Traditional Food Plants Of Latin America Biology Essay

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The Italo-Latin American Society of Ethnomedicine, is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. The fundamental objective of SILAE is to promote the research, development and use of medicinal and food plants in different countries of the Word. SILAE welcomes and actively seeks opportunities to work cooperatively, activating and intensifying scientific relations between Countries and between SILAE Members. Since SILAE was founded (1990) its objective has been set to contribute to the close examination of the themes of great interest and actuality in the context of the relationships between Latin America and European Union. In addition to this it aimed to individualize new ways of collaboration among its member countries, also in the amplest frame of the European as well as Asiatic continent to sign under such accords with intergovernmental organisms. SILAE proposes to establish contacts with Scientific Communities, Universities, Research Centres for the pursuit of medicinal and food plants knowledge. Moreover SILAE_live, the one-to-one live Chat and Messenger on our website (, is the first scientific chat on the web and is a developed tool to engage the interest and imagination of the public and helping non-scientists to understand and enjoy scientific discoveries and the scientific process. In addition to organizing membership activities, SILAE publishes the SILAE Special Issues, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.

About Latin American Food Plants

Over the course of thousands of years, American indigenous peoples domesticated, bred and cultivated a large array of plant species. These species now constitute 50-60% of all crops in cultivation worldwide. The potato has been the subject of international crop development and is now commonly grown throughout the world. The tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) is native to Mexico but many varieties are found in the Andes.  There are, however, many other important food crops that were domesticated in the Andes but that are poorly known scientifically. Ullucus tuberosus  (Basellaceae), Oxalis tuberose, (Oxalidaceae), Tropaeolum tuberosum (Tropaeolaceae), Arracacia xanthorriza  (Apiaceae), Canna edulis  (Cannaceae), Lepidium meyenii  (Brassicaceae), Mirabilis expanse (Nyctaginaceae) and Polymnia sonchifolia  (Asteraceae). Each of these crops is a potential new crop for other areas of the world. Other important crops include the high protein pseudograins, Chenopodium quinoa Willd. (Chenopodiaceae), C. pallidicaule, Amaranthus caudatus (Amarantaceae) and a high protein legume, Lupinus mutabilis  (Fabaceae). As a group, these tuber, grain legume and other crops have been among the primary food sources in the highland Andean region for centuries. All this crops have been confined to their naive Andean home. The Andean region of South America is one of the eight centers of diversity of cultivated plants described by Vavilov. At least 30 species of root and tuber crops are native of South America. They belong to 18 botanical genera and 16 families including mono/ and dicotyledons. This represents a greater range of root and tuber crop diversity in terms of taxonomic affiliation and ecological adaptation than occurs anywhere else in the world.

There are many plants, trees and fruits that can be used as a source of food in tropical rainforests. The jippi jappa Palm (Sabal Mexicana, Palmaceae) is an important plant used by Mopan Mayan and Kekchi Indian People. The drupes and palm hearts are eaten The waree palm (Astrocaryum mexicanum, Palmaceae) is found in abundance in the rainforest is a palm of the Caribbean coast of Central America. The fruit and seeds are used for human food and oil production.  The heart of palm can be eaten as well as a part inside the flower casing and the flower itself which provides a lot of food. Bactris major (common name kawmaka, Arecaceae) is a small to medium sized (1-10 m tall) spiny palm which ranges from Mexico, through Central America into northern South America and Trinidad. The fruits are eaten or used to flavour drinks. Bactris gasipaes, also known in Costa Rica as pejibaye, chontaduro in Venezuela, pibá in Panamá, pupunha in Brazil and peach palm in English-speaking countries, has important nutritional value, mainly due to the presence of starch and oils, and high energetic content, similar to the one obtained from corn.

Bananas, coffee, and cacao are the chief crops of Central America but non-traditional crops for export have played an increasingly important role in Central America's economic development since 1983. This relatively new market-driven development opportunity has represented the fastest expanding sector of the agricultural industries in Central America, with an average annual growth rate of 16% between 1983and 1997. Gliricidia sepium (common name, madre cacao) is a tree, 3 to 10 m in high, belonging to the family Fabaceae. It is native to both coasts of Mexico from above the middle of the country southward and through Central America to Colombia and Venezuela. G. sepium is used both medicinally and for cattle feeding on the Pacific coast of Mexico, Central America and in tropical regions of South America and Asia. Its leaves are generally considered to be one of the most digestible of the tropical leguminous forages and contain a high content of readily degradable proteins and carbohydrates. It is considered as the second most important multi-purpose legume tree, surpassed only by Leucaena leucocephala. Leaves and root contains saponins, isoflavonoids and flavonoids. Byrsonima crassifolia family Malpighiaceae is native to tropical America. It is valued for its small, sweet, yellow fruit, which are strongly scented. The tree is native and abundant in the wild from central Mexico, through Central America, to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil; it also occurs in Caribbean Isles. The fruits, also called nance, are eaten raw or cooked as dessert. In rural Panama, the dessert prepared with the addition of sugar and flour, known as pesada de nance, is quite popular. The fruits are also made into dulce de nance, a candy prepared with the fruit cooked in sugar and water.

