The arid lands of northern Chile are home to trees of the genus Prosopis, known in Chile as “algarrobo”. The trees are sometimes known as mesquite. The seed pods (mesocarp*) of the trees are a good food source which grow well in a dry climate. Also, they are food for indigenous people and animals living in southern United States, Paraguay, and Argentina. Prosopis-derived foods include flour, sweets, and fermented drinks. In Argentina, it is used to make a kind of bread called patay, or is fermented into anapa, aloja, and chicha. The flour has been used to make cookies and fried chips.
The seed pods contain large amounts of the amino acid proline. Phenol** levels are high in the seed pods, which in plant foods is considered a good indicator of the plant’s biological activity. Argentinian prosopis (Prosopis alba and Prosopis nigra) has been shown to have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
Chilean algarrobo pods (Prosopis chilensis) were collected from 3 valleys in northern Chile. The pods were tested for phenols, flavonoids, and antioxidant activity of flour extracts. The color of the flours varied, and the deep purple pods produced the most nutritious flour. The highest phenolic contents were from the Alto del Carmen and the highest antioxidant activity appeared in samples from Alto de Carmen and Plaza de Pinte. The phenolic contents were higher in P. chilensis than in the Prosopis from Argentina. The high phenolic content would suggest that P. chilensis has many health benefits for users. This was the first report of the presence of anthocyanins*** in P. chilensis (accounting for the purple pods).
CONCLUSION: Chilean prosopis can be considered as a functional food due to its high phenolic content and antioxidant activity.
NOTE: *Mesocarp is the fleshy middle part of a fruit; it is the part which is usually eaten.
**Phenols are a large class of chemicals, the simplest of which is carbolic acid. Many phenols occur in plants and have numerous health benefits. Flavonoids are a type of phenol.
***Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments appearing red, blue, and purple, depending on the pH. They are a subclass of flavonoids and have many beneficial health effects.
To read the author’s abstract of the article, click on the title of the article. Then, to read the full article, click on the full text icon.