Finland: The Hot Spot of Superfoods
As our mouths gobble on more processed food-like products than ever before, people have started to look for whole, natural alternatives for healthier, longer life without sacrificing the taste. According to Google Trends and Google Insight, “superfood” term is on the rise in the tranquil northern haven with thousands of lakes and pure nature, also known as Finland.
In the past five years or so Finns have started to opt raw chocolate for guilt-free indulging, and cacao isn’t the only star of the show; Chaga mushroom, used as coffee replacement during the war time, was chosen as the herb of the year 2013, and is available in almost any city now. In Finland, people eat more of these and other nutrient-dense treats than any country per capita. Easy access to mushrooms and ravenous bilberry-picking deep in the woods surely can’t be the only answers to why this small, distant country has become the hot spot of the industry. Maybe the Finns are onto something that other countries can follow: Could chaga be the new espresso in Italy, raw cakes replace French pastries, and kale chips beat crisps in the UK?
Foodism: The Why And The How
Curious as we in FSF are, we decided to talk to those who know and have been around superfoods and the whole hype since mr. Goji along with his friends Maca, Cacao and the rest of the exotic super gang first arrived in Finland. A doctor, a reporter, a store owner and a health coach walk into a bar…but that’s a completely different story.
Why have superfoods spread and become such a popular trend in Finland?
Samuli Perälä, co-founder of Numen Oy and the person who is said to be one of the Fathers of Superfoods in Finland, says: “There already was a demand for superfoods, because ‘normal’ foods have become less nutritional during the past years. Superfoods were the easy answer to a natural deficiency.”
Olli Sovijärvi, doctor and Helsinki Paleo podcaster adds, that superfoods are also a response to the government’s monopolies, such as Valio (dairy products) and other great “food houses”.
“in addition to the global health trend, Finland’s natural resources for superfoods such as berries make them more accessible.”, Noora Shingler, journalist, author and owner of the popular Kemikaalicocktail-blog thinks.
Maria Lönnqvist uses blueberries in her raw superfood cupcakes
What made the snowball to roll; when did it all begin and what happened for the demand to increase?
“The first superfood products such as goji and maca started to sell in 2007″, Heini Mikkonen, the owner of Runsaudensarvi eco shop in Tampere, recalls. The following year, thanks to few active, young and athletic guys with a lot of enthusiasm and sometimes aggressive promoting, the media and the masses started to get interested in these nutritional powerhouses. Mikkonen also thanks the fresh style of branding to the popularity of superfoods. She thinks that green smoothies would not have sold so well and the message would not have gone through, if it had been promoted by hippies.
Finland was fast in catching up with what was popular in the United States, and few Finnish companies started importing superfoods through “Finnish channels”. Jaakko Halmetoja, Olli Posti and eager women’s magazines’ reporters were behind the publicity and rapid growth in general interest towards superfoods. The healthy example and experience-based education from Halmetoja, Posti and few other “foodists” kept the interest high, providing them opportunities for public appearances in major tv-channels’ talk shows and other programs. Few health programs in tv and in the radio started to regularly pay interest to superfoods and better overall lifestyle, making people demand superfoods from their supermarkets.
The effects of exposure and example are vital, says Noora Shingler, an active reporter questioning our society: “When certain public personas and bloggers started spreading the word, others became interested. People tried superfoods themselves and found out that they make you feel good and can easily replace nutrient-poor ingredients. The popularity is self-evident!”
Shingler also points out, that superfoods are re-inventing the wheel: “the oldest and most precious ingredients from around the world get value in the eyes of a new target group because of their new, trendy name. I think it’s great that a new word has caught the attention of people. For all I care, superfoods could be called little rocks if it made people enjoy original, healthy and energetic ingredients instead of weak, processed products.”
Sick Of Being Sick, Or Looking For A Healthy Treat?
