Açaí is a delicious deep purple berry that resembles a large blueberry found growing on tall, slender palm trees in the Amazon Region, where it has been consumed in the form of a pulp (purée) for centuries by natives and river dwellers. Many describe the taste as a vibrant blend of berries with chocolate.
The açaí berry is often credited for giving the people in the Amazon their strength and energy and keeping them healthy. Described as a complete food for it satisfies many daily requirements and makes for a balanced diet, açaí is probably one of the healthiest fruits on the planet. It may help your muscles, your heart, your digestion, and your energy levels.
For centuries, açaí has been the main staple food of the Amazon natives. In certain areas around the Amazon rainforest, daily açaí consumption is even higher than milk. Until recently, açaí was almost unheard of in the United States. Since açaí is highly perishable and the raw fruit must be processed within 24 hours of harvest, only the close regions of the Amazon had benefited from açaí until recent decades.
Açaí’s popularity started when the açaí pulp was discovered to hold its nutritional value if frozen soon after processing. Soon it was brought to the city of Rio de Janeiro in the 70-80’s by northern Brazilians from the Amazon region, and açaí started being consumed as a natural source of energy. The people of Rio are known for their very active and healthy lifestyle and açaí was a perfect combination. At that point another Amazon treasure called guaraná that had been used for many decades as a natural energy booster, was used with the frozen açaí to create the famous açaí bowls (“açaí na tigela”): a delicious and healthy combination of frozen açaí, guaraná, fresh fruit and granola. This style of açaí quickly became very popular with amateur and professional sports athletes, surfers and the body conscious. By the mid-90’s, açaí was firmly part of Rio’s beach culture with every bar, gym, and beach stand doing a robust trade. Today, açaí is eaten and drunk throughout Brazil and its consumption is firmly part of Brazilian culture. It is even known as ‘Natures Viagra’ in some parts of the country.
Açai is now starting to gain popularity throughout the US and Europe as its taste and amazing nutritional properties become increasingly well known. Currently, the açaí industry employs over 30,000 people in the northern Brazilian state of Para located on the edge of the Amazon. A large percentage of all the açaí is wild-harvested and sold to processors by local farmer coops. Because the majority of açaí is wild-harvested, açaí has become a sustainable, alternative industry to the depletion of the Amazon for cattle ranching, logging, or soy farming. With a guaranteed harvest every year, the average local farmer can now help to preserve his environment and way of life while also sustaining themselves financially.
Legend of Iaça
Once upon a time, there was an Amazon Indian girl named Iaça (ee-ah-sah), whose father was the tribal chief. His tribe was devastated by famine when it had grown so large that there wasn’t enough food to go around. To save his people, the chief decreed that all newborn babies must be killed, as there was not enough food to feed them. Soon thereafter, the Chief’s daughter, Iaça, gave birth to a beautiful girl. Unfortunately, not even his granddaughter could escape the Chief’s somber decree.
Iaça cried for months, grieving the loss of her beautiful daughter. One night, as she walked in mourning under a full moon, Iaça heard the cry of a child. She hurried towards the sound and came upon a tall, slender palm tree. At the top of the tree, Iaça could see clusters of dark fruit and at the bottom of the tree, she saw her daughter waiting for her with open arms. Iaça ran toward the vision, but as she reached out to embrace her child, she was overcome with joy and died happily beneath the tree.
The next day, the Chief found his daughter under the tree. She had a smile across her face and she was looking up to the sky. He followed her gaze up the tree and saw the dark, purple fruit. The Chief immediately ordered these fruits to be harvested by his people, who soon discovered that a juice could be extracted from the berries that would satisfy the hunger of the whole tribe. The Chief’s decree was lifted, and out of gratitude to Iaça, from that day on, the fruit of the palm tree that saved the tribe was known as Açaí (“Açaí” is “Iaça” spelled backwards). With abundant food for all, the tribe grew and flourished.
