Between the exquisitely crafted breakfast bowls, glowing hyper-color lattes, and glamorous multi-tiered cakes adorned with fresh flowers, these days it's hard to separate superfoods from their growing role in cutting-edge cuisine. Yet, surprisingly, each of these superfood ingredients has been used by cultures all around the world for thousands of years. So what did past civilizations do with these valuable ingredients? Here's a hint: it definitely didn't involve a Vitamix.
From the camu berries of the Amazon to the goji berries of the Himalayas, most superfoods were first categorized as medicinal plants, and used as a part of intricate healing practices and sacred rituals. Medicinal mushrooms were often used as a part of Chinese medicine, and cacao beans were deemed so divine, the plant was actually named “food of the Gods,” and often collected as a prized spoil of war. Ancient cultures had very deep connections with the plants that grew around them, and passed down valuable information from generation to generation on the most healing berries, seeds, leaves, and roots used to treat a myriad of symptoms, from fertility to fever.
However careful the wellness practice may have been, this was also not of time of haute cuisine. Most of the superfoods we know and love today were initially used in primitive drinks and elixirs, where taste was unlikely the main priority. Berries which were not of a snacking variety would often be steeped in tea, cooked like a broth, or mashed into a pulpy juice. Nuts, seeds, and roots would often be dried out in the sun. Next, they would be pummeled into a powder using a mortar and pestle, and then stored for longer periods of time, often added to unleavened breads and stews. Porridge was a go-to style of dish, and many superfoods like maca and chia were traditionally used in this manner. And speaking of “easy to make in a pot,” soups were very popular too, often including superfood additions like seaweed, ginger, and turmeric.
As you may imagine, many of these original healing meals were rather bland and bitter due to limited resources – just think, even salt was once an expensive and difficult to come by commodity! But their effects on good health and vigor afforded superfoods a lasting place in the ancient medicine cabinet, and today, we continue to reap those very same rewards. The only difference is, now we just get to have a bit more fun in the kitchen in the process, while producing much more delicious results.