis on growing camu camu in a sustainable and responsible way, especially as it relates to cultivation near the sensitive rainforest ecosystem. Japan is one of the top importers of camu camu, where the fruit has become very popular for its use as a component for multivitamins, energy drinks, sports drinks and candies.
A tricky little factor in harvesting camu camu is the balance between flavor and nutritional potency. Interestingly enough, the amount of vitamin C begins to diminish as the fruit reaches maturity, which is when the top flavours emerge. Therefore, harvesters have to forge a delicate balance between flavour and nutritional benefit.
Historically, camu camu has been used in the Amazon region for hundreds of years, where it was harvested and transported by canoe to villages along the Amazon river. Camu Camu was prized for its pain relieving properties and ability to treat infections. However, the cultivation and modern international knowledge of its different benefits are relatively new. In addition to the pain relief uses, it is also used for longevity and was recently introduced in hair conditioners, as it adds more shine and vitality.
In the 1950s, the Peruvian Ministry of Public Health undertook the first research on the beneficial properties of the fruit, although it was not until the 1990s that it was decided to replant the trees in areas that made it easier to collect the fruit and, therefore, to be able to have enough to market. Since then, several reforestation programs of this tree have been carried out to prevent its entry into the list of endangered species. These include promoting its sustainable cultivation and prohibiting the excessive exploitation of those wild trees, since the camu camu is also fundamental for the maintenance of other animal and plant species present in the river and its banks.
Nutrition facts (1):
100g of camu camu contains:
0.4 g protein
0.2 g fat
2145 mg vitamin C (3575% DV*)
2.1 mg manganese (106% DV)
0.2 mg copper (10% DV)
0.5 mg iron (3% DV)
12.4 mg magnesium (3% DV)
15.7 mg calcium (2% DV)
83.8 mg potassium (2% DV)
0.4 mg zinc (2% DV)
*DV = Daily Value.
There is quite a bit of research about camu camu available. Sometimes, it is difficult to find reliable and solid scientific studies about trendy foods, including many superfoods. However, this is not the case for camu camu, which confirms the high interest of the food industry and the fact that camu camu has a rich, diversified and beneficial composition.
Some of the top nutritional components in camu camu are:
Camu camu is considered the richest natural source of vitamin C (2.145mg/100g, which is about 3575% of the DV (2). The vitamin C content is 20 times higher than acerola and 100 times higher than a lemon.
Dietary carotenoids are thought to provide health benefits in decreasing the risk of disease, particularly certain cancers and eye disease (3). Camu camu contains these in abundance.
Flavonoids and antioxidants:
Apart from high vitamin C content, camu camu contains a lot of antioxidants that help to fight oxidative stress in the body. Camu camu is especially high in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have numerous health benefits.
All of those different components make camu camu a great source of many different health benefits, including:
- Weight loss (4): a study conducted with animals has indicated that camu camu can help with weight loss.
- Increased HDL (High Density Lipoproteins): The same study found that camu camu intake increased HDL, the “good cholesterol”, that helps your body get rid of the bad fats in your arteries that may lead to narrowing or blocking them.
- Antioxidant properties (5): camu camu has a lot of antioxidants which help the body to decrease oxidative stress and stay younger and healthier. These compounds help in the fight against and prevention of free radicals, increasing immune resistance and delaying the early or natural aging of cells.
- Reduced inflammation: one study found that the intake of 100% pure camu camu juice reduced inflammation markers in the body (6).
- Improved eyesight (7).
- Decreased symptoms of depression: a study revealed that vitamin C levels in people suffering from depression are lower than in healthy people. The high content of vitamin C in camu camu can help to fight depression (8).
It’s not just about the vitamin C
While all of these benefits are amazing, its about more than just the high vitamin C content when talking about this superfood. Studies also seem to indicate that some properties in camu camu make its vitamin C content easier to absorb. One study compared the intake of equal amounts of vitamin C, one coming from camu camu and the other in form of ascorbic acid (which is the scientific name for the extracted vitamin C). The findings were that the camu camu group improved, while the vitamin C group didn’t. The authors suggest that the effect of camu camu juice may be due to the existence of unknown antioxidant substances besides vitamin C. In addition, anthocyanins, total phenolics and carotenoids could have contributed to this effect (9).
How to eat camu camu
The taste of camu camu is very acidic and sour, which makes it difficult to eat them in their raw state. People from the regions where this fruit is harvested traditionally use them to make jams or ice-creams or other sweet desserts.
In other parts of the world, camu camu in consumed via capsules, powders and as a juice. This is popular because you still get all the benefits of camu camu without the sour flavor. Scientists have analysed different powders and concluded that even as a dried powder, the beneficial ingredients are available at high amounts (10).
Camu camu is a berry fruit originally from Brazil, Peru and the riverside of the Amazon rainforest. It has a potent nutrient composition and therefore is considered a powerful superfood, especially because it is the highest natural source of vitamin C. Furthermore, it contains a huge quantity of beneficial antioxidants and carotenoids. Camu camu has been frequently studied, which shows the high interest of the food industry. It is mainly taken as a powder, which has also been analysed and shown to still possess all of the benefits of the raw fruit.