What is açaí?
Many of you are probably sitting there wondering, “What is Açaí”? Ok well… before answering that, let’s start by getting the pronunciation right! Ah-sigh-ee! Then the answer is pretty simple… Açaí is a little purple berry which grows on palm trees, specifically the Euterpe Oleracea, along the banks of the Amazon river in Brazil.
The Legend of Açaí
The legend of Açaí is a story of sacrifice and unrequited love…. It is a bittersweet tale that has its roots in the lush resplendent green jungles that once covered the land where the Brazilian town of Belem now lies. Belem is the capital of the state of Para, in the northern part of the country. It is a sentinel at the mouth of the world’s greatest and most mysterious river, the Amazon, there it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Many years ago in this region there lived a prosperous tribe of Natives.
They had grown so numerous that none dared to attack them. They owned “A Boca do Rio Amazona,” the mouth of the river.
To those who live in a tropical Rain-Forest near the equator, the thought of drought in such a bio-diverse and water-rich region seems preposterous. However as we know, weather cycles do exist, although we see them turn more rapidly in these days, it was a rare and completely unexpected phenomenon for this tribe in the Amazon River basin to experience such a drought.
The tribe began to suffer from the unusual circumstances brought on by this very rare drought. The rivers used for travel shriveled to mere trickles of streams. River banks became treacherous and deceiving pockets of quicksand. The fish were left high and dry to die on the land. Patches of forest dried up and caught fire. The tribe had never prepared for such a time. Life had been easy when the rains fell regularly and the fish were plentiful and fruits grew from every tree.
Now food became scarce and life became increasingly more stressful and difficult.
The great hunter of the tribe named Chief Itaki worried over the worsening conditions. His tribe had grown so large and he was unable to feed them all. They were slowly starving to death. Ultimately he came to a very difficult decision. He gathered his tribe together and announced that from that day on any child born would be sacrificed to prevent the tribe from growing any larger. Shortly after Chief Itaki pronounced his decree his own daughter discovered she was pregnant. Her name was Iaca.
She was very beautiful with dark piercing eyes and was the chiefs’ only daughter. He adored her and showered her with the most beautiful gifts of the jungle from the rare blue feathers of the Blue Macaw to the skin of an Onca, a black leopard. She truly was a princess of the Amazon. The day finally came when Iaca gave birth to her own beautiful daughter. It was a day of joy and a day of terrible sadness. She wanted to hide the baby and send her down river or runaway to the depths of the jungle. But sadly she was unable to protect her baby, Chief Itaki’s only granddaughter from the cruel and harsh decree.
The sweet baby was sacrificed. Iaca was inconsolable and distraught as she cried for three straight days and nights. She remained in her hut praying to Tupa the jungle God that she might show her father another way to help her people and save the tribe without sacrificing any more babies. Then one night as she prayed broken heartedly in her tent she heard the cry of a baby. As she came to the door of her hut she thought she saw her baby smiling, sitting at the base of a great palm bathed in the radiant light of the full moon. At first she was startled by this vision, then without hesitation she darted out into the moonlit night to hold her baby whom she had so dearly loved and missed. She felt her as she held her in her arms and pulled her in tight. Iaca cuddled her tenderly then mysteriously her baby disappeared. Iaca was crushed as she cried mourning for the loss of her baby once again, only this time was too much and Iaca succumbed to a broken heart.
The next day Chief Itaki found her lifeless body, her arms wrapped around the trunk of a palm tree, her face was peaceful with a smile and her eyes were open and strangely fixed upon the upper branches of the palm. The great chief wept. Then Chief Itaki through the tears in his eyes followed the gaze of his daughters’ eyes up into the upper reaches of the palm tree. There to his surprise he saw thin finger like branches covered in dark purple and black berries. He immediately ordered that the fruits be brought down from the top of the tree. They pulled the black pearls of fruit from each fingerling of a branch and mashed the berries into a deep rich purple porridge. They found the berry porridge to be palatable and sustaining. It dampened the pangs of hunger that had haunted the tribes’ people. More berries were found and the tribe was saved from malnourishment and death.
In honour of his daughter Iaca he named the berry Açai, “the berry that cries,” and he rescinded his decree of death… saving the infants and tribe from complete destruction. The tribe honored the great Chief Itaki as he lived the rest of his days in humility and gratitude for his daughter and granddaughter who had sacrificed their lives for their tribe.
What makes açaí so special?
Mainly its incredible nutritional values and its wonderful taste which is a blend of chocolate and berries with a nutty flavour. Açaí contains more antioxidants than any other known fruit, as well as vitamins, essential omega fatty acids and minerals. This is why Açaí has been the main source of nutrients in the diet of the indigenous and local communities of the Amazon for centuries… it has now become a hit amongst athletes, sport addicts and health-conscious people in many countries, including the US and Australia as well as Brazil of course, where Jiu-Jitsu fighters and surfers ‘live and breathe’ Açaí.
Açaí is in fact very popular in Rio de Janeiro and the beaches of Brazil where its frozen pulp is blended and consumed cold in a bowl known as, “Açaí na Tigela ” mixed with guaraná and topped with slices of banana, granola and honey or other delicious toppings! Açaí pulp can also be used in juices, smoothies, yoghurts, and to make sorbets in combination with other fruit or purée. For those who would like to try a ‘warm’
version of Açaí, the dry powder is a great alternative to frozen pulp, as it can be added to your porridge in the morning or simply to hot water for a healthier version of a cup of tea!
Interestingly, although the actual Açaí fruit is only the size of a blueberry, it mostly consists of a large seed. The only edible part is a very thin layer of fruit and its skin, even so this small amount of flesh has an incredibly high nutritional value. It is truly nature’s super fruit.
Açaí deteriorates very rapidly after harvest, so it must undergo a number of flash freezing processes on the day it was picked to retain all its goodness and freshness. Thanks to this recently developed freezing process, Açaí can now be exported worldwide without losing any of its unrivalled nutritional value!
Why is açaí good for you?
Research demonstrates that Açaí is good for our health in many ways. The famous American nutritionist and dermatologist Nicholas Perricone named Açaí Number 1 of the “Top 10 Superfoods” for staying young and healthy in his best-selling book, “The Perricone Promise”. This is what has triggered the popularity of Açaí amongst health conscious individuals in the US in the last decade.
Açaí berries are full of antioxidants which help combat premature ageing and contain something called ‘Monounsaturated Oleic Acid,’ which helps omega-3 fish oils effectively penetrate the cell membrane. With a high concentration of potassium, Açaí may also be the key to fighting cramps.
Açaí also has amino acids and essential fatty acids, to help promote cardiovascular and digestive health, reducing cholesterol and fighting hypertension. Açaí is a source of energy for athletes, and its high concentration of protein is ideal for muscle building and reducing fat.
Sounds pretty amazing for a tiny Brazilian berry!