For centuries, South America’s Amazon rainforest has provided a rich hunting ground for indigenous tribes, who don’t cultivate large quantities of fruits and vegetables. Instead, they rely on foraging and gathering, sometimes with small farm plots to supplement their intake of these foodstuffs, especially as over time they have become less nomadic.
As the Amazon is by far the largest jungle, it is also home to the widest variety of wild foods, which has often been left to grow untouched for generations. The one difficulty its occupants face are the scarcity of farmland, as clearings large enough to plant anything are usually rare, and their traditional utensils would make chopping down a load of ancient trees a huge amount of work. The tribes therefore typically live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle; one that has served them well for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Given their reliance on sourcing wild foods from the abundance of the rainforest, the tribes’ diets may vary depending on the exact location, however there are a few plants and animals that remain constant in the Amazon, and as such are the most commonly consumed.
For example, if you were to look at an à la carte menu for Amazonian tribespeople, you would typically expect to see the following:
Fruits & Vegetables
Notorious for their antioxidant health benefits, acai berries are available in abundance to the rainforest's hunter-gatherers. Marketed (with much hype) around the world as a “superfood”, for the Amazon dwellers, the acai berry is merely there, available to pick whenever they’re feeling peckish.
The maracuja, better known as the passion fruit (‘Passiflora incarnata’), is another traditional fruit widely eaten by the rainforest inhabitants, where it grows on vines. Reaping many nutritional, health, and medicinal benefits from the fruit, the indigenous people use the leaves to make drinks that calm the nerves as well as a popular maracuja tea.
Another wild food in plentiful supply throughout the rainforest but yet to gain the global appeal of the acai berry is the Aguaje: a bright yellow fruit covered in dark maroon scales that tastes similar to a carrot and is often eaten raw.
Chayote, a vegetable cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans in Central America is believed to be indigenous to the Amazon, likely because it grows well in the higher altitudes of mountainous rainforest regions.
Another favourite of the tribes, hot peppers are indigenous to the lowland rainforests of Central and South America, where they were domesticated by Native American shamans for their spice, which was used for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. There are approximately 25 wild hot pepper species that originated in the Amazon rainforest.
Indigenous making flour in Amazon Rainforest
Maize is pretty much the only grain that consistently grows wild in the Amazon. Whilst there are other small seeds eaten by the tribes, maize is the primary source for tribes throughout most of the region.
Meat & Fish
Catch of Catfish, Puerto Naria±a, Amazon
The Amazon is home to wild pigs, monkeys, orangutans, tapirs, jaguars, sloths, armadillos, ocelot, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, alligators and ‘caimen’—another member of the alligator family—otters and various types of birds.
Dolphin, stingray, catfish, piranha, eel, freshwater crab, mussels and several other small species of freshwater fish are all found in the rainforest’s rivers and commonly consumed as part of the hunter-gatherer diet.
Flavorings & other wild foods
Harvesting of Babaçu
Black peppercorns, mustard, vanilla, cinnamon, and, of course, Brazil nuts.
So whether you’re visiting the Huaorani Ecolodge in Ecuador or the Tambopata Research Center in Peru, you’ll find yourself chowing down on a variety of fruits and vegetables, and while some of them will be completely new, others will be surprisingly familiar.
NOMADIC TRIBE TEAM
Photo credit: Native Brazilian child eating food iStock.com/filipefrazao