What are Macambo Beans?
Delicious, buttery and crunchy with a flavor similar to raw cacao are some of the ways that the macambo bean has been described. It is also potentially very healthy so why have so few people heard of it?
The macambo bean grows on a tall canopy tree, closely related to the cacao tree, in the South American rain forest. Sometimes called white cacao this precious bean is healthy, delicious and usually eaten either lightly toasted or dried.
The Amazon rain forest seems to churn out so called superfoods by the sackful but is there anything to suggest that the macambo bean should join them on that list?
Are Macambo Beans a Superfood?
In terms of scientific evidence, there is precious little but despite the dearth of research, there is plenty to suggest that macambo has great health potential.
One reason that macambo may be considered a very healthy food is the presence of an alkaloid called theoromine which is also present in cacao beans. Research has demonstrated that theobromine has certain nootropic benefits. It helps stimulate a feeling of well-being while also providing energy and stimulating alertness.
Although there is precious little research into the health benefits of the macambo bean, there is one interesting piece of research that looked into the antioxidant value of various South American plants. According to the study, the ORAC value of the macambo bean is 24,300.
If that means nothing to you, then compare that figure with other South American superfoods like Maca which has an ORAC value of just 6,100.
How does Macambo compare with Cacao?
Macambo and cacao are very closely related and the inside of the macambo pod looks very similar to the inside of a cocoa plant. However macambo comes from a tree called Theobroma bicolor while the cacao used to make your favorite chocolate bars comes from the Theobroma cacao.
One of the major differences is the prevalence of these trees. While there are millions of cacao tress growing today, the macambo trees are very rare. Estimates put the figure at only a thousand or so.
Macambo is also sometimes known as white cacao or jaguar tree while it is known locally in the Spanish language as pataxte. Despite being referred to as white cacao, it is not the bean from which white chocolate is made.
While macambo is relatively unknown today especially compared with its cousin – cacao, it was not always the case. A thousand or so years ago, macambo was much sought after and regarded as one of the main foods of the Mayan paradise. This changed with the incursion of the Spanish. The conquistadors regarded cacao far superior in flavor and the rest, as they say, is history.
These days, the scarcity of macambo trees makes it a rare delicacy. When compared to the price of raw cacao, it is far more expensive. But is the additional price worth paying?
Antioxidant Value Compared
The antioxidant value tests referred to earlier in the article compared the ORAC value of numerous South American plants including both regular cacao and macambo. Not only did the study compare their ORAC values but also their levels of phenolic compounds.
The antioxidant value and phytonutrient composition of cacao have been known for some time. Raw cocoa has an extremely high ORAC rating of 55,650. This is more than double the value of macambo which has a value of 24,300.
While those figures would imply that regular cocoa powder is healthier, it is not quite that cut and dried.
When they were compared side by side, the levels of certain flavanoids and phenolic compounds contained by the two species varied considerably. The antioxidant composition is different and macambo does not actually contain half the same type of antioxidants as cocoa.
In terms of flavanoid composition, cocoa contains higher levels of quercetin and kaempferol but macambo contains 1,000 times more of a lesser known flavonoid called myricetin.
As regards phenolic acids, regular cocoa contains more caffeic acid but macambo has significantly higher levels of various other phenolic acids. These include vanillic acid (x3), salicylic acid (x4), p-coumaric acid (x2), ferulic acid (x4) and syringic acid (x23).
Why is this relevant? Well, each phenolic acid has a different therapeutic effect and weighing them equally is impossible. The higher ORAC value given to regular cocoa is likely down to quercetin and kaempferol being so well-studied and considered to have such potent effects.
The Potential Benefits of Macambo
1) For Brain Function
Nicknamed the brain bean, it is a little coincidental that a bean that resembles a brain can also act as a powerful stimulant to brain function. Traditional Amazonian practitioners have used it for just this reason for thousands of years.
Loaded with essential, healthy fatty acids and other essential nutrients, eating the bean regularly can do wonders for cognitive ability, focus and other brain functions. Being so high in antioxidant, macambo can also help protect the brain from common degenerative disorders like dementia.
2) For Emotional Wellbeing
While it is certainly worth noting that there has been no research into the nootropic effects of macambo, the bean does possess an intriguing phenolic composition. It contains many of the alkaloids that are found in the cocoa bean which is known to help boost mood.
Claims that the bean contains the type of mood boosting compounds like tyramine, tryptophan and serotonin are premature since the precise chemical composition has yet to be researched. However, given that many of these compounds are present in cocoa, it seems highly likely that macambo would possess them as well.
3) Gives you a Boost of Energy
As we have already mentioned, macambo is very closely related to cocoa and belongs to the same Theobroma family. Like its better-known cousin, macambo contains an alkaloid called theobromine which can help increase mental energy and improve physical energy levels.
Theobromine has an effect not dissimilar to caffeine though considerably milder. It does not impact the nervous system causing the familiar caffeine jitters and subsequent crash. While its effects may be milder than those you’d get from caffeine, they are likely to last longer.
4) Improves Digestion
Macambo seeds are extremely high in healthy dietary fiber. In fact, they contain around 9 grams of dietary fiber for each one ounce serving. By comparison, black beans have just 2 grams and lentils only slightly more.
Fiber is vital to the efficient operation of the digestive system. It can help prevent numerous common digestive complaints such as diarrhea, cramping and indigestion. Fiber also helps satiate the appetite meaning that you are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods throughout the day. More fiber in the diet is very likely to lead to weight loss in the long term.
5) Rich in Fatty Acids
Macambo is a rich source of nutrients including Omega 9 fatty-acids. This acid plays a significant role in our health including improved inflammatory response, reducing cholesterol levels. It has also been linked to an improvement in immune system function and may even protect against cancer.
6) Potential Anti-Cancer
No clinical trials have ever been done on the efficacy of macambo but laboratory testing into its effect on various cancer cells has demonstrated its anti-cancer potential. Testing has been done into its effects on liver cancer and colon cancer with in vitro experiments showing some anti-proliferative potential. It remains to be seen whether macambo would have the same effects in a clinical trial.
So How do You Eat Them?
You can of course eat them just like any other nut or seed as a snack. You can also crush them and sprinkle into soups or on top of salads. They also make a tasty alternative to peanuts on top of a sundae.
Unfortunately, macambo beans are certainly not readily available in the States. Good luck in finding these rare gems but if you have ever eaten them, please let us know what you though.