Jose Lorenzo Garcia and I set off midmorning to collect Capomo (Brosimum Alicastrum) Moraceae seeds. We walked for about thirty minutes, before we reached an area of Jose's land, called Habita, high in the dry forest of Cabo Corrientes.
There we found a tall Capomo tree at the foot of a steep bank covered with a variety of veining flora. Around the base of the tree and beyond we collected the Capomo nut or seed, which is the size of a round grape, some with green skin dotted with tiny bubbling dots and others a smooth brown having been denuded by the bats the night before.
The bats love the fruit, so they eat the thin-skinned fruit off the seed and then drop it for us to collect. Thoughtful of them... thus we don't have to climb the 120 feet up the tree to collect the fruit.
Although it is sweet to taste, local people do not generally consume the fruit. The seed is bitter like coffee and is roasted and made into "café de capomo," or ground as flour, or, in the old days just boiled as is, to which honey is added. While we were gathering, Jose described January through March as the best times to collect capomo, with some trees bearing fruit every year, others biannually.
Upon their arrival, the Spanish named the Capomo tree Ramon and it is known by this name throughout southern Mexico. The tree is highly threatened in the Sierras, due to deforestation as a result of logging and modern agricultural practices. However, a burgeoning countrywide renaissance in the sustainable production and delivery of this important food is underway.
For 10 years, our work at the Center for World Indigenous Studies in Cabo Corrientes has included the restoration of use of nutritious, endemic foods such as Capomo, and the Equilibrium Fund in the South has been working to restore indigenous Capomo production practices among women.
Because the nut has low moisture content, it is ideal for year-round storage. It has served as a "famine" food for the Maya and others in the past, and it could serve in the future as an important resource for food security as environments are altered due to climate change.
I first tasted Café de Capomo in Yelapa, Cabo Corrientes, in 1974 when it was commonly available and used as a morning beverage or as a nourishing drink, which along with atole, was fed to women who had just given birth and were undergoing cuarentena; the forty-day period of rest and semi-isolation that is a traditional post-partum practice in Mexico.
Unfortunately, many village women no longer practice cuarentena, and the use of capomo has likewise diminished due in part to "modernization" and to Capomo's labor intensive harvesting and processing requirements.
Local food support systems such as the Puerto Vallarta Farmers' Market have more recently provided an outlet for the sale of Café de Capomo, which is a Functional Food; a food that has health promoting properties. It is also available in limited qualities as an export food in the U.S.A.
Every part of the Capomo tree is nutritious and beneficial to humans, animals and the environment. The leaves may be eaten like spinach, the sap is nutritious, and the seeds are like potatoes when boiled and delicious with honey.
The sap from the tree is sweet and serves as a traditional drink known to increase mother's breast milk. Alisia Rodriguez Arraiza shared with me that the bark is used to purify the blood by placing a handful of Capomo tree bark in 1 liter of water to soak for two days and then, imbibed like water.
Capomo is an extraordinary plant nutritionally. Those of us graced with a life here often acknowledge that the people of Cabo Corrientes and the Bahía de Banderas are generous, emotionally warm, and friendly.
We often ascribe these qualities to the beautiful environment, sun drenched brains and warm bones. Yet Capomo could be part of the reason as well. It is one of the richest plant sources of amino acids which, when supplied in good quantities, make people cheery. (Might our new, local epidemic of depression be related to a decrease in Capomo use?)
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein that are responsible for repairing cells, stimulating antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses and to carry oxygen throughout the body. They also make our brains work and our synapses, snappy.
Capomo's special quality is that it provides significant levels of all the essential amino acids ("essential" means amino acids that can only be supplied via food). It is especially high in methionine, which helps the liver process fat and toxins, and tryptophan, an amino acid that is energizing and relaxing, as it lifts the mood.
Capomo is high in fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, iron, zinc, protein and vitamins A, B, C and E. The seeds when roasted for café or boiled for bread have the protein equivalent of eggs. Too many cups (4+) of Café de Capomo have been known to cause the "jitters" in some people. The flour is nutritionally superior to any other flour and is ideal for people with gluten sensitivity.
Four-footed animal friends; pigs, cows and horses also love capomo. Cows fed capomo leaves produce 1-2 liters more milk per day than cows fed on pasture. Bats love the thin-skinned fruit around the "nut" and after eating it, drop it to the ground so we may prepare it for roasting café de capomo or grinding into flour.
In Puerto Vallarta, Capomo is for sale at the Farmers Market and also at the Organic Food Store. Here's to a cheer-filled cup of Café de Capomo!
Café de Capomo
Following collection, the Capomo is left in the sun until the skin has dried, at which point the skin is removed revealing the hard green seed. These are then put back into the sun for about 8 days to dry out some more.
After these 8 days have finished, the Capomo is placed in a very hot oven to be toasted, depending on the heat of the oven, for about 10 minutes. Once the Capomo is sufficiently toasted, it is then ground up, traditionally by hand, in Yelapa, or by machine. The ground Capomo can now be used like a coffee and makes an energizing drink.
To make Café de Capomo boil 2 tablespoons of ground capomo per cup of water and with an option to add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla.
Dona Clementina Rodriguez Diaz passed on this last summer at the age of 94. This was a recipe she shared with me:
Pan de Capomo
1 kg. of capomo (well cooked - boiled)
2.5 liters water
1 stick of butter
6 oz honey
Boil the capomo in a pot of water with ash until tender and the skin peels away.
Mush the capomo with your hands until it forms a soft dough; place it in a mixing bowl.
Mix in the yolks of five eggs, the butter, and the honey. Stir.
In a separate bowl, whip the whites of the eggs until firm.
Then fold the egg whites into the capomo mixture.
Grease the baking pan with butter and pour the mixture into pan.
Bake at 350° for about 45 minutes.
To check if the bread is done, insert a knife. When the knife comes out clean, the bread is done. Remove the bread from oven. When the bread is cooled, then tip it out onto a platter.
Dr. Leslie Korn is an educator and clinician-healer specializing in complementary/alternative medicine and indigenous healing methods, who has been conducting research in the Banderas Bay and Cabo Corrientes regions since 1973. To learn more about her work, visit DrLeslieKorn.com.
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