Peru's immense bio-diversity means that it is a treasure chest of fruits and grains, the marvellous properties of which are only now beginning to be appreciated by Western scientists and consumers. Supermarkets are beginning to feature products containing quinoa and maca - two famous Incan superfoods from the Andes mountain region - for example.
Meanwhile, in the Amazon rain forest, nutrient-rich 'superfruits' have been nourishing and healing the indigenous population for centuries.
The aguaje, which is the fruit of the moriche palm, is one such superfood, with three times more vitamin A than a carrot and packed with protein, vitamins and oils. It is also very high in vitamin C content and often used to make jam, juice and ice cream.
The moriche palm reaches a height of 6 - 7 m (20 - 23 ft), and starts to fruit after seven or eight years. To collect the fruit, entails climbing the palm, using a rudimentary system of straps. It is not for the faint-hearted!
The aguaje fruit has a dark-red shell, containing a yellow-orange flesh and chestnut-coloured seed. It is known as a 'miracle fruit' because it also has a number of medicinal and cosmetic uses.
Its oil is used to treat burns. When applied directly to a burn, the high vitamin A, vitamin E and oil content soothes the wound. The rich beta-carotene component is known to protect from sun damage and is used as a natural sunblock.
Aguaje has been used to treat various skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. The natural anti-inflammatory reaction tames redness and calms the skin.
Another nickname is the 'curvy fruit', for aguaje contains phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens) that are said to increase female curves, balance hormone levels and ease hot flushes during menopause, and even restore fertility.
Despite these many beneficial features, and its natural abundance in the Amazon region, especially in the flooded forest of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, the production of aguaje oil is little-developed in Peru. 50% of the fruit harvested is lost, owing to its rapid ripening process.
To rectify this, and provide valuable income to local villagers, Latitud Sur, the French-Peruvian NGO that operates the Selva Viva Amazon cruise boat, have begun a pilot project in Veinte de Enero, a community located on the Yanayacu River, three hours by speedboat from Nauta. The idea is to provide a sustainable use of the Pacaya-Samiria's resources and add value to the aguaje harvest by producing oil from the fruit.
In 2012, an aguaje oil production plant was built in the village, and locals trained in how to operate it. Today, the local Association of Aguaje Producers & Processors has 23 members and produces oil for wholesale and retail, as well as soaps.
Soon the association will be fully self-sufficient, but in the meantime, it is good to know that any of the profits from the Selva Viva's Amazon cruise activities will go towards worthwhile, grass-roots projects such as this.