Power food is the latest fad and there's an exotic variety to choose from

Hope comes in bottles. And sometimes in sachets.

A mysterious new coffee I'm trying claims it can make me skinny, stunning and smart. It contains marine collagen, reputed for its ability to make the skin glow. Chromium chelate, to “regulate appetite, reducing sugar cravings and increase lean body mass.” Ginseng extract, added for its revitalising properties. The result? A coffee that tastes like you're licking machinery. Old rusted machinery, to be precise.

Nothing sells like easy solutions. Of course, we're too practical to believe in fairy godmothers who can accessorise us with Dior draped over killer abs and well toned legs punctuated with Jimmy Choos. Modern day magic is a lot more practical. Even Shrek had to be satisfied with inner beauty. Yet, exotic pills and powders sourced from mysterious plants and trees have never been as popular as they are today. Especially if they're accompanied by suitably breathless literature, preferably alluding to ancient civilisations, forgotten tribes and mysterious forests.

Peru's a hot favourite. If the Incas were still around, they could have considered careers as the spa mafia, given how many of their ingredients are bouncing about the Internet. The book ‘Lost crops of the Incas: Little known plants of the Andes with promise for worldwide cultivation' taps 600 research contacts to study 30 Incan crops, which were developed around 1400 A.D. and subsequently lost to mainstream science. Many of these ingredients are already making their way into beauty portions.

Like Maca, a root vegetable native to Peru, popular with health nuts who take it — usually in a powdered form — as an energy enhancer. International smoothie and health food chains love these powders. They're gradually catching on in India too. A decade ago we were quite happy with spinach, tomatoes and spices — all proven power foods. Then came the aloe vera wave, tempting many of us to start drinking the rather lumpy juice, even if it did taste like something regurgitated by a cow. Lime shots, seaweed and spirulina followed. Each with a laundry list of benefits.

Now, every year brings a new wave of stylish power food. The more recent ones? Dried Goji berries said to contain 18 amino acids and 21trace minerals, besides a healthy helping of vitamins and antioxidants. For all those of you who couldn't keep off the grass in college, here's something that should make you happy. Hemp seeds are now being used for more than their ‘happy factor.' They're blended into cosmetics and, since they're rich in Omega-3 and protein, also being incorporated into gym bunny diets.

Though you have to feel just a bit sorry for people so swept up with power food that they would trade chunky rum and raisin for dry cacao, and look on it as a treat. Cacao is sold as a coarse powder (think aromatic mud) and is said to be loaded with nutrients and all the other good things your body creates when you're in love. As an alternative to fudge cake (or dinner with Hugh Jackman) it doesn't seem like much. Especially since you're expected to consume it plain, or at best sweetened with yacon root, a tuber from — you guessed it — Peru. One seller recommends mixing it with Goji berries, adding “Start chewing and add a squirt of flaxseed oil! It's a cookies and cream kind of satisfaction that lasts on and on.” Now if only Haagen-Dazs would come on board!

The truth about power foods? As always, use your common sense. Find out where it's from, how it's been manufactured, whether it's got additives. Is it organic? How far has it travelled? These foods are often old and over-priced.

Remember some of the most powerful foods on the planet are right there, in your fridge: yoghurt, raisins, spinach, garlic, peanuts. And mangoes. Which makes our mango lassi uber-powerful. Who needs the Incas when you're desi?