Known as canelo, foye or winter’s bark, Drimys winteri is an evergreen shrub native to the forests of Patagonia, and particularly the mountains that surround Las Balsas. The plant grows in small bushes underneath the lenda and coihue, two species of well-conserved trees, and produces small dark-purple fruits called pepe canelo, which grow along the trunk. Their flavor is initially sweet and fruity, recalling cinnamon, before a piquancy emerges and gently numbs the tongue. The canelo berries, dried and finely chopped to best preserve their aroma, are used to prepare both sweet and savory recipes. Their sensory qualities mean they pair well with red meat and game, but they can also enhance fruit and chocolate desserts thanks to their sweet, fruity notes.
Canelo has a unique, ancestral value to the region’s inhabitants, the ancient Mapuche people. In fact, the plant is placed at the center of sacred places where the rehue are held, the culture’s rituals and religious ceremonies. The lonkos, the chiefs, use scepters made from canelo branches as a symbol of their authority, hence their name of ngen foye, or “owners of the canelo.” In the Mapuche culture, canelo also represents a point of contact between the people and the ngen-mawida, the spirits of the native forest.
Despite the enormous cultural and natural value of the Patagonia Lake District, its Andean forests are being threatened by intensive development. Additionally, the local community is tending to lose interest in the local environment and its ecosystem, cutting itself off from interactions with the indigenous nature that surrounds it. Within this particular dynamic, the promotion of canelo, a wild forest species, should be further encouraged within the local gastronomic offering. The aim of marketing pepe canelo, in fact, is to add value to a native product, harvested and processed using traditional methods on a tiny scale and closely linked to the local culture. In this way, as well as safeguarding a traditional food, the protection and conservation of the indigenous Patagonian forests are also promoted. All of this represents a preliminary phase in a process of strengthening traditions and creating a context that can encourage the development of new gastronomic offerings.