The açaí palm (Portuguese: [aˌsaˈi] ( listen), from Tupi-Guarani asaí; Euterpe oleracea) is a species of palm tree in the genus Euterpe cultivated for its fruit and hearts of palm. Its name comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word ïwaca'i, '[fruit that] cries or expels water'. Global demand for the fruit has expanded rapidly in recent years, and açaí is now cultivated for that purpose primarily. Euterpe edulis (juçara) is a closely related species which is now the primary source of hearts of palm.
Euterpe oleracea is mostly native to Brazil and Trinidad and northern South America, mainly in swamps and floodplains. Açaí palms are tall, slender palms growing to more than 25 m (82 ft) tall, with pinnate leaves up to 3 m (9.8 ft) long.
Harvesting and uses
The fruit, commonly known as açaí berry, is a small, round, black-purple drupe about 25 mm (1 in) in circumference, similar in appearance to a grape, but smaller and with less pulp and produced in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits. The exocarp of the ripe fruits is a deep purple color, or green, depending on the kind of açaí and its maturity. The mesocarp is pulpy and thin, with a consistent thickness of 1 mm (0.04 in) or less. It surrounds the voluminous and hard endocarp, which contains a single large seed about 7–10 mm (0.3–0.4 in) in diameter. The seed makes up about 80% of the fruit. Two crops of fruit are produced each year and is harvested during the dry season between July and December.
In a study of three traditional Caboclo populations in the Brazilian Amazon, açaí palm was described as the most important plant species because the fruit makes up a major component of their diet, up to 42% of the total food intake by weight.
In 2005, an article published by Greenpeace International stated that “the tasty dark violet wine of açaí is the most important non-wood forest product in terms of money from the river delta of the Amazon.” A 2008 Los Angeles Times article noted that while açaí has been acclaimed by some sources as a renewable resource that can provide a sustainable livelihood for subsistence harvesters without damaging the Amazon Rainforest, conservationists worry that açaí could succumb to the destructive agribusiness model of clear-cut lands, sprawling plantations, and liberal application of pesticides and fertilizer. In May 2009, Bloomberg reported that the expanding popularity of açaí in the United States was "depriving Brazilian jungle dwellers of a protein-rich nutrient they’ve relied on for generations." Although most açaí is grown conventionally, the US company Sambazon established USDA Organic certification for their açaí palm plantations in 2003 and has also implemented fair trade certification.[better source needed]
Few named cultivars exist, and varieties differ mostly in the nature of the fruit:
- 'Branco' is a rare variety local to the Amazon estuary in which the berries do not change color but remain green when ripe. This is believed to be due to a recessive gene since of 'Branco' palm seeds only about 30% mature to express this trait. It has less iron and fewer antioxidants but more oil, and many believe it to have a superior taste and digestability to purple açaí.
- 'BRS-Para Dwarf' was developed by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency. It grows to at most 5–7 meters tall, fruits sooner (3 years from seed), and produces a larger seed yielding 25% more fruit pulp than wild açaí.
Apart from the use of its fruit as food or beverage, the açaí palm has other commercial uses. Leaves may be made into hats, mats, baskets, brooms and roof thatch for homes, and trunk wood, resistant to pests, for building construction. Tree trunks may be processed to yield dietary minerals. The palm heart is widely exploited as a delicacy.
Comprising 80% of the fruit mass, açaí seeds may be ground for livestock food or as a component of organic soil for plants. Planted seeds are used for new palm tree stock, which, under the right growing conditions, can require months to form seedlings. The seeds are a source of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids.
A powdered preparation of freeze-dried açaí fruit pulp and skin was reported to contain (per 100 g of dry powder) 533.9 calories, 52.2 g carbohydrates, 8.1 g protein, and 32.5 g total fat. The carbohydrate portion included 44.2 g of dietary fiber and low sugar value (pulp is not sweet). The powder was also shown to contain (per 100 g): negligible vitamin C, 260 mg calcium, 4.4 mg iron, and 1002 U vitamin A, as well as aspartic acid and glutamic acid; the amino acid content was 7.59% of total dry weight (versus 8.1% protein).
