According to the Rainforest Foundation, approximately 50 percent of all living things call the tropical rainforests home. Some of the largest and most important rainforests can be found around the world in Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and Asia, in addition to some smaller parts of the Pacific Northwest. Even though rainforests may seem far away and mysterious for most people, these large habitats play an important part in your daily life.
Along with insects and animals, a good many of the foods we eat either come from or originated in the rainforests. In fact, around 80 percent of the food we eat came from tropical rainforests in some way. This includes fruits and vegetables, as well as coffee and spices. While the rainforest has a large selection of plants and food sources, we only use a fraction of these products. Consider these most popular food resources.
Often referred to as the “food of the Gods”, chocolate is derived from the cacao tree. Cacao trees survive only in areas that receive at least four inches of rain per month and love to grow in climates with high humidity. This tree produces large pods ranging in size from 4 to 12 inches long that contain cocoa beans. Each pod can house up to 60 beans, and it can take seven to 14 pods to make a single pound of cocoa. If you enjoy drinking hot chocolate, having a chocolate bar at lunch, or even taking a bite of chocolate cake for dessert, then you can thank the rainforests.
Bananas thrive best in hot tropical places around the world. In contrast to popular notions, bananas actually grow as a giant herb. Unlike many fruit-bearing plants, bananas reach their full height in just a year and can produce hundreds of bananas from a single harvest. Modern technology has allowed us to grow bananas in places like California, but true bananas originated in India, Southeast Asia and northern Australia.
3. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits are probably the most common food from the rainforest. Oranges, lemons and grapefruits enjoy the warm weather of the tropical rainforests. Extremely heavy rain can destroy citrus crops, but the heavy canopy of the trees overhead allow water to trickle down on citrus trees, and the fruits thrive.
You probably don’t realize that cashews are formed in individual seed pods. These intricate nuts grow on the end of a swollen stalk that resembles an apple. The apple portion of the nut actually contains a poison that can cause a rash in individuals with sensitivities. The Brazil nut also grows inside a fleshy pod. Both of these nuts can be found growing in the tropical rainforests.
Palm trees grow in abundance in the rainforests. The same can be true of sugar palms. Sugar cane can be found growing in various regions across the globe, but the large Arenga sugar palm is a hardy plant that actually helps restore the soil where deforestation has occurred in the rainforests.
6. Coconut Oil
It’s no surprise that coconuts grow in tropical rainforests. Castaway movies depict survivors struggling to open coconuts on deserted islands. Like most trees that grow in the rainforests, coconuts enjoy hot and humid climates. Coconut oil is extracted from coconuts for a variety of applications, such as skin care, beauty products and as a cooking ingredient.
No matter what type of dish you are in the mood for, chances are it has been seasoned with spices that originated from the rainforests. Both cinnamon and pepper come from the rainforests, as well as vanilla seed pods that make the extract for baking or coffee.
Sadly, some of these foods from the rainforests are grown in such a way that harms their environment. It’s important to select foods that are grown with earth-friendly farming methods. Check the labels on the foods you eat to ensure you are choosing organic products, or products endorsed by Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance or the Forest Stewardship Counsel.