There aren’t many places left in the world where mankind hasn’t been able to plant its stamp of modernization. The Amazon rainforest is one such place, where a number of indigenous tribes, some of them having absolutely no contact with the outside world, reside. Despite the many threats to their way of life, these communities’ often live a traditional life, meaning they eat the rainforest foods that they can hunt and gather near their homes in the jungle.
The Amazon rainforest area of South America has been rich hunting grounds for the indigenous tribes for centuries. These tribes do not cultivate fruits and vegetables to any large degree, instead they rely on hunting and gathering, with perhaps small farm plots to supplement their fruit and veggie intake, especially as they become less nomadic over time. Because of their reliance on gathering from the abundance of the rainforest, their diets may vary depending on their exact location, but there are a few constants in the food of the jungle between these cultures.
With very limited food production and supply sources, the question arises – what types of food do these communities consume? This is a fascinating question that’s fun to research before visiting a rainforest community in the Amazon and help you prepare for what you may encounter on your trip.
Fruits and Vegetables
The most commercially hyped fruit available to the hunter-gatherer tribes of the Amazon rainforests is the acai berry. Food shops around the world advertise it as a “super food” for the health benefits of its antioxidants. But for the Amazon dwellers it’s simply there, available to pick when they’re feeling hungry.
The Maracuja, also known as passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata), is another widely-used traditional fruit for the rainforest inhabitants. In the rainforest, maracuja grows on vines and the indigenous people reap many nutritional, health and medicinal benefits from this fruit. Maracuja leaves are also used to create drinks to calm the nerves as well as to make maracuja tea.
On the other hand, the Aguaje – a bright yellow and covered with dark maroon scales – is a fruit found widely throughout the rainforest but hasn’t gained the worldwide appeal of the acai berry. Its taste is similar to the one of a carrot and people in the Amazon often eat this fruit raw.
Chayote is a vegetable that was cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans in Central America and is believed to be indigenous to this region. Chayote grows well in the higher altitudes of mountainous rain-forest regions and is widely-used throughout the Amazon.
Another popular vegetables are hot peppers. Indigenous to the lowland rainforests of Central and South America, hot peppers were domesticated by Native American shamans for their spice, which was also used for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. Approximately 25 wild hot pepper species originated in the Amazon rainforest.
So whether you’re visiting the Huaorani Ecolodge in Ecuador or the Tambopata Research Center in Peru, you may be chowing down on a variety of fruits and veggies completely new to you — and some that may be surprisingly familiar.
Nuts & Spices
In addition to fruits and vegetables, several commercially used spices are found in the Amazon rainforest and are still used by the indigenous peoples. These spices include ginger, cinnamon, pepper and vanilla — which is surprising to most people.
Nuts are also plentiful and are a valuable source of nutrition and fat. Cashew and Brazil nuts are the most widespread nuts in the Amazon rainforest.
Of course, rainforest peoples cannot sustain themselves entirely gathering fruits, vegetables and nuts. Despite their primitive means, the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest are skilled hunters. Considering the forests’ plentiful wildlife, providing fresh meat in the menu is always possible. Everything from fish, birds, wild boars, even insects and bugs are at hunters disposal. When visiting, you’re unlikely to encounter meals made with wild game as this is typically reserved for the community members and/or isn’t usually palatable to foreigners.
Whether you find their lifestyle and customs archaic or fascinating, visiting a community-owned rainforest lodge and learning more about their traditions is a valuable way to help them preserve their unique culture.
Interested in learning more about indigenous rainforest culture in person? Check out all of Detour’s amazing and sustainable tours to the Amazon Rainforest.
This community-owned, sustainable lodge provides a mix of wildlife viewing and cultural interaction near Yasuni National Park. Sani is rustic and remote, with fantastic wildlife viewing and some of the best birding in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. Trip Length: 4 or 5 Days Destination: Yasuni National Park, Ecuadorian Rainforest Lodging: Simple, mid-level Rainforest lodge Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, interaction with local community
This remote Amazon lodge provides both great wildlife viewing and interaction with your local hosts, the Achuar community. Trip Length: 4, 5, or 8 Days Destination: Amazon basin, Ecuador Lodging: Community-owned, first-class rainforest lodge Activities: Cultural interaction, naturalist walks, wildlife viewing
The Tambopata Research Center (TRC) is one of the most remote rainforest lodges in South America, situated inside an uninhabited area of the Tambopata National Reserve and next to the Bahajua-Sonene National Park. The surrounding rainforest ecosystem remains pristine, and the lodge is adjacent to one of the largest parrot and macaw clay licks in the world, making for incredible bird and wildlife viewing. Trip Length: 3, 4, 5, or more days Destination: Tambopata National Reserve, Peru Lodging: Basic & comfortable rainforest lodge Activities: Wildlife viewing, bird watching, hiking