In the general consumer market, açaí is sold as frozen pulp, juice, or an ingredient in various products from beverages, including grain alcohol, smoothies, foods, cosmetics and supplements. In Brazil, it is commonly eaten as açaí na tigela.
In 2004, it became popular to consume açaí as a supplement. The proliferation of various açaí supplement companies often misused celebrity names like Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray to promote açaí weight loss pills online.
Marketers of these products made unfounded claims that açaí and its antioxidant qualities provide a variety of health benefits, none of which has scientific confirmation to date. False claims include reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses, as well as expanding size of the penis and increasing men's sexual virility. As of 2015, there are no scientifically controlled studies providing proof of any health benefits from consuming açaí. No açaí products have been evaluated by the FDA, and their efficacy is doubtful. Specifically, there is no scientific evidence that açaí consumption affects body weight, promotes weight loss or has any positive health effect.
According to the Washington, D.C. based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) thousands of consumers have had trouble stopping recurrent charges on their credit cards when they cancel free trials of açai-based products. Even some web sites purporting to warn about açai-related scams are themselves perpetrating scams.
In late 2008, lawyers for The Oprah Winfrey Show began investigating statements from supplement manufacturers who alleged that frequent Oprah guest Dr. Mehmet Oz had recommended their product or açai in general for weight loss.
Polyphenols and antioxidant activity in vitro
The oil compartments in açaí fruit contain polyphenols such as procyanidin oligomers and vanillic acid, syringic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, protocatechuic acid, and ferulic acid, which were shown to degrade substantially during storage or exposure to heat. Although these compounds are under study for potential health effects, there remains no substantial evidence that açaí polyphenols have any effect in humans.
A comparative analysis from in vitro studies reported that açaí has intermediate polyphenol content and antioxidant potency among 11 varieties of frozen juice pulps, scoring lower than acerola, mango, strawberry, and grapes.
A powdered preparation of freeze-dried açaí fruit pulp and skin was shown to contain cyanidin 3-O-glucoside and cyanidin 3-O-rutinoside as major anthocyanins; (3.19 mg/g) however, anthocyanins accounted for only about 10% of the overall antioxidant capacity in vitro. The powdered preparation was also reported to contain twelve flavonoid-like compounds, including homoorientin, orientin, taxifolin deoxyhexose, isovitexin, scoparin, as well as proanthocyanidins (12.89 mg/g), and low levels of resveratrol (1.1 μg/g).
The anthocyanins of fruit likely have relevance to antioxidant capacity only in the plant's natural defensive mechanisms and in vitro. The Linus Pauling Institute and European Food Safety Authority state that dietary anthocyanins and other flavonoids have little or no direct antioxidant food value following digestion. Unlike controlled test tube conditions, the fate of anthocyanins in vivo shows they are poorly conserved (less than 5%), with most of what is absorbed existing as chemically modified metabolites destined for rapid excretion.
When the entire scientific literature to date and putative health claims of açaí are assessed, experts concluded in 2011 that the fruit is more a phenomenon of Internet marketing than of scientific substance.
Juice blend studies
Various studies have been conducted that analyze the antioxidant capacity of açaí juice blends to pure fruit juices or fruit pulp. Açaí juice blends contain an undisclosed percentage of açaí.
When three commercially available juice mixes containing unspecified percentages of açaí juice were compared for in vitro antioxidant capacity against red wine, tea, six types of pure fruit juice, and pomegranate juice, the average antioxidant capacity was ranked lower than that of pomegranate juice, Concord grape juice, blueberry juice, and red wine. The average was roughly equivalent to that of black cherry or cranberry juice, and was higher than that of orange juice, apple juice, and tea.
The medical watchdog website Quackwatch noted that "açaí juice has only middling levels of antioxidants — less than that of Concord grape, blueberry, and black cherry juices, but more than cranberry, orange, and apple juices." The extent to which polyphenols as dietary antioxidants may promote health is unknown, as no credible evidence indicates any antioxidant role for polyphenols in vivo.
Obtained from the fruit, açaí oil is rich in phenolic compounds similar in profile to the pulp itself, such as vanillic acid, syringic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, protocatechuic acid and ferulic acid as well as (+)-catechin and numerous procyanidin oligomers. It is green in color, has a bland aroma and is high in oleic and palmitic fatty acids. The oil may be used for cooking, as a salad dressing or in cosmetics as shampoos, soaps or skin moisturizers.
