The açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea) is a species of palm tree in the genus Euterpe cultivated for its fruit and hearts of palm. Its name comes from the Brazilian Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word ïwaca'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. Euterpe edulis (juçara) is a closely related species which is now the primary source of hearts of palm.
Euterpe oleracea is mostly native to Brazil and Trinidad and northern South America, mainly in swamps and floodplains. Açaí palms are tall, slender palms growing upwards of 25+ meters (82 feet), with pinnate leaves up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) long.
The fruit, commonly known as açaí berry, is a small, round, black-purple drupe about 1 inch (25 mm) in circumference, similar in appearance to a grape, but smaller and with less pulp and 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. Two crops of fruit are produced each year and is harvested during the dry season between July and December.
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 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.” A 2008 Los Angeles Times article noted that while açaí has been acclaimed by some sources as a renewable resource that can provide a sustainable livelihood for subsistence harvesters without damaging the Amazon Rainforest, conservationists worry that açaí could succumb to the destructive agribusiness model of clear-cut lands, sprawling plantations, and liberal application of pesticides and fertilizer. 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." Although most açaí is grown conventionally, the US company Sambazon established USDA Organic certification for their açaí palm plantations in 2003 and has also implemented fair trade certification.
Few named cultivars exist, and varieties differ mostly in the nature of the fruit:
• 'Branco' is a rare variety local to the Amazon estuary in which the berries do not change color but remain green when ripe. This is believed to be due to a recessive gene since of 'Branco' palm seeds only about 30% mature to express this trait. It has less iron and fewer antioxidants but more oil, and many believe it to have a superior taste and digestability to purple açaí.
• 'BRS-Para Dwarf' was developed by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency. It grows to at most 5–7 meters tall, fruits sooner (3 years from seed), and produces a larger seed yielding 25% more fruit pulp than wild açaí.
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, can require months to form seedlings. The seeds are a source of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids.
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).
1. Heart Health
Similar to red wine, research shows that acai berries are extremely high in anthocyanins, a form of plant antioxidant associated with the ability to lower cholesterol levels in the blood stream. They are also rich in plant sterols that provide cardio-protective benefits to our cells. It does this by preventing blood clots, improving overall blood circulation, and relaxing the blood vessels.
2. Resistant to Harmful Organisms
Scientists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro have shown that consuming acai extract may help fight harmful organisms. However, I recommend Oregano Oil for this task.
3. Aids in Weight Loss
Known by nutritionists as a super-food, acai may help us not only lose weight, but maintain a healthy weight. One interesting study from the National Institutes of Aging found that pulp from the acai berry had the ability to reduce the negative effects of a high-fat diet in laboratory studies on flies.
4. Promotes Skin Health
Currently, many modern beauty products are carrying acai oil, again due to the oil’s high antioxidant content. What is more, acai oil is a great natural alternative to chemical based skin-care products that harm the skin in the long-run. Taken internally, the berries can also give your skin a healthier glow. In fact,
Brazilians have been eating acai berries for centuries to treat skin conditions.
5. Helps Digestion
Taking acai may also aid in keeping our digestive system clean and in optimal function. The berries have powerful detoxification capacities in the human body and are a well-known traditional source of dietary fiber. Of course, there are many other high fiber foods that can do the same thing, including many other types of berries.
6. Reduces Irritation
Acai berries contain properties may prevent the typical irritation associated with respiratory distress.
7. Improved Cellular Health
On a general level, the anthocyanins found in acai play a role in our cellular protection system, helping to keep cells strong against the invasion of free radicals.
8. Immune Booster
Acai is very high in Vitamin C and ellagic acid, an immune-system-boosting combination that has been shown to suppress the growth of cancer. One study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that polyphenolic compounds extracted from acai reduced cancer cell proliferation by 56-86%. It is thought that acai’s phytochemcials can stop the process of carcinogenesis on a molecular level, killing off tumorous cells before they multiply. Acai berries are not a cure for cancer; but hopefully more research will examine their benefits and potential role in the fight.
9. Anti-Aging Effects
Extremely high in many forms of plant phytochemicals (antioxidants), acai berries may contribute to an ability to slow or reverse typical processes of aging related to oxidative damage. In fact, the berries are one of the planets highest sources of antioxidants, with one berry holding ten times the amount of antioxidants as grapes, and two times the amount of blueberries.
10. Energy Boost
Due its overall health benefits, taking acai extract can lead to an increased overall level of energy and stamina, and may aid to combat fatigue and exhaustion. Whenever you need a boost, simply eat a handful of berries and you will be ready to go in no time!
11. Better Sex
This famous red berry has also been linked to overall increased blood circulation in the human body, a phenomenon that may contribute to a boost in sex drive, especially for men.
12. Improves Mental Function
Preliminary research studies show that acai may prevent mental imbalance in menopausal women.
Buy organically-certified Acai. Not only are they safer, but taste better too. If you can’t find acai berries, another good source of antioxidant fruits are goji berries.
Anti-inflammatory activity of polyphenolics from açai (Euterpe oleracea Martius) in intestinal myofibroblasts CCD-18Co cells.
Dias MM, Martino HS, Noratto G, Roque-Andrade A, Stringheta PC, Talcott S, Ramos AM, Mertens-Talcott SU.
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Effects of supplementation with acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry-based juice blend on the blood antioxidant defence capacity and lipid profile in junior hurdlers. A pilot study.
Sadowska-Krępa E, Kłapcińska B, Podgórski T, Szade B, Tyl K, Hadzik A.
Biol Sport. 2015 Jun;32(2):161-8. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1144419. Epub 2015 Mar 15.
Development and validation of an UHPLC-LTQ-Orbitrap MS method for non-anthocyanin flavonoids quantification in Euterpe oleracea juice.
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Toxicological evaluation of Euterpe edulis: a potential superfruit to be considered.
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Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Aug;58:536-44. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.05.029. Epub 2013 May 24.
The interplay among dietary fat, sugar, protein and açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) pulp in modulating lifespan and reproduction in a Tephritid fruit fly.
Liedo P, Carey JR, Ingram DK, Zou S.
Exp Gerontol. 2012 Jul;47(7):536-9. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2012.05.001. Epub 2012 May 11.
Effects of Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: a pilot study.
Udani JK, Singh BB, Singh VJ, Barrett ML.
Nutr J. 2011 May 12;10:45. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-45.
Inhibitory effect of açaí (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) pulp on IgE-mediated mast cell activation.
Horiguchi T, Ishiguro N, Chihara K, Ogi K, Nakashima K, Sada K, Hori-Tamura N.
J Agric Food Chem. 2011 May 25;59(10):5595-601. doi: 10.1021/jf2005707. Epub 2011 May 4.
Berries from South America: a comprehensive review on chemistry, health potential, and commercialization.
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What is the açaí berry and are there health benefits?
J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Nov;109(11):1968. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.09.017. No abstract available.
Consumer liking of fruit juices with different açaí (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) concentrations.
Sabbe S, Verbeke W, Deliza R, Matta VM, Van Damme P.
J Food Sci. 2009 Jun;74(5):S171-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01146.x.
Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (acai).
Schauss AG, Wu X, Prior RL, Ou B, Huang D, Owens J, Agarwal A, Jensen GS, Hart AN, Shanbrom E.
J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 1;54(22):8604-10.
Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) polyphenolics in their glycoside and aglycone forms induce apoptosis of HL-60 leukemia cells.
Del Pozo-Insfran D, Percival SS, Talcott ST.
J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Feb 22;54(4):1222-9.