Many crops first domesticated by indigenous Americans are now produced and/or used globally. Chief among these is maize, the most important crop in the world. Other significant crops include cassava, squash (pumpkins, zucchini, marrow, acorn and butternut squash), the Phaseolus beans, tomato, potatoes, avocados, peanuts, cocoa, rubber, manioc, and some species of cotton.

Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture Special Issue

The Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture is publishing a special issue, that is, a Hot Topic entitled "Traditional Food Plants of Latin America. Chemistry, Nutritional Value and Biological Properties". Ten papers are included in this HT focusing in various aspects related to food and food plants. For thousands of years, plants have been an integral source of food for humans. Around the world, certain vegetables grew in popularity due to their ease of cultivation, while others became increasingly rare. Pre-Columbian cultures domesticated numerous plants, such as corn (maize), potatoes, cassava, and bean, which when introduced in the Old Word, became dietary staples there and revolutionized the word's food supplies. Today, food enthusiasts have renewed interest in many of the world's rare plant foods by promoting their cultivation and use, protecting these scarce species from extinction. The special issue provided an opportunity for publication of original peer-reviewed full-length research and review articles on new research on plants, trees and fruits that can be used as a source of food in Latin America: three papers present ethnopharmacological results and biological value of medicinal and food plants used in Cuba, Argentina and Manaus, one give data on sustainable management in pecan cultivation in Argentina, four other article dealing with antibacterial activity and cardiovascular effects and chemical composition of some plants used as food (Anacardium excelsum and Piper tuberculatum) or for insecticidal properties (Helenium mexicanum and Acmella radicans). An presents the amino acid and mineral compositions and proximate analysis of five land and aquatic species of insects.

The first article is a review articles by Martinez Pacheco et al. [1] dealing with avocado fruit and folates pathway in plants. Persea Americana is a species used by the ancestral pre-Columbian Central American cultures until today, which have lived on the isthmus connecting the mainland portions North and South of the Continent American. Its importance is due to the culinary properties, its use in traditional medicine, and for the physical and mechanical properties of its wood. The avocado is a fruit that has great importance in agriculture and regional economy. Mexico is the major producer, consumer and exporter of avocado fruit, and holds the first place in production with 34% in global ranks. Avocados contain more folate per ounce than any other fruit, with 45 micrograms per half cup. Folic acid is a key prenatal nutrient which produces and maintains new cells.