Orally administered açaí has been tested as a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging of the gastrointestinal system. Its anthocyanins have also been characterized for stability as a natural food coloring agent.
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
- açai: definition of açai in Oxford dictionary - American English (US)
- Cardoso, S. R. S.; Eloy, N.B. (June 4, 2000). "Genetic differentiation of Euterpe edulis Mart. populations estimated by AFLP analysis" (PDF). Molecular Ecology. 9: 1754. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294x.2000.01056.x. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
- "Euterpe oleracea". "Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations". Retrieved February 2, 2013.
- Marcason, W. (2009). "What is the Açaí Berry and Are There Health Benefits?". Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 109 (11): 1968–1910. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.09.017. PMID 19857637.
- *Murrieta RS, Dufour DL, Siqueira AD (1999). "Food consumption and subsistence in three Caboclo populations on Marajo Island, Amazonia, Brazil". Human Ecology. 27: 455–75. doi:10.1023/A:1018779624490.
- "Amazon Case Study". Retrieved 16 September 2005.
- McDonnell, Patrick J. (21 September 2008). "Humble Berry Now a Global Superfood". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA.
- "'Superfood' Promoted on Oprah's Site Robs Amazon Poor of Staple". Bloomberg. 14 May 2009. Retrieved 30 Dec 2009.
- Engels, Gayle (2010). "Açaí". HerbalGram, American Botanical Council. 86: 1–2.
- MB Palms Home | Palms and Cycads of the World | Rare Palm Seedlings | Rare Palm Seeds
- Silva, S. & Tassara, H. (2005). Fruit Brazil Fruit. São Paulo, Brazil, Empresa das Artes
- Dyer, A. P. 1996. Latent energy in Euterpe oleracea. Biomass Energy Environ., Proc. Bioenergy Conf. 9th.
- "Acai benefits". Retrieved February 2, 2013.
- "Açaí Fruit". Archived from the original on 29 March 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
- "Acai cultivation". Retrieved February 2, 2013.
- Plotkin MJ, Balick MJ (Apr 1984). "Medicinal uses of South American palms". J Ethnopharmacol. 10 (2): 157–79. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(84)90001-1. PMID 6727398.
- Schauss AG, Wu X, Prior RL, Ou B, Patel D, Huang D, Kababick JP (2006). "Phytochemical and nutrient composition of the freeze-dried amazonian palmberry, Euterpe oleraceae Mart. (acai)". J Agric Food Chem. 54 (22): 8598–603. doi:10.1021/jf060976g. PMID 17061839.
- Lubrano C, Robin JR, Khaiat A (1994). "Fatty-acid, sterol and tocopherol composition of oil from the fruit mesocarp of 6 palm species in French-Guiana". Oleagineux. 49: 59–6.
- Ellin, Abbey (12 March 2009). "Pressing Açaí for Answers". The New York Times.
- "Reality check"
- James, SD (2008-12-12). "'Superfood' Açaí May not Be Worth Price: Oprah's Dr. Oz Says Açai Is Healthy but No Cure-all; Dieter Feels Ripped Off". ABC News. Archived from the original on 19 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest (2009-03-23). "CSPI Warns Consumers about Web-Based Açai Scams". CSPI. Retrieved 2012-09-02.
- "Oprah is coming after bad Internet Marketers". Adotas.
- "AG warns about deceptive weight loss supplement offer". King5 News. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
- Pacheco-Palencia LA, Mertens-Talcott S, Talcott ST (Jun 2008). "Chemical composition, antioxidant properties, and thermal stability of a phytochemical enriched oil from Açaí (Euterpe oleracea Mart.)". J Agric Food Chem. 56 (12): 4631–6. doi:10.1021/jf800161u. PMID 18522407.
- "Studies force new view on biology of flavonoids", by David Stauth, EurekAlert!. Adapted from a news release issued by Oregon State University
- "'Insufficient and unconvincing' scientific evidence to promote acai, says review". NutraIngredients-USA.com, 16 Mar 2011. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
- Kuskoski EM, Asuero AG, Morales MT, Fett R (2006). "Wild fruits and pulps of frozen fruits: antioxidant activity, polyphenols and anthocyanins". Cienc Rural. 36 (4 (July/Aug)). doi:10.1590/S0103-84782006000400037.
