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The Best-Kept Secret of Patagonia

Nineteen years have passed since Carolina Cárdenas Bozzo opened Secreto de la Patagonia, a chocolate shop filled with Calafate-based products – one of the most emblematic resources in Magallanes.

Calafate (Berberis microphylla) is a spiky endemic bush of the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. In Magallanes, it is a symbol, and its blue-colored fruits have been collected and used by the local first nations. Nutritionally, it has gained relevance as a potent antioxidant, although its full medical potential has not been extensively studied so far.

Thanks to the researchers at the Nutrition Department of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Chile, led by the academic Diego García, important findings about calafate have been made. For example, they have identified properties that help prevent obesity, as well as the development of insulin resistance, a condition associated with the onset of diabetes. These findings complement other well-known properties, such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects."

 After this brief yet necessary review of calafate properties, we return to Secreto de la Patagonia, a delightful and cozy place that captivates us. With a sweet aroma and colors that envelop us, its warmth invites us to explore its shelves and be amazed by the immense variety of options that can be crafted from such a small fruit.

Initially, they exclusively produced chocolate. "I noticed there were very few products featuring calafate. Back then, the only item available in the market was marmalade. That's when I began creating products using Magallanic ingredients. In addition to calafate, I incorporated rhubarb, smilax, and redcurrant. This marked the birth of all the other Secretos de la Patagonia products," remarked Carolina. Presently, the store situated at 245 Ignacio Carrera Pinto Street boasts the most extensive collection of calafate-based products available in the region.

From chocolate and alfajores, to syrup, tea, mate herbs, honey, various types of vinegar, wine jam, salt, marmalade, concentrated juice – these are just a few of the products available in this store. "Our goal is to seamlessly integrate these products into our daily diet. This remarkable fruit's potential remains untapped if we only consume it sparingly," emphasized Carolina.

 

The challenge of calafate production

As we wander through the shop, enveloped by the scent of fresh fruit, Carolina shares her concerns about the condition of the calafate. Although this wild bush is abundant throughout the area, the city's expansion has slowly encroached upon its space. "The bushes are aging, making it increasingly difficult to harvest. That is why it is crucial to cultivate calafate, which would lead to a reduction in its price, thereby making the product more accessible. Not only is calafate hard to acquire, but it also yields a limited amount due to its numerous seeds. About half of the harvested product ends up as waste, primarily consisting of seeds. The current prices prevent the final product from being within everyone's reach. Thus, we are confronted with a significant challenge: 'domesticating it to reduce costs,' as stated by the founder of Secretos de la Patagonia."

Carolina's apprehensions about the fruit's future are evident. That is why she has partnered with various institutions dedicated to studying calafate, including the University of Chile, the University of Concepcion, and the INIA. Simultaneously, she has committed herself to mastering the art of crafting various products, all while maintaining a keen focus on preserving its antioxidant properties.

In addition, Carolina maintains a roster of over a hundred seasonal workers who work in groups to gather calafate. This activity takes place from January 20, when the berries reach their peak maturity, until March.

The progress of Secreto de la Patagonia is gauged not solely by product innovation, but also by the establishment of a new branch in the city of Concepcion. However, the chocolate shop signifies much more than this. It has evolved into a destination within the region where one can savor Calafate in all its dimensions and gain further insights into this fruit, which holds cultural significance as a heritage of Magallanes.

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