Ariá (Calathea allouia) was cultivated for a long time by indigenous populations and small traditional growers in the Amazon region. Known as “sweet corn root” due to the similarity with maize, sometimes it is also compared to apples! Remaining crispy even when cooked, it is a very palatable vegetable. The tuberous roots contains 15 percent starch, 7 percent protein, being a good source of essential amino acids such as lysine, methionine, and tryptophan.
Unfortunately, Ariá is currently experiencing a loss of genetic variability to its increased abandonment in the last 30 years, mainly due to small farmers dietary replacements by more conventional cultures (e.g. sweet potato, yam) or industrialized products such as wheat and bread. It can be found in local fairs in the north region of Brazil and it has been well accepted and distributed throughout the world, but never reached the point of being commercially explored anywhere.
Calathea allouia is specially recommended by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) to be used in agroforestry systems, since its agronomic limitations from the monoculture point of view (such as shade tolerance and good irrigation requirements) could be turned into advantages within the system. As a nutrient-rich PANC that can be harvested annually, it is an excellent subsistence crop for small scale farmers in Brazil.
Most importantly, rescuing plants such as Ariá represents not only a rescue of the species biodiversity, but of the culture and traditions of indigenous peoples from the Amazon rainforest, lost over time mainly due to large scale agriculture and the so-called gastronomic imperialism.
Sources: FAO (2014), Kinupp; Lorenzi (2009)
Picture Credits: Jornal Estado de São Paulo