Having personally sampled Acai fresh in the rainforest along the banks of an Amazonian tributary I can confirm that the Acai fruit is real and is here to stay. The versatility of this fruit as it transforms from a savory dish to a sweet dessert to an amazing drink speaks to the uniqueness of this aptly deemed “Super Food”. The acai palm and its’ fruit has been around for an undetermined amount of time. However the fruit and it’s discovery have been documented.
Acai (Euterpr Oleracea) is “indehiscent” meaning that the fruit does not open on its’ own to release seeds. It is a fleshy or pulpy, indehiscent, superficially berry-like fruit in which one seed is encased in a stone as in cherries. It was first described as a “berry” in late 1769 by Joseph Banks one of the worlds greatest botanists. He recorded in his journal and described Acai as “palm berries (that) appear much like black grapes but for eating have scarce any pulp covering a very large stone.”
Acai is known to have been used as food staple since pre-colonial days in the Amazon rainforest. The indigenous people of the area tell of the legend of Iaca or Acai that originated during the pre colonial era of northern Brazil. They claim that it was a fruit discovered by fate during very desperate times in the jungle. The legend declares that the discovery of Acai literally saved the tribes of Indians from death. Acai has been documented in the writings of British, Portuguese and American explorers of the Amazon during the 18th and 19th centuries during the Age of Enlightenment”. In each respective accounting of the discovery of acai by these intrepid expeditionary naturalists the fruit is described as being harvested and eaten in the same manner as it is today in that area. Acai was only recently introduced to the rest of Brazil in the 1980’s. Up until that time it was consumed raw in it’s’ more earthy form as a local savory dish: nothing fancy just some raw acai and cooked fish.
During the 1980’s Acai was transformed into “Acai Da Tigela” or acai bowl. This form of Acai was not the raw earthy food staple of the Amazon but a more commercially accepted form of the fruit. To make it more commercially acceptable sugar and guarana a natural form of caffeine and a popular ingredient in guarana soda pop, were added to the Acai and then frozen into a sorbet like serving. The exotic purple sweetly energizing slushy treat grew in popularity along the beachside resorts in Rio de Janeiro. This popularity spread both south into the more business oriented Sao Paulo area and northward back toward its origin the Amazon. This spread of Acai as sorbets, jams and ice creams was mostly along the coastal areas of Brazil.
It was in the 1990’s that a couple of brothers from southern California on a surfing vacation to Brazil first tasted the acai in this form. They fell in love with the taste. This love for acai fueled their fledgling entrepreneurial skills and soon acai was introduced into the United States commercially. Since then acai has been adopted and promoted by many different companies. It has become widely available in powder, pill and juice forms. The fresh acai fruit is impossible to sell in the United States because of its tendency to spoil quickly after harvest. Many of these companies selling acai in North America are merely marketing firms cashing in on a generalized frenzy about acai stimulated by televised exposure on the Oprah show. Her then “guru” Dr. Oz spoke highly of the nutritional benefits of the acai and declared it the perfect “super food”. These companies have brought a bad name to the Acai fruit through overstating the benefits of the fruit as a magical weight loss solution and trapping consumers into costly credit card charging schemes. Many of these companies have been identified and are being held accountable for their illegal activities by the Attorney’s Generals of many states and Oprah and Dr. Oz themselves.
Still there are many very good and reputable companies working very hard to continue providing very good Acai products to the public. Acai has many good and beneficial qualities that support good health. Just as the fruit sustained the wild Indian tribes of the Amazon Rainforest we too can enjoy the Acai fruit as a dietary supplement that can sustain us in our modern world. Remarkably the antioxidants (boosts immune health), monosaturated fats (the good ones) fiber (good for both cardiovascular and digestive health), phytosterols and amino acids (improves muscle contraction) all work together synergistically to provide an anti-inflammatory result. Many of our modern-day disease processes are inflammatory diseases. In our world of so much pollution and over exposure to unhealthy elements we have re-discovered the power of antioxidants. Acai is a very good source of antioxidants that have been proven to be readily absorbed into the human blood stream. It is truly amazing to realize that the old adage “the more things change the more they stay the same” is as true as in the case of Acai. A fruit that once gave life to a dying tribe of jungle Indians gives life to the modern world to those who will add Acai into their diet as a dietary supplement.