Acai, the Nutritious Berry from the Amazon Forests

The Acai palm is a species of palm tree found most notably in the rain forests of the Amazon. The tree is cultivated and coveted for its superior hearts of palm and it nutritious blue berry. The name of the tree comes from the Tupian (South American Indian dialect) word iwasai, meaning fruit that cries, or expels water There is a legend that the name originated from a sad event that took place hundreds of years ago. A tribe living near the Amazon River was facing a severe drought. The chieftain ordered the execution of all newborn children until food should be found. His own daughter, Iaca, was pregnant, and after childbirth the child was executed. The mother was distraught and went about weeping. According to legend, one night she heard the sound of her child crying. She followed the sound that was coming from deep within the forest. The sound guided her to a tall palm tree that was laden with blue edible fruit. The sight of a berry tree that could have saved her daughter’s life, if discovered several days earlier, caused the distraught woman so much grief that she died. Her body was found, near the tree, by tribal scouts, and when the Chief learned about her death and about the berry tree, he realized they now had a source of food, and the infant sacrifices were ended. The tribal chief named the tree in honor of his daughter by reversing the letters of her name Iaca reversed = Acai.

Whether the story is fact or legend, it illustrates the truth that the berries are nutritious. The small round black purple fruit contains large amounts of fats and carbohydrates. 100 g of dry Acai powder has been found to contain 533.9 calories, 52.2 g carbohydrates, 8.1 g protein, 32.5 g total fat, 44.2 g of dietary fiber and low sugar content. The fruit also has high anti-oxidant activity which is roughly equivalent to that of black cherry or cranberry juice, and higher than that of orange juice, apple juice, and tea. In addition to its antioxidant capabilities, the fruit has high levels of omega fats. The fatty acid content in Acai is rich in monosaturated oleic acid. Oleic acid helps omega 3 fats to penetrate cell membranes, and together they make the membrane more flexible. The berry’s nutrition profile, including high fiber and low sugar content inspired companies in America to market it as the featured food in a successful weight loss program. While scientific proof of the berry’s health efficacy is lacking, it has continued to remain popular and has reached superfruit status along with pomgranite juice, Noni juice, and Mangosteen juice.

The growing popularity of the fruit has hidden ecological benefits for the Amazon rain forests. The berry can be harvested from wild growing Acai trees, without damaging the forest. As the commercial value of the product has grown, its cultivation has replaced forest damaging enterprises such as sugar cane growing and cattle farming.

References: acai_berry_history_legend.htm

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