Açai berries are native to the flood plains of the Amazon River drainage basin and can be found in clusters at the top of the açaí palm tree. For centuries they have been harvested by river dwellers and form the staple food in the diet of many communities, taking the place of rice, bread, and milk.
The açaí palm is extremely abundant and in areas of deforestation it is usually the first tree to grow back. Açai’s popularity has also started to curb deforestation as its commercial value has increased. Açai is abundant in primary forest and many landowners have realized that harvesting the naturally growing açaí fruit is much more profitable than chopping down the forest and farming the land. Consequently, açaí production has soared and brought valuable work to many impoverished areas whilst maintaining the natural state of the rainforest.
Amafruits uses handpicked açaí berries taken from the wild-grown açaí palms in the Amazon River drainage basin. They are naturally organic and harvested at the perfect stage of ripeness.
To prepare the liquid pulp, the ripe fruits are washed and soaked in water to soften the thin outer skin. Traditionally, the fruits were then squeezed and the large seeds strained out to produce a dense purple liquid with a distinctive flavor. Today, Amafruits açaí purees are made using the latest technology in a state-of-the-art processing facility, but the traditional flavor remains — thanks to painstaking attention to detail and a deep commitment to excellence.
Immediately after the pulping process, Amafruits açaí purees are flash pasteurized and quickly frozen to preserve the purity and nutritional properties of the açaí. Our açaí has been produced with hands-on direction and expertise to ensure unsurpassed quality and unequaled taste in every puree.
The three main functional benefits of açaí are its:
- Antioxidant properties,
- Concentration of omega-6 and omega-9 essential fatty acids, and
- Profile of energy release to the consumer.
In addition, açaí has a wide spectrum of other nutritional elements, including fiber, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Antioxidants, like those found in açaí, are vital in our diet to protect our bodies against the damaging effects of an excess of substances called “free radicals”. Excess free radicals may be produced by various factors, such as stress, smoking, pollution, sunlight, radiation, illness and so on. These surplus free radicals may cause cell damage which may predispose one to cancer and other illnesses. It is thought to be how the aging process takes place. However, the antioxidants in our diet help to neutralize the free radicals in our body and stop them from their damaging effects.
Açaí has a remarkable concentration of antioxidants. In fact, research conducted by a leading laboratory in the USA, Brunswick Laboratories, that specializes in measuring the antioxidant activity of different foods, found açaí to contain an antioxidant capacity that is superior to most other fruits. The method undertaken to measure the activity of antioxidants in a food is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). A study conducted on 22 fruit showed açaí to have the highest ORAC reading as demonstrated in the graph below.
Anthocyanins in our food has led to research on the possible health benefits in protecting against some chronic diseases, including cancer, cardio- and cerebro-vascular, atherosclerosis and diabetes. Studies have revealed that anthocyanins could have potential radiation-protective, chemo-protective, vaso-protective and anti-inflammatory effects. In all, they have shown to protect many of our bodily systems and they possess some of the strongest physiological effects of any plant compounds.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Fats provide our body with the energy needed to function and help with the transport and absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. However, not all fats are the same. Polyunsaturated fats, including the essential fatty acids (EFA) omega-6 and omega-3 actually help by lowering the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats have the best overall health benefits since they not only lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol, but maintain and even slightly raise the “good” HDL cholesterol. Omega-9 is one such EFA that belongs to this group of fats. There is evidence that a diet rich in these fats, such as the typical Mediterranean diet, is linked with lower heart disease, increase longevity and lower risk of some cancers.
Essential fatty acids are not commonly found in fruits, however in açaí omega-9 (oleic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) are found in proportions similar to olive oil. The table below shows a comparison between the fats found in açaí and the fats found in olive oil.
|Component||Olive Oil||Açaí Pulp|
Source: Rogez H. Açaí: Preparo, Composicao e Melhoramento da Conservacao. Belem: EDUFPA; 2000. p. 172
While carbohydrates deliver energy to our bodies as fast-releasing energy that leaves energy levels prone to peaks and crashes, fats provide a slow-release energy after consumption. Since açaí contains no sugar, but a high level of essential fatty acids, the slow releasing energy from açaí make it an ideal food for endurance sports where stamina and energy are important.
