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Açaí palm

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The açaí palm (Portuguese: [asaˈi] (About this sound listen), from Tupi-Guarani asaí[2]), Euterpe oleracea, is a species of palm tree in the genus Euterpe cultivated for its fruit (açaí berries) and hearts of palm (a vegetable). The common name comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word ïwaca'i, meaning "[fruit that] cries or expels water". Global demand for the fruit expanded rapidly in the 21st century and so the tree is cultivated for that purpose primarily. The closely related palm species Euterpe edulis (juçara) is the primary source of hearts of palm.[3]

Açaí palm
Açaizeiro no palácio.JPG
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Arecales
Family: Arecaceae
Genus: Euterpe
Species: E. oleracea
Binomial name
Euterpe oleracea
  • Euterpe brasiliana Oken
  • Catis martiana O.F.Cook
  • Euterpe badiocarpa Barb.Rodr.
  • Euterpe beardii L.H.Bailey
  • Euterpe cuatrecasana Dugand

Euterpe oleracea is mostly native to Brazil, Trinidad and other nations of northern South America, mainly in swamps and floodplains. Açaí palms are tall, slender trees growing to more than 25 m (82 ft) tall, with pinnate leaves up to 3 m (9.8 ft) long.[4] The fruit is small, round, and black-purple in color and may be sold as a frozen fruit puree or bottled juice drink with added sugar.



The fruit, commonly known as açaí berry,[5] 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 60-80% of the fruit. The palm bears fruit year round but the berry cannot be harvested during the rainy season.

A grove of açaí palms in Brazil
Açaí palm with fruit
Serving of açaí pulp
Separation of açaí pulp from seeds in market Belém, Pará, Brazil
An açaí harvest


There are two harvests are normally between January and June and August and December, with the latter being more important.[6]

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 digestibility to purple açaí.[7]
  • 'BRS-Para Dwarf' was developed by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency. It grows to at most 5–7 metres tall, fruits sooner (3 years from seed), and produces a larger seed yielding 25% more fruit pulp than wild açaí.[citation needed]


Until the 1990s açaí was little known outside the Amazon delta communities where it had been eaten as a staple for centuries. In the 1970s people from that region began moving north to the cities of Macapá and Belém, and it started to be imported there and sold at roadside stands. In the 1980s the Gracie family started using it to train fighters in their gyms, and marketed their gyms with claims that açaí was an energy drink. Their marketing carried it to beaches of Rio de Janeiro where surfers and others consumed it at beach stands often with granola and bananas; this demand led to the building of plants and home garage operations and plants to pulp and freeze açaí. In the 1990s it became popular throughout Brazil. Exports of frozen pulp to Rio de Janeiro went from two tons a month in 1992 to eight hundred and thirty tons by 2000.[8]

In the early 2000s the Americans Ryan and Jeremy Black and their friend Edmund Nichols started a company, Sambazon, to import açaí to the US, after two of them had tried it on a trip to Brazil. They tried to get Whole Foods and other retail chains to buy it, who all refused, so they at first sold it door to door at juice bars in the Los Angeles region as an energy drink with high antioxidants; then they began selling it through Equinox gyms in New York City and juice bars in Miami. In 2003 they began to break out when they sold it at 2003 Sundance Film Festival and got celebrities to try it, and later that year Nicholas Perricone included it as a "superfood" in one of his diet books, and then talked about it on the Dr Oz show and Oprah.[8]

This caused Sambazon's business to grow very quickly, and around that time they built their own processing plant near Macapá, which they tried to run on a fair trade model.[8][9]

Meanwhile many other companies introduced açaí products in the US and internationally by large companies like Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo, many small players, and a multilevel marketing company called MonaVie, an internet scam company with many shells called Central Coast Nutraceuticals, that flooded the internet with ads, many of them with counterfeit testimonials and counterfeit açaí products.[8][10][11] By 2009 açaí scams were ranked #1 on the US FTC's "scams and rip-offs" list, and by 2011 sales of açaí had flattened as the fad waned.[8]

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.[12] 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.[13][14] Even some websites purporting to warn about açai-related scams are themselves perpetrating scams.[15]

In 2011, Ralph Carson, the formulator of Monavie, cautioned that the product was in fact nothing more than "expensive flavored water” and that any claims made about it were “purely hypothetical, unsubstantiated and, quite frankly, bogus".[16]

The FTC handed down an $80 million judgement in January 2012 against five companies that were marketing acai berry supplements using fraudulent claims that their products could promote weight loss and prevent colon cancer. One of the companies involved, Central Coast Nutraceuticals, was ordered by the FTC to pay a $1.5 million settlement.[17][18]

Nutritional contentEdit

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).[19] 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).

