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Calafate, a Patagonian treasure

Diego Salas

“If you eat calafate, you will return,” is a popular superstition from the Magallanes region. Here, at the southernmost tip of the world, this fruit is highly esteemed. Not only is it characteristic of many typical dishes, but it also deeply meaningful culturally. In addition, scientific studies consider it to be a superfood capable of providing multiple health benefits, due to its high concentration of antioxidants.

The calafate, known scientifically as Berberis microphylla, is a thorny shrub found exclusively in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina. Its has evergreen leaves, small thorns and it can grow up to 1.5 meters in height. Its yellow flowers bloom between October and January. During the summer, its fruit – a delicious bluish-black berry – appears. 

You will see it on excursions during your visit to Torres del Paine National Park Usually growing in isolation, it prefers the direct sunlight of clearings near ñirre, coigüe and lenga forests. Guanacos and other species that eat calafate fruit are key to spreading its seeds through their feces. 

The Calafate and its roots in Patagonian culture

Legend has it that Calafate was the name of the daughter of the chief of a Tehuelche tribe, one of the original peoples of Patagonia. She was very beautiful and respected by everyone. One day, a young Selk’nam came to the clan to fulfill his initiation ritual, despite the Tehuelches’ contempt for his people. 

Calafate and the young Selk’nam fell in love while he was completing the initiation tests. The relationship was not accepted by the Tehuelche tribe chief, so the young couple ran off together secretly. When Calafate’s father discovered that his daughter had run away, he was enraged and asked for help from the tribe’s sorceress, a wise old woman who explained that she could do nothing to prevent the love they felt for one another. However, she added that there was a way to keep them apart forever and she transformed the young Calafate into a thorned bush.

The young Selk’nam searched tirelessly for his beloved in the Patagonian steppe until one day, very sad and exhausted, he asked for help from the spirits, who, moved by his situation, transformed him into a bird so that he could continue his search flying. Finally, he alighted on a bush, tasted its purple fruits and instantly recognized that this sweetness arose from the heart of his beloved Calafate; he stayed with her until he died.

This is the reason for the claim that people who taste the fruit are destined to return: they will not be able separate themselves from Calafate’s love.

Calafate Cuisine

Due to its medicinal properties and its high nutritional value, this fruit has been collected and used by the ancestral communities of Patagonia for a long time. In fact, the calafate has become a symbol of local gastronomy and part of the cultural heritage of this land.

It can be found in preparations of all kinds, mainly in desserts, cakes and cocktails. It is usually consumed as fresh fruit, but also in the form of jams, jellies, syrups and liqueurs. Additionally, due to its health benefits, it is dehydrated and lyophilized for supplement capsules. 

One of the area’s most famous products, and one of the most requested drinks at the Tierra Patagonia bar, is the Calafate Sour, a twist on the traditional pisco sour that, rather than being yellow from lemons, is a striking purple color. 

The Tierra Patagonia menu also features other cocktails made with calafate liqueur, as well as beers featuring it. The hotel kitchen and bar always surprise guests with their exquisite calafate preparations. 

If you want to learn more about the calafate, and enjoy its diverse products and the Magellanic culture, we invite you to visit Tierra Patagonia. You will have unforgettable adventures and a well-deserved rest during your holiday in a magnificent setting across from Torres del Paine National Park.