Monk Fruit and Four Other Superfoods You May Have Never Heard of But Need to Know

March 07, 2014

Looking to add more nutrition to your diet without having to buy a multivitamin or antioxidant supplement? Here are 5 new nutrient dense superfoods you need to know...

Superfoods are all the rage, and this trend is nothing new as we’ve seen new superfoods pop up on the radar for years now. Some superfoods are more exotic than others and in fact many everyday foods can make the same nutritional claims as their "super" cousins: high in nutrition and packed with powerful antioxidants. With all of the mixed reviews of vitamin and antioxidant supplements it’s no wonder people are turning to highly nutritious superfoods for their fill of nutrition.

Here are five “new” superfoods you need to know:

Aronia: Often called the aronia berry, the close relative of the apple is actually a small pome that grew wild and was part of the North American diet when Europeans "came over, fell in love with it and exported it to Europe," according to nutritionist David Wolfe. The fruit, is extraordinarily tart, but is broadly used in Europe in jams and jellies, the aronia is also found in wine, juices, tea, syrup and sauces, and sold as an extract and a supplement.

Nutrition: The aronia has three times as many antioxidants as the blueberry and its deep, reddish-purple hues reflect a high level of anthocyanin, a pigment that has been studied for its disease-fighting qualities, as well as being rich in vitamin C.

Buffaloberry: The tiny berry has long been a source of nutrients for Native Americans in the Great Plains. Its quirky name comes from the buffalo that shined their coats against the fruit's shrub. The berry has a split personality, starting out tart but mysteriously turning sweet after a frost. It is eaten fresh or dried, when it resembles a raisin. The fruit is made into a sweetened beverage and turned into jams, sauces and puddings. Native Americans have used the plant and its berry to treat headaches, arthritis and other ailments. It is also a favorite fruit of the emerging wine industry in South Dakota.

Nutrition: The high-fiber berry is rich in lycopene. It also has four times the vitamin C, of oranges, according to a study last fall in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 

Lucuma: is a delicious fruit, native to the Andes, that has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Curiously, most people in the northern hemisphere have never heard of lucuma, let alone tasted its rich, sweet, maple flavor. Lucuma is the most popular flavor of ice cream in Peru. You can use lucuma in all types of dessert recipes, from smoothies to pies to ice cream. 

Nutrition: Besides its amazing flavor, lucuma is also a great source of nutrition. Lucuma contains healthy doses of fiber, vitamins and minerals and is especially high in beta-carotene, iron and vitamin B3. 

Gac: Cultivated on vines in Southeast Asia and China, the bright-red prickly fruit has a relatively short harvest season, limiting its availability.  The flavor of the melon-sized gac has been described as "reminiscent of cantaloupe with hints of green melon and carrot." Only its large seeds and the oil covering them are edible; the outer layer is toxic. Often incorporated into a sticky rice dish in Asia, gac is being marketed off the continent as a powder supplement and juice.

Nutrition: By unit weight, gac has 70 times the content of the antioxidant lycopene as a tomato does, according to researchers, and 10 times the beta-carotene of carrots. Now that’s an antioxidant powerhouse!

Monk fruit: Native to China and Thailand, the melon-like fruit is named for the 13th century monks thought to have first used it. Popular in China in dried form, the fruit is making its way to US stores as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.  Monk fruit is reportedly hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and leaves less of a bitter aftertaste than stevia. As a modern-day extract, it is marketed as a no-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener for beverages and baked goods. Food manufacturers, are increasingly adding the extract to products. In addition to monk, look for "luo han guo" on labels.

Image: Aronia berries.
Information gathered from LA Times