- Polyphenolic Constituents of Fruit Pulp of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (Açai palm). S. Gallori, A. R. Bilia, M. C. Bergonzi, W. L. R. Barbosa and F. F. Vincieri, Chromatographia, 2004, Volume 59, Numbers 11-12, pages 739-743, doi:10.1365/s10337-004-0305-x
- Lichtenthäler R, Rodrigues RB, Maia JG, Papagiannopoulos M, Fabricius H, Marx F (Feb 2005). "Total oxidant scavenging capacities of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (Açaí) fruits". Int J Food Sci Nutr. 56 (1): 53–64. doi:10.1080/09637480500082082. PMID 16019315.
- Simon PW (1996). "Plant Pigments for Color and Nutrition". Vegetable Crops Research Unit, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.
- De Rosso VV, Morán Vieyra FE, Mercadante AZ, Borsarelli CD (October 2008). "Singlet oxygen quenching by anthocyanin's flavylium cations". Free Radical Research. 42 (10): 885–91. doi:10.1080/10715760802506349. PMID 18985487.
- Lotito SB, Frei B (2006). "Consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and increased plasma antioxidant capacity in humans: cause, consequence, or epiphenomenon?". Free Radic. Biol. Med. 41 (12): 1727–46. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.04.033. PMID 17157175.
- Williams RJ, Spencer JP, Rice-Evans C (April 2004). "Flavonoids: antioxidants or signalling molecules?". Free Radical Biology & Medicine. 36 (7): 838–49. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2004.01.001. PMID 15019969.
- Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to various food(s)/food constituent(s) and protection of cells from premature aging, antioxidant activity, antioxidant content and antioxidant properties, and protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061, EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA)2, 3 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy, EFSA Journal 2010; 8(2):1489
- Heinrich M, Dhanjia T, Casselman I (2011). "Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) — A phytochemical and pharmacological assessment of the species' health claims". Phytochem Lett. 4 (3): 10–21. doi:10.1016/j.phytol.2010.11.005.
- Seeram NP, Aviram M, Zhang Y, et al. (Feb 2008). "Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States". J Agric Food Chem. 56 (4): 1415–22. doi:10.1021/jf073035s. PMID 18220345.
Reprint at Pom Wonderful
- Williams RJ, Spencer JP, Rice-Evans C (April 2004). "Flavonoids: antioxidants or signalling molecules?". Free Radic Biol Med. 36 (7): 838–49. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2004.01.001. PMID 15019969.
- Frei B. "Controversy: What are the true biological functions of superfruit antioxidants?". Natural Products Information Center. Archived from the original on 6 March 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- Joven J, Micol V, Segura-Carretero A, Alonso-Villaverde C, Menéndez JA; Bioactive Food Components Platform (2014). "Polyphenols and the modulation of gene expression pathways: can we eat our way out of the danger of chronic disease?". Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 54 (8): 985–1001. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.621772. PMID 24499117.
- Neida S, Elba S (2007). "[Characterization of the acai or manaca (Euterpe oleracea Mart.): a fruit of the Amazon]. [Article in Spanish]". Arch Latinoam Nutr. 57 (1): 94–8. PMID 17824205.
- Córdova-Fraga T, de Araujo DB, Sanchez TA, et al. (Apr 2004). "Euterpe Olerácea (Açaí) as an alternative oral contrast agent in MRI of the gastrointestinal system: preliminary results". Magn Reson Imaging. 22 (3): 389–93. doi:10.1016/j.mri.2004.01.018. PMID 15062934.
- Del Pozo-Insfran D, Brenes CH, Talcott ST (Mar 2004). "Phytochemical composition and pigment stability of Açaí (Euterpe oleracea Mart.)". J Agric Food Chem. 52 (6): 1539–45. doi:10.1021/jf035189n. PMID 15030208.
- Craft P, Riffle RL (2003). An encyclopedia of cultivated palms. Portland, Oregon, United States: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-558-6.