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Euterpe oleracea açaí palm Acai Arecaceae
 

Acai, Euterpe oleracea

 

Acai, Euterpe oleracea

The açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea) is a species of palm tree in the genus Euterpe cultivated for their fruit and superior hearts of palm. Its name comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word ïwasa'i, '[fruit that] cries or expels water'. Global demand for the fruit has expanded rapidly in recent years, and açaí is now cultivated for that purpose primarily. The closely-related species Euterpe edulis (juçara) is now predominantly used for hearts of palm.

Eight species are native to Central and South America, from Belize southward to Brazil and Peru, growing mainly in swamps and floodplains. Açaí palms are tall, slender palms growing to 15–30 meters, with pinnate leaves up to 3 meters long.
Fruit

The fruit, a small, round, black-purple drupe about 1 inch (25 mm) in circumference, similar in appearance but smaller than a grape and with less pulp, is produced in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits. The exocarp of the ripe fruits is a deep purple color, or green, depending on the kind of açaí and its maturity. The mesocarp is pulpy and thin, with a consistent thickness of 1 mm or less. It surrounds the voluminous and hard endocarp, which contains a single large seed about 0.25–0.40 inches (7–10 mm) in diameter. The seed makes up about 80% of the fruit (Schauss, 2006c). Two crops of fruit are produced each year. The ripe fruits are harvested as food.
In a study of three traditional Caboclo populations in the Brazilian Amazon, açaí palm was described as the most important plant species because the fruit makes up a major component of their diet, up to 42% of the total food intake by weight.

In the northern state of Pará, Brazil, açaí pulp is traditionally served in gourds called "cuias" with tapioca and, depending on the local preference, can be consumed either salty or sweet (sugar, rapadura, and honey are known to be used in the mix). Açaí has become popular in southern Brazil where it is consumed cold as açaí na tigela ("açaí in the bowl"), mostly mixed with granola. Açaí is also consumed in Brazil as an ice cream flavor or juice.[citation needed] The juice has also been used in a flavored liqueur.

Today, a half-dozen brands market açaí in the beverage space. Although most açaí is grown conventionally, the US company Sambazon established USDA Organic certification for their açai palm plantations in 2003 and has also implemented fair trade certification.

In 2005, an article published by Greenpeace International stated that “the tasty dark violet wine of açaí is the most important non-wood forest product in terms of money from the river delta of the Amazon.”  In 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported that açaí is a renewable resource that can provide a sustainable livelihood for subsistence harvesters without damaging the Amazon Rainforest. The Times noted that wild harvesting of açaí may contribute to forest preservation and support of harvesting families, thereby making the forest more economical intact rather than cut down. While conventionally grown, monoculture açaí farming is a threat to the rainforest, açaí has been used to successfully reforest already degraded regions. In May 2009, Bloomberg reported that the expanding popularity of açaí in the United States was "depriving Brazilian jungle dwellers of a protein-rich nutrient they’ve relied on for generations."

In the regions of açaí production, such as Pará, açaí palms have replaced sugar cane and other cultivation choices more damaging to the natural environment, such as cattle farming.[citation needed] Such practices indicate that systematic cultivation and reliable commercial supplies may be more prevalent.
Other uses

Apart from the use of its fruit as food or beverage, the açaí palm has other commercial uses. Leaves may be made into hats, mats, baskets, brooms and roof thatch for homes, and trunk wood, resistant to pests, for building construction.Tree trunks may be processed to yield minerals. The palm heart is widely exploited as a delicacy.

Comprising 80% of the fruit mass, açaí seeds may be ground for livestock food or as a component of organic soil for plants. Planted seeds are used for new palm tree stock, which, under the right growing conditions, requires months to form seedlings. The seeds are a source of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids

Other uses

Apart from the use of its fruit as food or beverage, the açaí palm has other commercial uses. Leaves may be made into hats, mats, baskets, brooms and roof thatch for homes, and trunk wood, resistant to pests, for building construction. Tree trunks may be processed to yield minerals. The palm heart is widely exploited as a delicacy.

Comprising 80% of the fruit mass, açaí seeds may be ground for livestock food or as a component of organic soil for plants. Planted seeds are used for new palm tree stock, which, under the right growing conditions, requires months to form seedlings. The seeds are a source of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids
Nutritional content

A powdered preparation of freeze-dried açaí fruit pulp and skin was reported to contain (per 100 g of dry powder) 533.9 calories, 52.2 g carbohydrates, 8.1 g protein, and 32.5 g total fat. The carbohydrate portion included 44.2 g of dietary fiber and low sugar value (pulp is not sweet). The powder was also shown to contain (per 100 g): negligible vitamin C, 260 mg calcium, 4.4 mg iron, and 1002 U vitamin A, as well as aspartic acid and glutamic acid; the amino acid content was 7.59% of total dry weight (versus 8.1% protein).

The fat content of açaí consists of oleic acid (56.2% of total fats), palmitic acid (24.1%), and linoleic acid (12.5%). Açaí also contains beta-sitosterol (78–91% of total sterols). The oil compartments in açaí fruit contain polyphenols such as procyanidin oligomers and vanillic acid, syringic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, protocatechuic acid, and ferulic acid, which were shown to degrade substantially during storage or exposure to heat.
As a food product

In the general consumer market, açaí is sold as frozen pulp, juice, or an ingredient in various products from beverages, smoothies and foods to cosmetics and supplements.
As a dietary supplement
In 2004, it became popular to consume açaí as a supplement due in part to the rapid success of multi-level marketing company MonaVie that sells an açaí blend tonic for $40 a bottle and the proliferation of various açaí supplement companies that misused celebrity names like Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray to promote açaí weight loss pills online.Marketers of these products make unfounded claims that açaí and its antioxidant qualities provide a variety of health benefits, none of which has scientific confirmation to date. False claims include reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses, as well as expanding size of the penis and increasing men's sexual virility and sexual attractiveness to women.As of June 2010, there are no scientifically controlled studies backing up any of these claims. These products have not been evaluated (in the United States) by the FDA, and their efficacy is questionable. Specifically, there is no scientific evidence that açaí consumption affects body weight or could promote weight loss.

According to the Washington, D.C. based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) thousands of consumers have had trouble stopping recurrent charges on their credit cards when they cancel free trials of açai-based products. Even some web sites purporting to warn about açai-related scams are themselves perpetrating scams. In late 2008, lawyers for The Oprah Winfrey Show began investigating statements from supplement manufacturers who alleged that frequent Oprah guest Dr. Mehmet Oz had recommended their product or açai in general for weight loss

     
Acai, Euterpe oleracea Acai, Euterpe oleracea Acai, Euterpe oleracea

 

  

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