Researchers look to Nunavik’s tundra for fruitful collaboration
“We know that berries are central to Inuit diet and culture”
KUUJJUAQ — A group of Kativik Regional Government councillors hover over plastic bags full of treats while munching on granola bars and dried fruit roll-ups.
But these are not store-bought snacks; they are made with cloudberries, blueberries and blackberries that grow around Nunavik communities.
And these particular berries were harvested by youth in Tasiujaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq as part of an innovative new project — called “Purple Tongue” — to teach traditional plant knowledge and explore new ways of using Nunavik’s native foods.
Purple Tongue is led by Laval university researcher Mélanie Lemire, who has been looking into the health benefits of wild berries and other locally-sourced food products.
“First we know that berries are central to Inuit diet and culture,” Lemire told the KRG council Nov. 26 in a videoconference presentation from Kangisualujjuaq. “They are, from what we know, rich in nutrients and low in sugar, salt and fat.”
Lemire has studied the health benefits of Nunavik’s most famous fruit: cloudberries (arpiq), blackberries (paurngaq), blueberries (kigutanginnaq), redberries (kimminaq) and bearberries (kallaq).
She found the berries aid in weight loss, insulin sensitivity in diabetics and overall intestine health, calling the native berries “a little gold mine.”
But to take full advantage of the berries’ potential, regional organizations wanted to see how they could better benefit Nunavimmiut.
Community consultations have shown concerns about lack of freezers space to keep berries, as well as a gap in young peoples’ knowledge about the fruit.
So along with different partners, Lemire has been working with Independent Learning Path classes in both Tasiujaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq, where students in each community picked 30 kilos of berries this past fall.
The two groups sat down with local elders to learn more about the traditional uses of berries; arpiit can help soothe a stomach ache or a sore throat, while many of the leaves from berry plants make good teas.
The IPL groups then went to work in their school kitchens, developing recipes and transforming berries into fruit purees, granola bars and fruit roll-ups.
Those were some of the products that made it the KRG council meeting in Kuujjuaq this week, to the approval of many councillors.
“We tried to sweeten everything with apple juice, dates or banana sauce,” Lemire explained. “The challenge to make a product that is moist enough, without losing its natural taste. What we want is for people to taste their berries in the product.”
The project has many Nunavimmiut excited about the potential of developing the region’s food sector, although Purple Tongue remains an education and research project for now.
“At this point, there is no business angle to it,” said Maxim Tardif with the Montreal-based biofoods development centre Biopterre. “When we talk about product development, there’s potential for that, but that will be a separate road.”
People in Kangiqsualujjuaq have already suggested using the project to made homemade berry purées for the local daycare centre.
“And why bring up purée from the South when you have something so much healthier in your own backyard?” Tardif said.
KRG councillors encouraged the group to continue their work, while IPL classes prepare recipe books with new ideas on how to prepare berries.
“Inuit no longer have nice, natural red cheeks like they used to, because of what they eat today,” said Charlie Arngak, a regional councillor for Kangiqsujuaq. “All this should be strengthened and continued [because] there’s a lot of vegetation that can be taken from nature.”
Purple Tongue is funded by a number of different organizations in and outside of Nunavik, including ArcticNet, the KRG and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.