The açaí is the fruit of a palm tree of the Arecaceae Family (=Palmae), popularly called Açaizeiro (Euterpe oleracea Mart). It´s a Rainforest tree which is usually tall and slender with long leaves. Some of these palm trees reach up to over 18 feet tall. They are found in natural clumps of palm trees known as açaizais. They represent the most important fruit production in the floodplains and flooded forests of the Amazon estuary because of their fruit abundance. It´s an important source of food for the locals. The acai palm tree has been highlighted due to its great adaptability to the ecosystem.

The açaizeiro prefers warm and humid places such as river banks and mangroves. It is estimated a total area of over one million hectares of natural massifs known as açaizais. But researchers from several Brazilian organizations are developing a plant that can be used in a scaleof monoculture. The state of Pará is the main dispersion center of this palm tree. It´s also the larger producer ofaçai fruits, with more than 90% of the national production. Spontaneous clumps of palm trees are also found in the states of Amapá, Tocantins, Rondônia, and in countries of South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Suriname and Guyana) and Central America (Panamá).The production of fruit pulp was fully intended for the consumption by the local populations. But now it has conquered new markets and has become a major source of income and employment. Also the increase in exports caused a shortage of fruits and consequently higher prices during a large part of the year, especially during the off season which occurs from January to June.Therefore, from the 90´s, the traditional extractivism which still accounts for 80% of the fruit production began to share the Amazon scene with crops of ¨managed production system¨ that account for the remaining 20% of the fruit production. These new crops can be independent or mixed cultivation and can be found in flooded lands and non-flooded forests, located in region with higher rainfalls. They can also be found in regions with a water deficit in some months of the year if there is an additional supply of water through irrigation. The implementation of the managed system has several advantages: increased productivity per cultivated area; reduction in the transportation costs of the fruits; crops closer to the factories; better quality of the extracted pulp; restoration of deforested areas; etc.

I n Belém, it is estimated that over four thousand points of sales sell during the harvest season about two hundred thousand liters per day of the ¨popular¨açai pulp (thinner açaí pulp) which is rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin E.

It´s a powerful natural antioxidant that contributes to the elimination of free radicals, it ensures a better blood circulation and consequently provides a better quality of life to its consumers. For these and other reasons, this Amazon fruit plays an important role in the folklore of the state of Pará.

The açaizeiro, besides beingan important food, provides raw material to the palm heart industry (stem), to the cosmetics industry (fruit) and to the jewelry industry (seed). This is why, it´s said that this palm tree has a great commercial value. Even its branches are often used in arrangements for interior decoration and its leaves are widely used by the natives to make beautiful and traditional roofs of houses, like the indigenous Malocas.

Today, the harvest of the fruit is mainly done manually: the Riverside dwellers (¨ribeirinhos¨) climb to the top of the palm trees with the aid of one braid of açaizeiroleef (called ¨Peconha¨), moored to the feet, cut a bunch and slide down.

Açaí is the name given to both the fruit, kind of small berry with outer pulp (¨flesh¨), and to the juice that is obtained after the pulp extraction. It´s consumed by the local populations in the form of a purée, extracted after the maceration of the fruitsin sieves of straw full of water and then crushed in a bowl of ceramic. This technique used for the extraction of the acai is now called traditional extraction.

The industrial extraction of the pulp is a much more elaborated process and it follows a much more rigorous quality control so that regulatory requirements are met.

In summary, the industrial process would be like this :

  • Transportation from the harvest area to the plant in plastic baskets;
  • Ventilation of the fruits to separate the solids residues resulting from the harvest;
  • Washing of the fruits in chlorine solution to eliminate the harmful microorganisms;
  • Several rinses with filtered water;
  • Maceration in isolated equipment made of stainless steel to separate the pulp and the seed. Exclusively treated water is used;
  • Pasteurization;
  • Packing in nontoxic plastic packaging, through a 100% automated process;
  • Quick freezing in cold rooms at an average temperature of -18°C;
  • Packing in carton boxes or in raffia sacks to protect the inner packaging;
  • Loading into refrigerated trucks and shipment to the consumer markets.

As a result of the pulp extraction, we have three types of consistencies: thin, medium or thick açaí. But the local population preferably uses the respective designations: popular, medium or specialaçaí. These designations are regulated by the Ministery of Agriculture for the sales of açaí.

Traditionally served in a gourd, accompanied with manioc flour, tapioca flour, fish, meat, jerked beef, salted shrimp, the açaíoften replaces a meal. It can also be served as a dessert with addition of sugar.

The açaí is largely consumed in other Brazilian regions in the form of an energy food mixed with guaraná powder or syrup, cereals flakes called ¨granola¨, besides other fruits like bananas, strawberries, kiwis, etc.

Botanical data and regions of occurrences:

The Euterpe genus congregates around 28 species spread from the Caribbean to the Amazon forest regions of Peru. For us Brazilians, there are three important species of this genus: the Euterpe precatória, Mart: which occurs from the central and western regions of the Amazon to the foothills of the Andes; the Euterpe edulis, MART: occurs in the Atlantic forests and south central Brazil; Euterpe oleracea, MART: the most important species because of its economic importance especially in the state of Pará. See below for your information: (nutritional information)

Occurence area:

It´s a typical tropical palm tree, native of the Rainforest, making part of the vegetation of Igapo forests, meadow forests, non-flooded forests. It occurs mainly in the Amazon estuary, going from Maranhão to Amapá and Pará, following the valley of the lower Amazon, spreading to the Guianas, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Suriname and Panamá in Central America.Although the açaizeirooccurs in this whole territory, its fruit production is concentrated in the state of Pará, making this state the largest Brazilian producer, with over 90% of the total production.In this state, the production is done basically in the regions of Cametá, Furos de Breves, Arari, Belém, Salgado and Guamá that account for 97% of the state production. The main regions supplying the fruits areCametá, Limoeiro do Ajuru, Abaetetuba, Igarapé-Miri, Ponta de Pedras and Mocajuba.

Source: Rajá Frutas

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