In sports, antioxidants are already used to help ‘regenerate’ the body after heavy training or exercise. During intense exercise the increased oxygen consumption heightens oxidant production (free radicals) which may be felt as muscle ache. Enjoying rich antioxidant foods like açaí after strenuous exercise helps the body to recuperate quicker.
In addition, açaí helps speed recovery after exercise with powerful anti-inflammatory phyto-nutrients, and replenishes the body with valuable electrolytes. With all of its benefits, it is no wonder açaí makes an ideal meal for providing sustained, long-lasting energy to make it through the day.
OTHER NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS
Açaí also provides a variety of other nutrients such as:
- Dietary fiber: Açaí is rich in dietary fiber. 100 gram serving of açaí contains as much as 3-4 grams of fiber. Fiber promotes a healthy digestive system. Soluble fibers may help lower blood cholesterol.
- Protein: Açaí has an almost perfect essential amino acid complex with a protein profile similar to an egg. Protein is essential for growth and development, for cell maintenance and repair especially muscle tissue and for the regulation of various body functions. Table below shows a comparison between the protein profiles of açaí pulp and eggs.
Figure 3: Profile of protein components in eggs and açaí pulp
Component Eggs Açaí Pulp Proteins (g/100g of dry matter) 12.49 13.00 Amino acids (mg/g of protein) Isoleucine (Ile) 5.66 5.57 Leucine (Leu) 8.86 9.11 Lisine (Lys) 7.45 6.92 Methionine (Met) 3.24 1.93 Phenilalanine (Phe) 5.51 7.04 Treonine (Thr) 4.98 6.36 Valine (Val) 6.32 7.04 Arginine (Arg) 6.22 5.61 Histidine (His) 2.46 2.55 Alanine (Ala) 5.78 5.95 Glycine (Gly) 3.49 5.05 Proline (Pro) 4.13 6.05 Serine (Ser) 7.71 6.04 Tyrosine (Tyr) 4.23 4.24 Aspartic acid (Asp) 10.42 10.69 Glutamic acid (Glu) 13.56 9.85
Source: Rogez H. Açaí: Preparo, Composição e Melhoramento da Conservação. Belem: EDUFPA; 2000. p. 175
- Vitamins: Açaí has several vitamins.
- Vitamin A, which may contribute to maintenance of healthy vision, healthy immune functions, cell integrity and the moisture and health of skin;
- Vitamins B1(thiamin), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), all of which help regulate metabolism, support cell growth and contribute to maintenance of mental function;
- Vitamin C, essential in helping the body fight infection and maintenance of bone health; and,
- Vitamin E, which has been shown to increase the body’s immune response and may contribute to maintenance of heart health and maintaining healthy skin.
- Nutrient minerals: Açaí has several nutrient minerals.
- Calcium, which is good for the healthy maintenance of our bones and for smooth muscle function;
- Iron, whose main function is to carry oxygen to all the cells in the body through its role in creating hemoglobin;
- Magnesium, which helps to release energy and absorb nutrients in our foods as well as contributing to a healthy immune function and maintenance of healthy bones;
- Potassium, which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure level,
- Selenium, which contributes to efficiency of the immune system and plays a vital role in regulating the effects of thyroid hormone on fat metabolism;
- Copper, which helps the body absorb iron readily so that our system can easily transport oxygen to our tissues;
- Manganese, which helps the body maintain healthy bone, cartilage, and connective tissues; and,
- Other key nutrients, Phosphorus and Zinc.
- Plant sterols (beta-sitosterols, campesterol and sigmasterol): Açaí is a great source of phytosterols. Studies have shown that phytosterols provide numerous health benefits to the body such as reducing blood cholesterol along with the promotion of healthy cardiovascular and digestive systems. They may also help prevent immune weakness resulting from physical stress.source: http://www.amafruits.com/acai