The fat content of açaí consists of oleic acid (56.2% of total fats), palmitic acid (24.1%), and linoleic acid (12.5%).[19] Açaí also contains 0.05% phytosterols.[19][20]

Juice blend studiesEdit

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.[21]

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.[22][23][24]


A comparatave 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.[25]

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;[26] (3.19 mg/g) however, anthocyanins accounted for only about 10% of the overall antioxidant capacity in vitro.[27] 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).[19]

The anthocyanins of fruit likely have relevance to antioxidant capacity only in the plant's natural defensive mechanisms[28] and in vitro.[29] 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.[30][31][32] 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.[33][34]

When the entire scientific literature and putative health claims of açaí were assessed, experts concluded in 2011 that the fruit was more a phenomenon of Internet marketing than of scientific substance.[35][36]


Food productEdit

Fresh açaí has been consumed as a dietary staple in the region around the Amazon river delta for centuries.[8][37] The fruit is processed into pulp for supply to food product manufacturers or retailers, sold as frozen pulp, juice, or an ingredient in various products from beverages, including grain alcohol, smoothies, foods, cosmetics and supplements.[6] In Brazil, it is commonly eaten as açaí na tigela.

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.[38]

Dietary supplementEdit

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.[11] Specifically, there is no scientific evidence that açaí consumption affects body weight, promotes weight loss or has any positive health effect.[15]


Açai oil

The oil is suitable for cooking or as a salad dressing, but is mainly used in cosmetics as shampoos, soaps or skin moisturizers.[39]

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.[39] Although these compounds are under study for potential health effects, there remains no substantial evidence that açaí polyphenols have any effect in humans.[19][39] Açaí oil is green in color, has a bland aroma, and is high in oleic and palmitic fatty acids.[40]

Other usesEdit

Leaves of the palm may be made into hats, mats, baskets, brooms and roof thatch for homes, and trunk wood, resistant to pests, for building construction.[41] Tree trunks may be processed to yield dietary minerals.[42]

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.[41][43] Seeds may become waste in landfills or used as fuel for producing bricks.[9]


Orally administered açaí has been tested as a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging of the gastrointestinal system.[44] Its anthocyanins have also been characterized for stability as a natural food coloring agent.[45]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Synonyms for Euterpe oleracea Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 29 (1824)". Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 2017. 
  2. ^ açai: definition of açai in Oxford dictionary - American English (US)
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Euterpe oleracea". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  5. ^ Marcason, W. (2009). "What is the Açaí Berry and Are There Health Benefits?". Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 109 (11): 1968. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.09.017. PMID 19857637. 
  6. ^ a b "Worldwide demand for açaí is growing". Fresh Plaza. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  7. ^ DuVal, A (2010). "Açaí Branco: Maintaining Agrobiodiversity through a Local Seed System in the Amazon Estuary" (PDF). Tropical Bulletin: Yale University Tropical Resources Institute. 29. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Colapinto, John (May 30, 2011). "Strange Fruit". The New Yorker. 
  9. ^ a b Cheeseman, G-M. "How sustainability is embedded in Sambazon". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  10. ^ Ellin, Abbey (12 March 2009). "Pressing Açaí for Answers". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ a b 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. 
  12. ^ "Reality check"
  13. ^ "Oprah is coming after bad Internet Marketers". Adotas. 
  14. ^ "AG warns about deceptive weight loss supplement offer". King5 News. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2009. 
  15. ^ a b Center for Science in the Public Interest (2009-03-23). "CSPI Warns Consumers about Web-Based Açai Scams". CSPI. Retrieved 2012-09-02. 
  16. ^ Harvey, Tom (December 10, 2011). "Utah juice companies offer few prospects". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved November 2, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Marketers of acai products fined $1.5 million for false claims and unfair billing". Consumer Reports. January 9, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2017. 
  18. ^ "Internet Marketers of Acai Berry Weight-Loss Pills and "Colon Cleansers" to Pay $1.5 Million to Settle FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising and Unfair Billing". Federal Trade Commission. January 9, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2017. 
  19. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ Seeram NP, Aviram M, Zhang Y (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. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ 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)): 1283–1287. doi:10.1590/S0103-84782006000400037. 
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ 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. 
  30. ^ 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. 
  31. ^ 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. 
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ "Flavonoids". Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University. 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  34. ^ Manach, C; Williamson, G; Morand, C; Scalbert, A; Rémésy, C (2005). "Bioavailability and bioefficacy of polyphenols in humans. I. Review of 97 bioavailability studies". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 81 (1 Suppl): 230S–242S. PMID 15640486. 
  35. ^ "'Insufficient and unconvincing' scientific evidence to promote acai, says review"., 16 Mar 2011. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2011. 
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ de Santana, A.C. "Açaí pulp demand in the retail market of Belem, state of Para". Revista Brasileira de Fruticultura. Retrieved 1 May 2017. 
  38. ^ 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. 
  39. ^ a b c 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. 
  40. ^ Neida, S; Elba, S. (2007). "Characterization of the acai or manaca (Euterpe oleracea Mart.): a fruit of the Amazon". Arch Latinoam Nutr (in Spanish). 57 (1): 94–8. PMID 17824205. 
  41. ^ a b Silva, S. & Tassara, H. (2005). Fruit Brazil Fruit. São Paulo, Brazil, Empresa das Artes
  42. ^ Dyer, A. P. 1996. Latent energy in Euterpe oleracea. Biomass Energy Environ., Proc. Bioenergy Conf. 9th.
  43. ^ 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. 
  44. ^ 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. 
  45. ^ 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. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit