By Hwaa Irfan
Touted as the wonder drink at the beginning of the 21st century, the magic bullet mentally of the quick fix to health as turned the Acai berry into the biodynamic superfood advancing commercial exploitation of the environment in which it is grown as the latest weight loss fad. As the quick fix superfood, Acai Berries, the poor man’s drink of South America, has become the rich man’s health drink of the U.S. Acai juice entered the Western market in the 1990s making marketers richer, and may have well impoverished the Amazon without thorough testing of the benefits of Acai Berries. Some of the drinks made from Acai berries, is made from a concentrate that has been subject to pasteurization, of which we are familiar with when it comes to milk, and the lost benefits. Heavily marketed, reprocessed and packaged as the health drink, freeze-dried powder, powdered juice extracts, capsules and pills, and fattening energy bars, a lot of health solutions have been promised to the consumers.
Euterpe oleracea has been under the guardianship of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon whose rights have been seriously neglected. When once there were 10 million indigenous peoples, now there are less than 200,000. The rainforest from which it comes from represents 6% of the global rainforests, when once it used to be 14% due its commercial benefits. At a rate of 137 species from the plant, animal and insect kingdom a day is being lost, and when one considers the benefit of Acai berries, what more will be lost to humankind (25% of Western pharmaceuticals is derived from these rainforests, and 74% of plant-derived compounds in current use globally comes from research based on the ethnobotanical knowledge of indigenous peoples) in the form of food, and medicines when through unsustainable practices including the advancement of biofuels.
Pronounced “a-segh-ee”, Acai is derived from the indigenous Tupian word “wasa’I”, which in English means “fruit that expels water.” The tree Euterpe oleracea has many practical and medicinal uses from the heart of the palm as a staple food in indigenous Brazil to the bark, and the berries of the tree. Known locally as Assai Palm. Amazonian Palm, Cabbage Palm, cansin, Palisade Palm, and naidi (Columbia).
Euterpe belongs to over 25 species of the palm family, the Arecaceae . Tall and slender, Euterpe oleracea grows up to 25m thriving in the seasonal flooded areas where the soil is waterlogged for months. The palm leaves are ornamental having a distinct shape produce up to eight bunches of fruit throughout the year being heaviest in the dry season July – December, and each tree produces 24kg of berries. The flowers which are small and can be male or female are brown to purple in color. The fruit are the grape-like berries which are smaller, round and blackish-purple in color. The berries grow in bunches containing big seeds turning from green to blackish purple. The berry is protected by a greasy skin, which provides Acai essential oil.
Loved by birds and rodents alike, the seeds of the berry from their droppings helps to propagate Euterpe oleracea.The Acai berry perishes within 24 hours once picked, so outside of its native environment the berries are only available as frozen pulp or as a juice. The palm heart (from the whitish immature leaves of the palm frond is a staple food to the economically disadvantaged of its native land, which has become popular and thus a commodity which is imported mostly by France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Unfortunately, without proper management, using the palm heart could qualify Euterpe oleracea as an endangered species as entire groves are felled for the palm heart.
It is worth noting that more research is needed to discover all the constituents – an oversight of those who promote Acai berry juice and supplements as a wonderfood. Because the berries deteriorate soon after harvesting only the freeze dried products and supplements are available currently outside of its native home of Central and South America. It has been found that some of the properties of the berry is present in the freeze dried version.
- Anthocyanins (present powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Proanthicyandins (present powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Homoorientin (present powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Orientin (present powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Isovitexin (present powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Scoparin (present powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Taxifolin deoxyhexose (present in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Resveratrol ( low in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Oleic acid (present in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Palmitic acid (present in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- B-sitosterol (present in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Campesterol (present in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- Sigmasterol (present in powdered freeze-dried pulp)
- P-hydroxybenzoic acid
- Vanillic acid
- Ferulic acid
- Stearic acid
The berry is rich in antioxidants (10+ times that of grapes), which prevents cell deterioration, and with the fad of holding back the natural process of aging in the West, antioxidants are considered a pro-youth nutrient. Acai berries are richer in protein than an egg, which makes a nice healthy alternative for vegans being rich in dietary fibers. An extract of the peeled berry was found to prevent dysuria in the case of enlarged prostrate by taking 2 tablets (at 80mg each) a day for 1 month. A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry by Del Pozo-Insfran demonstrated that the polyphenols in Acai caused cell-death of human leukemia cells.
