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Ambrosia of the Amazon

Amazing Acai

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Ambrosia of the Amazon

Acai (Euterpe oleracea) was as deep purple as any food I had ever seen. In fact, a spill stained a favourite t-shirt of mine forever. I loved the rich flavour of acai and the energy it imparted, and I consumed as much as I could during the course of my time on the river.

Acai (Euterpe oleracea) was as deep purple as any food I had ever seen. In fact, a spill stained a favourite t-shirt of mine forever. I loved the rich flavour of acai and the energy it imparted, and I consumed as much as I could during the course of my time on the river.

On a later trip to the lush green Brazilian rainforest, I watched several hard-working Brazilians climb tall acai palms, cut branches laden with ripe purple acai berries, and strip the berries into baskets, readying them for processing. Acai is a staple food throughout Amazonia and owes that status to its marvellous flavour and powerful health benefits.

Acai explodes with flavour, and gets better with every mouthful. Rich in the potent purple pigments called anthocyanins, acai has a higher antioxidant activity rating than bilberries or blueberries, and is rich in beneficial dietary fibres. A glass of blended acai fruit, with just a slight touch of guarana (Paullinia cupana) and certified organic sugar, is a powerful energy booster. No wonder endurance cyclists and ball players have taken to this fruit.

Sustainable Harvest

Harvested in the wild from August through December in the hot, humid Amazon rainforest, acai is a high-labour fruit. I observe the remarkable climbing skills of the harvesters and realize with some sadness that I could never climb trees like that, let alone do it every day. These guys are amazing.

After watching harvesting, we are invited into a large wooden house with open windows, and about a dozen children crowd around us to watch a woman prepare a? the traditional way. Commercial Acai is prepared in juice-manufacturing facilities in sterile stainless steel equipment. But in this house, the preparation is all performed by hand. The woman hand grinds the berries through fibre mats, until the juice and fine pulp drip into a container underneath. After labouring on our behalf for more than half an hour, she serves us acai. Several of us spoon the rich berry preparation into our mouths, and laugh at our good fortune. “Now this is how to eat acai,” one of the growers declares. The acai is like ambrosia.

Over the coming years, we will hear a lot about sustainability. The term will emerge as the hot buzzword, like the term organic did in the early 1980s. We’ll see the sustainable label used by organic growers and petroleum companies alike. Wild-harvested acai, if worked with in a manner that protects the rainforest, has the power to help sustain at least some of the precious Amazon through solid economic benefits. With acai, we not only get excellent nutrition but also the possibility of a greener future.

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