Ojoche or Maya nut (Bromisum alicastrum) is a plant that can grow up to 1,000 meters high and whose fruit is used to make an edible flour. The tree can be planted in various locations, as it is very resistant. During periods of drought these trees were often planted as they would produce the only available form of food. Originally from Central America, these trees are found in both Nicaragua and in Mexico. Ojoche is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E, proteins, iron, zinc, and folic acid. The leaves are used for animals, while the tree trunk is used to construct chairs, tables, and beds.
The fruit is edible one the plant is 25 years old. It can be eaten raw, boiled, or dried and made into flour. This fruit had an important role in the pre-Columbian diet of the Costa Rican people. If the fruit is stewed it resembles a potato; if it is roasted, on the other hand, it is reminiscent of chocolate or coffee. Thanks to its nutritional qualities, this fruit has helped the local population survive periods of drought and the famines of the 1950s.
The seed is green, and when it is not ripe it is hard with small thorns that are soft to touch; when mature these thorns take on different colors, from orange to yellow. Today machines are used to grind the seeds into flour, but in the past they were ground with stone mortars and pestles. To prepare an incredibly nutritious traditional drink – which is also called ojoche – this flour is mixed with water or milk and a little bit of sugar. It is drunk in the morning as it gives a sense of energy and fullness for the entire day.
The flour can also be used to make cookies. The seeds are handpicked by people who climb directly up the tree with bags on their backs. The seeds are then prepared by women from the local co-ops, but they use machines and not the antique method with mortars. Ojoche is collected both for personal consumption and to sell, but there are very few people who cultivate the plants. This product is at risk of disappearing because people have lost interest in it. What’s more, these trees are often cut down to make space for hotels and industries, and today the market is only interested in the wood, while the fruit has been nearly forgotten completely.