Anthocyanin, meaning blue plants is responsible for the blue, red, and purple colors in plants. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidant flavanoids , which help protect cell deterioration as a result of oxidated relates stress or free radicals, which is argued speeds up the aging process. However, how much anthocyanin is present in the freeze dried pulp remains unconfirmed as anthocyanin is highly unstable, degrades easily in the presence of heat/humidity, and when in the presence of enzymes of other chemicals. This process of degradation changes the color and the taste even when refrigerated for 12 hours.
However, when it comes to weight loss, there are few research studies that can testify to that!
The therapeutic qualities include the following: (see It All Makes Good Scents for definitions)
- Essential Oil
As a cytophylactic, fresh Acai berries stimulates skin cell growth, and is used in seborrheic dermatitis, acne, wrinkles, dandruff, skin irritation eczema, burns, and fungal infections. Among the indigenous Warao and Arawak of Guyana, the sap from the stem of Euterpe oleracea is used as haemostatic, to stop bleeding when a person is injured deep in the forest, and an extract from the seed is used as a vasodilator. In Brazil the oil of the berry is used to treat diarrhea, malaria, diabetes, hepatitis, jaundice hair loss, hemorrhages, liver and kidney disease, and menstrual pain. When eaten fresh, the berries lowers bad cholesterol, and increases bad cholesterol. It is a tonic to the immune system, the heart, controls prostate enlargement, helps to fight infection, and helps to fight schistosmosis. As an antibiotic, the berry has been found to be effective against the hospital infection staphylococcus aureus.
Acai berries are considered to be highly nutritious being highly concentrated in antioxidants and flavanoids.
- Dietary fiber
- Omega 6 (Linoleic acid)
- Omega 9
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B¹
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Coenzyme Q10
In South and Central America, the leaves have been used to thatch roofs, make brooms, baskets, mats, and hats, while the tree trunk has been used to build homes. Acai berries have been a staple food of the indigenous Brazilian diet whereby the oil from the ripe acai berry is used to stay diarrhea in the young. The shredded peel of the berry has been used to make a rinse for skin ulcers. As a desert, the berries have been served with ice cream in Brazil, mixed with granola, and with tapioca. Being a versatile fruit, salt or sugar/honey can be added to make it savory or sweet.
In Peru, the seeds of the berry are grounded and toasted as a food with a practical twist for the purpose of fevers. Boiled into a decoction, the root is used for malaria, hepatitis, jaundice, hair loss, liver and kidney diseases, menstrual and muscular pains.
Along the banks of the Amazon River, the juice from the berries provide a refreshing fruit juice, by softening the skin, and squeezing the berries until the purple juice is extracted, whereas in Brazil the ripe berries are soaked in water to render the juice. In the Amazon, only the roots are considered medicinal in the form of a decoction of which, 1 – 2 cups are taken daily.
In balance He gave us everything we needed, but as for what we want!
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“Organic Health Report – Acai Supplement Benefits for Health and Longevity.” http://www.health-report.co.uk/acai.htm
Schauss, A. G, et al. “Phytochemical and Nutrient Composition of the Freeze-Dried Amazonian Palm Berry, Euterpem oleraceae Mart (Acai).” J. Agric. Food Chem., 2006, 54 (22), pp 8598–8603 DOI: 10.1021/jf060976g. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf060976g
Taylor, L. “Acai,” http://www.rain-tree.com/acai.htm
Sosnowska, J et al. “American Palm Ethnomedicine: A Meta Analysis.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2009, 5:43 doi:10.1186/1746-4269-5-43 http://www.ethnobiomed.com/content/5/1/43