Acquiring a taste for superfoods
Superfoods have quickly become the food fad of the new millennium as health-concious Australians seek to benefit from a good diet.
A variety of foods - many from exotic locations - have been elevated to special status because of their alleged disease-fighting properties.
But while many are new to our dinner tables, they are not newly discovered. Ancient cultures in various parts of the world have been tucking into them for centuries.
Curiously, the way western society prepares and eats the foods is often quite different to the original users.
PhD researcher Jessica Loyer is on a mission to unravel some of the inconsistencies and establish why Australians are attracted to eat particular foods in the first place.
"I often refer to them as displaced foods because they have landed in supermarkets and marketed as healthy products without any sense of how they were originally used in cuisine," she says.
"Whenever a superfood becomes popular all these studies come out breaking it down into its individual components and explaining how it helps promote good health.
"That's all very interesting but quite often it simply ends up confirming the way traditional societies have viewed the foods for thousands of years. I'm interested in the stories behind these local staple foods and how they suddenly become a global commodity."
A committed food enthusiast and writer, Ms Loyer relocated from the US in 2006 to study a Masters in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide. She is approaching her PhD from a social science perspective, focusing her research on four superfoods: cranberries, maca roots, chia seeds and quinoa grain.
There are two major elements which involve focus groups in Australia and fact gathering among people in the traditional home of the foods. She wants to gain an insight into people's understanding of the health benefits and also compare how the foods are used in the different cultures.
Her initial focus group in Adelaide has shown that 'superfoodies' are often people keen to take control of their health.
"We live in a society with industrialised food and medical systems and it seems these people want to take back some of the powers and are educating themselves about what they can eat to benefit their health," she says.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Ms Loyer well remembers visiting a cranberry bog during a family hike in Cape Cod and discovering the link between the tiny berries and the Thanksgiving turkey sauce.
What she didn't realise at the time was that cranberries were also harvested by indigenous Americans as an important part of their diet and for medicinal purposes.
It seems the knowledge was passed on because the alleged health benefits of cranberry sauce and juice was advertised in the US as far back as the 1920s. Today cranberry is marketed for its apparent ability to lower the risk of urinary tract infection, prevent certain types of cancer, improve immune function and decrease blood pressure.
Ms Loyer recently made a return visit to her home state to find out more from native Americans and is planning a field trip to Peru in June to research the home of maca. High in the Andes, the root has been a staple food of local people for centuries as a folk remedy for increasing stamina, energy and libido.
But whereas in the Andes it is eaten as a root, in the west it is typically taken as a processed dried capsule.
Ms Loyer eventually hopes to team up with someone specialising in nutrition or dietetics to research if treating the foods so differently has an impact on the health benefits.
To join a superfood focus group or take part in a survey visit ua.edu.au/foodresearch or email Jessica loyer at firstname.lastname@example.org