The acai palm is native to South and Central America. Although it is best known as being locally produced from the Brazilian regions of the Amazon Rainforest, it may also be found in Peru and Belize, particularly in the proximity of swamps and floodplains. Acai palm trees are one of the seven palm species belonging to the genus Euterpe. Acai palm trees can grow 15 to 30 meters high and possess pinnate leaves that can obtain a maximum length of 3 meters. Twice every year, acai palm trees produce acai berries, which are considered to be the world’s #1 superfood.
Legends about Acai Berries in History
Americans may have only been recently introduced to acai berries, but in Central and South America, these tiny grape-like fruits are an integral part of their culture for centuries already. Natives refer to acai berries as “içá-çai”, which translates to English as the “fruit that cries”. Besides being consumed for food, acai berries are also used by local healers as a natural remedy for common ailments.
The legend about acai berries begins with Iaca, an Amazon Indian girl and daughter of the tribal chief. Her troubles began when their tribe had become so large they had outgrown their supply of food. This prompted the tribal chief, her father, to command the death of all newborn babies.
Now, Iaca herself had a newborn baby, but alas, even her child was not spared from the chief’s verdict. Iaca then spent days shut inside her hut, alone in her grief until one day, she heard the sound of a baby’s wails.
Iaca promptly searched outside for the baby’s whereabouts. Her search led her to a tall, fruit-laden tree. Iaca was filled with despair for the discovery of a new supply of food had come too late. Her baby was gone.
The following day, the tribe found Iaca’s dead body next to the tree. The fruit was consequently discovered. The tribe rejoiced and the chief, after lifting his decree on the death of newborns, named the tree after his daughter.
Rio de Janeiro
Although Rio de Janeiro has no tribal legend to offer about acai berries, the tale of how the berries had reached their region is nonetheless interesting.
It was during the 1970’s till the 1980’s that Rio de Janeiro was first introduced to the taste of acai berries. They were brought by the cariocas – northern Brazilians who had relocated themselves to Rio. The berries were consumed daily by the cariocas because it gave them the power and energy their active lifestyles required.
Aware of the short lifespan of acai berries, the cariocas combined them together with guarana, another native energy-boosting food, granola, and other fresh fruits. This preparation was known as the Acai Bowls Rio Style or “acai na tigela”. From this, a new tradition was born and the food preparation method used quickly became a favorite among amateur and professional athletes of the country’s most important sports like beach volleyball, soccer, capoeira, and jiu-jitsu.
Nutritional Content of Acai
Most studies today concentrate on opti-acai, a freeze-dried powdered form of acai berry. results show that 100 grams of acai berry extract contain a significant amount of fatty acids, various antioxidants, 44.2 g of fiber, 52.2 g of carbohydrates, 533.9 calories, 8.1 g of protein, several vitamins, and amino acids.