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The Amazing Acai Story

Press Play - 7:52 Min Audio

The acai (ah-sigh-ee) berry has been around for thousands of years and not until the 1990's was it introduced to the western world. The acai berry was found to possess tremendous health properties and was first used by the tribes of the Amazon jungle as a cure for various ailments. It is estimated that the indigenous people routinely use up to 2,000 of the 3,000 known rainforest fruits for medicinal purposes.

Rain Forest In Brazil
Map Amazon Rainforest

Shuar Medicine Men
A Shuar/Uwishin Healer
The Amazon borders eight different countries and has the world's largest river basin. Not only does the Amazon supply one fifth of the world's freshwater, it has the highest diversity of birds and freshwater fish on the planet. The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and is home to one-third of all animal and plant species alive today. The acai berry is just one of the fruits that has been discovered in this vast region. The Shuar tribe is one of the Amazonian tribes that have for centuries, through tradition, kept the use of plants (acai berry) for medicinal purposes.

Shuar medicine men or women are called uwishin (oo-wee-sheen'). They are healers that work with medicinal plants, somebody who knows all the secrets of the rainforest. Uwishin have a great deal of knowledge of medicinal plants and their cures. They learn from others, and through experiments with the plants themselves. It is the work of the uwishin to research and find solutions to illness.

When western
researches got hold of this magic acai berry they soon realized it would be of great importance in the well-being and health of the western world. Our diet is piled high with fast food and excess fat. Contrast that with Acai which is naturally full of energy, it has a vibrant taste of berries with a hint of chocolate, is rich in proteins, fiber, vitamin E, minerals and essential Omega oils (which help to reduce bad cholesterol caused by western diets).

Acai helps build the immune system, fights infection, protects the heart, and control prostate enlargement (nature's Viagra). The acai berry was also discovered to fight schistosomosis, which is transmitted by snails. Schistosomosis affects more than 10 million Brazilians. The acai berry is also used to produce an antibiotic that helps to fight against 'Staphylococcus aureus,' a common infection contracted mainly in hospitals.

Belém with a population of 1.3 million is the main city in the Amazon estuary and world center of acai. More than 200,000 liters of the purple liquid is consumed per day making it even more popular than milk.

Acai Berry Juice Acai is highly perishable and the only way it gets to Rio is in frozen packages. In Belém, the fruit is always consumed fresh. Since it is harvested and eaten within 24 hours, an enormous infrastructure has grown in Belém that employs an estimated 30,000 people which provide the population with fresh acai on a daily basis.

In Belém, you are never more than a block away from an acai point. Wherever you look, your eye always finds a red acai sign. It is served like soup. Acai is not a versatile fruit since it can only be stored frozen and cannot be cooked, so for the most part, it continues to be consumed just as the natives have consumed it for centuries.

Carlos Gracie
Carlos Gracie
For acai to catch on outside the Amazon, it needed a pioneer. That man was Carlos Gracie, the great-grandson of Scottish immigrants from Dumfries, who was born in Belém in 1902. In his early teens, a chance meeting with a Japanese immigrant led to his obsession with the martial art jujitsu. In 1922 the Gracies moved to Rio and Carlos opened Brazil's first jujitsu academy.

When a shop near his Copacabana home specializing in obscure foods started to import frozen acai, he began to incorporate it into his diet and also to encourage all his jujitsu students to drink it. The jujitsu boys were pin-ups with amazing bodies: everyone wanted to know what 'miracle' potion they were drinking. Soon Rio's surfers became fans, and gradually the drink crossed over to become part of beach culture. By the early 1990s, no juice bar could exist without selling it.

The boom in acai over the last decade has had more effects than changing the eating habits of Rio's body-obsessed men (and women). Scientists have discovered that acai is rich in anthocyanins, the group of chemicals in red wine that are believed to lower the risk of heart disease. Swig per swig, acai contains over 10 times more of them than red wine. It is also rich in essential fatty acids, calcium and vitamins. Acai's recent success is also changing the nature of agriculture in the Amazon estuary. Agronomists have been successful in developing ways of cultivating acai sustainability with high yields. In the last five years, acai production has tripled and brought work to poor rural areas. Belém now has more than 60 factories that export Acai: "Acai is the most promising product we have here for development", says de Jesus.

Acai berries also help in preventing cancer due to their
antioxidant properties that are five times more potent than gingko biloba, a commonly used herbal therapy product.

In Brazil, people are used to consuming acai in different ways. Preferentially, in summer, Brazilian youngsters and teenagers like to consume acai with granola, oat flakes, cereal, banana and honey.

People eat acai before going to the gym due to its energy-boosting properties  which improve their availability to exercise as well as their overall physical condition.

Acai can be found as a juice, ice cream, mixed with other fruits and milk or as a ready to drink beverage.

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