Ojoche, a Coffee Alternative from Healing From Foods

What is it about ojoche (pronounced OH-HO-CHAY) that makes it so uniquely fascinating? This nutrient-packed seed has been around for centuries, yet many of us are just learning about the mysterious superfood for the first time. Even people living throughout Central America where it is grown are largely unaware of it. When two Vermonters first stumbled upon ojoche and unlocked its hidden potential, they could not believe such a nutritious and sustainable food source had nearly been lost to time. They were not only shocked by its absence in our modern diet, but they were also worried because the source of the food—the Ojoche canopy tree—is threatened with extinction. The trees are being cut down faster than local populations can regenerate due to being prized for their wood, despite the renewable food source they provide. The partners knew they could not stand by idly while the trees succumbed to such a fate, so they set out to help prevent it—sharing this hidden gem with the world and enriching us with healthier lifestyles.

Becca and Sarah founded Healing From Foods in 2018 as an expansion of an herbal tea business they ran from California before relocating to New England. Their business’ roots stem from Sarah’s experience of living with Chron’s disease, and many of the teas and herbal remedies they offer were formulated to provide some relief from its symptoms. With ojoche, the pair saw an opportunity to provide their community with a remarkable source of healthy and renewable food, as well as the added bonus of helping the earth recover from the scourge of deforestation.

We talked to Becca at Healing From Foods to learn more about ojoche and its future. She explains why it is one of the most sustainable and nutritious foods she has ever encountered, as well as what it has been like working with different women’s collectives to harvest and import the seeds directly from wild habitats.

Ojoche seeds following the roasting process

What is ‘ojoche’ and why is it considered an ancient superfood?

Ojoche is the indigenous Nicaraguan name for the Ramón seed, a large seed (about the size of an acorn) produced by the ojoche canopy tree. The term 'superfood' is a relatively new one, but it basically means that the food it refers to is very nutrient-dense. Ojoche is a complete, high-quality protein packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is also a prebiotic, is low glycemic, has no known allergens or toxins, and is free of caffeine and other stimulants. With all the nutrients in ojoche, your body and mind are treated to a natural energy boost and an awesome, natural pick-me-up with no crash. Ojoche consumption has also been traced back to the Mayans, so it is thought to be an ‘ancient’ superfood.

The seeds are picked wild from Brosimum alicastrum, also known as the Ojoche canopy tree.

What are some key differences between ojoche and traditional coffee beans?

Coffee beans and ojoche seeds actually don't have very much in common other than the fact that they taste very similar when roasted and brewed. Additionally, they both grow inside of fruit—the coffee cherry and the ojoche fruit, respectively—and they both have two halves making up the dense center of the fruit. Other than those similarities, coffee and ojoche are fairly different. Ojoche is alkaline, where coffee can be acidic. Ojoche is also lactogenic, meaning that it helps boost milk production in breastfeeding women. Importantly, it is also stimulant and caffeine-free, meaning that it is safe for children and adults alike to consume and benefit from. You could essentially live off ojoche, if necessary! So not only is it a tasty and satisfying beverage, but it’s also really good for you.

For further reading about using ojoche as a coffee alternative, click here.

A french press is one preferred brewing method for Ojoche.

How did you decide to start a small business offering naturally-sourced products?

My partner Sarah and I started Healing From Foods to bring natural, sustainable products that have helped us nourish and heal our bodies to our community. Ojoche was introduced to us by a neighbor who works as a spice trader with small family farms around the world. He brought ojoche to our front door and we absolutely loved how it satisfied our coffee cravings. Sarah and I had to give up coffee in 2015 when it just became too acidic for our bodies, giving us terrible stomach aches and other problems. This was a difficult process since we love coffee so much, but it set us on the search for a healthier alternative. We tried roasted dandelion and chicory tea, as well as other coffee substitutes, but nothing quite measured up to coffee… until we tried ojoche. We were floored by how similar it tasted and felt when we drank it, so we asked our neighbor the next day where we could get more. He answered that we couldn't—that he would have to bring us some more the next time he traveled to Nicaragua. Sarah and I then launched into research mode, trying to figure out how we had never before heard of this unique and special seed. And, the more we learned about its health benefits and its sustainability, the more excited we got. Eventually, we realized that we wanted to bring ojoche into the States so that it would finally be accessible to everyone.

Click here for a cookbook featuring some deliciously creative ojoche recipes.

Healing From Foods co-founders Sarah Dal Balcon (left) and Becca Dixon (right)

What is it like working with sustainable producers from another region of the world?

We source all of our ojoche directly from women’s collectives in rural Nicaragua. These women go into the forest to harvest ojoche from its host trees in the wild, then they bring it home for processing. It is incredible working with these women—they teach us so much, and having this direct connection and knowing exactly where our product comes from is so important to us. Sarah and I love that we are a women-run business supporting and buying from women’s collectives. These women are very passionate about reforestation and replanting ojoche trees, which have historically been sought and cut down for their wood. We love building a global community and are so honored to create a market for ojoche here in the States that will provide the women in Nicaragua, their families, and their communities with income and stability. 

To learn more about reforestation and the replanting of useful trees like Ojoche in Central America, click here.

Freshly brewed Ojoche made with roasted grounds from Nicaragua

What other products do you hope to introduce to our local communities?

Healing From Foods also makes an herbal tea blend that supports digestion and soothes the entire body and digestive system. Sarah formulated the tea to help her when she had a bad Crohn’s disease flare-up in 2015, and we have continued to make it ever since. We also hope to offer different roasts of ojoche in the future, as well as create an instant ojoche mix! Although we are just starting out, we have so many ideas for the future… we can’t wait to bring them all to life!

To learn more about Healing From Foods, you can check out their website here.

If you’re curious to dig deeper into the history of Ojoche and its cultural and environmental impact, click here

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