According to Heini Mikkonen, at first the most popular superfoods were cacao, goji and maca. Because of bad publicity goji’s popularity decreased, which still shows. “The most popular superfoods now are maca, spirulina, chaga, cacao, goji, chlorella, roseroot, guarana, FSF mushroom extracts…” and the list goes on. Mikkonen defines Finns as open to try new and that superfoods suit the “Finnish mentality” with their concrete effects on the mind and body.
“Since superfoods are often used to boost the immune system, protect from flu and other illnesses, they are more popular during the cold months of the year.” (which means basically any other month than in the summer – editor’s note)
Olli Sovijärvi, a doctor specialized in nutrition and exercise, points out that adaptogens such as roseroot are popular due to their hormone balancing effects. Sovijärvi also states that you can fill nutrient deficiencies and boost daily energy and health with superfoods. “Many of my patients use superfoods and by subjective experiences they have proven to be very beneficial health-wise.”
When selected carefully, Sovijärvi believes that superfoods can bring a lot of extra value to health. “Chronic stress, which is perhaps in the background for 90% of diseases, is one of the main reasons for imbalance in the body. Adaptogens, such as schisandra, ashwagandha and roseroot are very effective in healing this.”
“Often people eat too much stimulating superfoods, or then they eat the wrong foods because they don’t know how to listen to their body. Often the usage instructions are not clear enough, which can lead to side effects”, Samuli Perälä adds. However, Perälä has not received any completely negative feedback about superfoods during the years he has been involved in the health field and superfood scene.
All of the superfood experts agree that basically anyone from hipster teenagers to their grandparents buys superfoods. Since the selection is growing wider and wider, people start experimenting with different superfood combinations and recipes, and find their new favorites.
For few years now, bloggers have been active in creating and sharing their mouth-watering treats from superior ingredients. Guilt-free raw dessert cakes and chocolates that look just like their conventional, unhealthy versions seem to appeal especially to the ladies – which makes mastering the art of making chocolate appealing to men, too.
Chocolove by Smoothie Studio
Are Superfoods Here To Stay?
You can buy a raw chocolate kit instead of a cake bake mix, and no one can argue that smoothies take too much time to whirl up. Ashwagandha might be hard to pronounce for some, but luckily it’s not the only option in the superfood clan.
What does this all result in, what are the good outcomes of superfoods’ popularity?
Superfoods have increased general attention and knowledge about nutrients, and the low quality of “regular” food. Everyone agrees that more demand leads to easier access and broader selection, which is generally a positive thing. However, not all products are equally super: “Some products may be taking advantage of the buzzword superfood, like regular milk chocolate that has goji berries and is then marketed as superfood”, Noora Shingler points out.
Heini Mikkonen thinks that at some point the popularity and media attention went out of hands, causing irritation. As a result, natural Finnish products polished their image.
“We have woken up to appreciate and protect Finnish supers: blueberries, buckthorn, nettle, chaga and wild herbs have become better-known.”
“In general people awaken to the fact that processed “food” does not improve health, but it makes you prone to different ailments. Preventing sickness and maintaining health are the most important long-term effects of superfoods, most of which have already been used for thousands of years in China and India”, Olli Sovijärvi concludes.
Finnish honey products, Smoothie Studio honey spiked with chaga (c) Smoothie Studio
Superfoods are now everyday items to many Finns, and they are widely available. Therefore all the interviewed believe that natural, pure ingredients that are marketed as superfoods have become a staple in the Finnish kitchen repertoire for good. One of the keys to success seems to be aggressive promoting from successful people from all walks of life who are more than willing to share their discoveries, experiments and experiences with the new, yet ancient ingredients. But no matter from what angle you look at it, the real change happens through the real-life stories and individuals sharing their own experiences. With slight cultural modifications, other countries can also leverage the example of the Finns and help democratize superfoods around the world.
Blueberries and goji berries can be a match made in heaven in the same breakfast bowl, and they may become our everyday bread for the next decades, even centuries – and why not, since they’ve been around all along.