The article by Maykel Pérez et al [2] presents the diuretic activity of six medicinal and food plants used by the Cuban population: Ocimum basilicum L, Parthenium hysterophorus L. (medicinal plants), Justicia pectoralis Jacq., Plectranthus amboinicus (Lour.) Spreng., Allium cepa L and Citrus aurantium L. In Cuba exists about 179 medicinal plants which are known because of their diuretic properties. Cuba has developed a relatively sophisticated pharmaceutical sector, originally to provide medicinal products for her own population and, more recently, to earn hard currency through exports. The importance of this sector has particularly to be seen with respect to the strong changes which have been taken place in Cuba in the last decades and which still carry on. Authors observed an increase of the urine volume in treated groups (aqueous extracts and in the case of the Allium cepa and Citrus aurantium their natural juice) in relation with the negative control group. Urinary excretion and diuretic activity were superior in the experimental groups corresponding to Ocimun basilicum L. and Allium cepa L and similar to furosemide. Sharry et al. [3] provide data on food and medicinal value of some forest species from Buenos Aires. The native forests of Buenos Aires province are strictly confined to the coastal strip of Río de la Plata (marginal forests and talares forests) and to the Western region (caldén forests). Species found in the Talares and marginal forest include Celtis tala (tala), Scutia buxifolia (coronillo), Jodina rhombifolia (sombra de toro), Schinus longifolius (molle), Sambucus australis (sauco), Erythrina crista galli, Sesbania punicea (acacia mansa), Phytolacca tetramera (ombusillo) and Parkinsonia acculeata (cina cina), Salix humboldtiana (sauce), Citharexylum montevidensis (espina de bañado) between others. These species have traditional uses as medicinal and food and there is little information on the biology and propagation systems of these native tree species. Authors developing a germoplasm bank in forest native species from "Talares" and marginal forest using several tools, including biotechnology. Costa and Nunez [4] present some natural products and their utilization in Manaus, the largest urban market in the central Brazilian Amazon. Their study aimed to survey the peasants or family farms production, and how they form connections that result in a rural-urban spatiality. Giuffré et al. [5] dedicated their article to the Pecan nut (Carya illinoinensi). Pecans were one of the most recently domesticated major crops. Although wild pecans were well-known among the colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s. Today, the U.S. produces between 80% and 95% of the world's pecans, with an annual crop of 150-200 thousand tons. The objectives of the work were to compare organic amendments compost and vermicompost, with liquid fertilizer and a control without fertilization in a one-year crop, and their effects on soil and plant development. The application of organic amendments reduced changes in soil properties and plant performance. Pecans are a good source of protein  and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Celis et al. [6] evaluate the antimicrobial activity of secondary metabolites presents in extracts and fractions of Anacardium excelsum (Anacardeaceae), using agar well diffusion assay and bioautography. As a general result was determined that Anacardium excelsum has good antimicrobial activity against gram positive microorganisms. Phenolic compounds determined by GCMS seem to be responsible of this activity. Also Salgado Garciglia et al. [7] assess the antibacterial activity of flowers extracts from H. mexicanum on ten human pathogen bacteria by disc-diffusion, broth dilution and bioautographic methods. Eight different extracts were obtained from H. mexicanum flowers and the antibacterial activity was evaluated. Sesquiterpene lactons may be the main compounds responsible for the antibiotic activity. Araujo Junio et al. [8] studied the cardiovascular activity of the fraction containing two amides, piperine and piperdardine (PTPP) isolated from Piper tuberculatum. Intravenous injection of PTPP in normotensive rats reduced the diastolic blood pressure and heart hate in a dose dependent manner. At the end of the study authors suggest that the hypotension and bradicardia observed after PTPP is probably due to direct cardiac activation and as a result of a direct spasmolytic effect. The same authors previously described for the first time the isolation and structural elucidation of the amide piperdardine, from the stems of Piper tuberculatum, a shrub occurring in the tropical forest of Brazil. The species of Piper are well known for its use as a food flavoring agent. Rios Chavez et al. [9] dedicated their article to the synthesis of the main alkamides during the grown of Acmella radicans. Alkamide content in EtOH extracts was evaluated every week during six months by GCMS. Many of the species containing alkamides have been used in traditional medicine of different civilizations. Some species have been used to the treatment of toothaches and sore throats. Other biological activities are: insecticidal, antifungal, mulluscicidal, antimicrobial. Authors demonstrated that alkamides production was different along the development of A. radicans. Affinin was the first alkamide synthesis and predominant during all development stages of the plant, this alkamide presented three peaks. In the aerial parts and the flower heads the main alkamides were N-isobutyl-(2E,6Z,8E)-decatrienamide (affinin) and 3-phenyl-N-(2-phenylethyl)-2- propenamide. These alkamides levels were 10 fold higher in the flower heads than in aerial parts.

The article by Melo et al. [10] presents the proximal analysis and the amino acid and mineral compositions of five land and aquatic species of insects. Many species of insects (probably 1000 or more) have served as traditional foods among indigenous peoples, especially in warmer climes, and the insects have played an important role in the history of human nutrition. As part of the hunter-gatherer style of life, the main criteria for selection of these traditional species appear to be medium-to-large size and easy availability, i.e., abundance. Insects are eaten in Mexico and all over the world since ancient times and consumed in rural areas and in urban cities at high class restaurants, with a great demand.

This special issue serve to stimulate the studies on these areas that are extremely important for academia and industry. We thank the contributors who gave so generously of their time and experience and who made this publication a valuable tool for scientists in the field of agricultural and food plants chemistry and biology. We are very grateful to the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, United Arab Emirates University and Editors of the  Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture for embracing this project with interest and enthusiasm, for the opportunity to publish this Special Issue and in particular for the valuable input from the editor Dr. Abdul Jaleel Cheruth.