The acai berry is the fruit of the acai palm, a species of palmtree native to the lowlands (low flat lands found in river banks) of the Amazon region, as seen in Venezuela, Colombia, Equador, the Guyanas and Brazil. Acai’s scientific name is Euterpe oleracea, and it is also popularly known as açaí-do-pará, açazeiro, assi, juçara, piná and palmito. It is a small round-shaped deep purple fruit and its pulp has a strong acid flavor.
In Brazil, acai is found abundantly in the Northern states of Acre, Amapá, Amazon, Pará, Rondonia, Roraima and Tocantins, Pará being the leading producer with approximately ninety percent of all fruit pulp sales for the domestic and foreign markets.
Classified as a medicinal plant, acai, among other properties, has anti-oxidant, vasodilating, anti-flammatory, anti-hemorrhagic, stimulating and energizing effects, besides being rich in proteins, fibers, fats, vitamin C, B1 and B2 and containing plenty of phosphorus, iron and calcium as well. The large number of nutrients found in acai are enough to meet nearly all of the human body’s needs, thus making it a reference among superfoods.
For the natives of the Northern region, acai consumption is not only a tradition passed down from one generation to the next. It is mainly an essential element of the diet and the main source of income for many families. Consumption of acai by the region’s inhabitants goes back to pre-Columbian times, but it was from the 1980s on that its use began to spread to other Brazilian states.
Even though people from other regions consider acai as being exotic food, it is gaining an ever-growing number of consumers, in Rio de Janeiro and other capitals, where consumption has increased considerably over the past six years. Besides this, other forms of consumption have been tested, creating new combinations and possibilities. Juices, sweets, ice cream and jellies can be produced from the acai berry. It is also used by domestic and international cosmetic industries to produce cream, shampoo, and other beauty products.
Nowadays, acai is served in a bowl where the pulp is mixed with other fruits such as bananas, oranges, strawberries, acerola, papaya, mango, pineapple, passion fruit, avocado, kiwi, as well as other foods such as honey, guarana syrup and a variety of cereals, especially muesli, consumed as deli food in beach areas, mainly by younger people. These and other less common mixtures can be found in the market, with powdered guarana, tapioca flour, catuaba, condensed milk, soy milk, etc.
Almost every part of the acai palm can be used: fruit, bark, heart-of-palm and nuts. The leaves, for instance, are handcraft woven to manufacture purses, nets, bags, etc. Because of its resistant fibers, it is also used to roof houses.
Due to the large amount of lipids contained in the acai berry its fermentation at room temperature takes place in only 24 hours. For this reason, it is processed close to the production sites and transported after the pulp has been frozen.
This is one of the aspects addressed by Dias & Oliveira (2011), who point out the need to improve the acai marketing chain, based on deficiencies mentioned by the producers themselves such as: inadequate infrastructure to store and transport the product, lack of funding, lack of equipment and lack of trained labor to handle the product. This aspect would be of utmost importance for families who derive their income and food from the acai berry.
Recife, 26 October 2012.
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