The mata de todi (sometimes spelled mata de toddy) of the Mucuna genus is a perennial, leguminous plant with large black seeds or beans. The name of the genus is derived from mucunã, a Tupí–Guaraní word for these species. It is a climbing or creeping plant, and so it is not widely grown, though it used to be cultivated throughout Venezuela. It can be harvested fresh to add to soups or salads. Also, once dried it can be harvested and cooked like any other bean. The toasted bean has a flavor similar to cocoa. In the past it was consumed mostly in rural areas. Historically, its main use was as a beverage, which was prepared by toasting the beans and grinding them. With this powder, one could make a drink with a chocolaty flavor, but today this tradition has been lost. Its use as a widely cultivated legume has been displaced by other beans that can be grown in a more intensive way. First, the bean itself was displaced by other varieties to be grown commercially, with the negative consequences that this implies (monoculture, pesticides, etc.). As drink, the tradition has also been lost perhaps for more complex reasons. It could be the labor involved, meaning the roasting and grinding of the beans and the practicality of now being able to prepare drinks from a commercially made canned mix. Today, it is only grown in small quantities for personal use. In parts of Venezuela, consumption of mata de todi and other local products was displaced by the fast-paced lifestyle brought about by oil exploitation. From a perspective of profit maximization, this bean is not considered of high economic value because of its vine and characteristics that make mechanized treatment and harvesting difficult. However, as a resource for the local economy and networking of producers and conscious consumers, it is a product with great potential. Work has begun on propagating mata de todi vines and once a large enough quantity can be harvested, they can again be toasted to revive the drinking tradition.
Image: © Jose L Cianci