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Açaí palm

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Açaí palm
A tree at the Lauro Sodré Palace in Brazil
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Arecales
Family: Arecaceae
Genus: Euterpe
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

The açaí palm (/əˈs./, Portuguese: [asaˈi] , from Nheengatu asai),[2] Euterpe oleracea, is a species of palm tree (Arecaceae) cultivated for its fruit (açaí berries, or simply açaí), hearts of palm (a vegetable), leaves, and trunk wood. Global demand for the fruit has expanded rapidly in the 21st century, and the tree is cultivated for that purpose primarily.

The species is native to eastern Amazonia, especially in Brazil, 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.[3] The fruit is small, round, and black-purple in color. The fruit became a staple food in floodplain areas around the 18th century,[4][5] but its consumption in urban areas and promotion as a health food only began in the mid 1990s along with the popularization of other Amazonian fruits outside the region.[5]


The common name comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word ĩwasa'i, meaning "[fruit that] cries or expels water".[6] The importance of the fruit as a staple food in the Amazon River delta gives rise to the local legend of how the plant got its name. The folklore says that chief Itaqui ordered all newborns put to death owing to a period of famine. When his own daughter gave birth and the child was sacrificed, she cried and died beneath a newly sprouted tree. The tree fed the tribe and was called açaí because that was the daughter's name (Iaçá) spelled backwards.[7]

Its specific epithet oleracea means "vegetable" in Latin and is a form of holeraceus (oleraceus).[8][9]


Açaí palm with fruit

The fruit, commonly known as açaí or açaí berry,[10] 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.


There are two harvests: one is normally between January and June, while the other is between August and December, producing larger volumes.[11] In 2022, the state of Pará, which accounts for 90% of Brazil's total açaí economy, produced 8,158 tonnes (17,985,000 lb) of açaí berries, generating US$26 million in revenue.[12] The 2022 production was 209 times greater than the volume produced in 2012.[12]

Child labor concern[edit]

Children as young as 13 years old are employed as laborers to harvest the fruit, using machetes to clear paths in the rainforest, and climbing trees up to 70 feet (21 m) tall without harnesses to collect berries in the canopy, a process leading to falls and severe injuries in some children.[12]


Few named cultivars exist, and varieties differ mostly in the nature of the fruit:

  • Branco ("White") 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 only about 30% of 'Branco' palm seeds mature to express this trait.[13]
  • BRS-Pará was developed in 2004 by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency. The pulp yield ranges from 15% to 25%.[14]
  • BRS Pai d'Égua is the newest cultivar developed by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency.[15]


Anthocyanins define the blue pigmentation of açaí and the antioxidant capacity of the plant's natural defense mechanisms[16] and in laboratory experiments in vitro.[17] Anthocyanins in açaí accounted for only about 10% of the overall antioxidant capacity in vitro.[18] The Linus Pauling Institute and European Food Safety Authority state that "the relative contribution of dietary flavonoids to (...) antioxidant function in vivo is likely to be very small or negligible".[19][20][21] Unlike in controlled test tube conditions, anthocyanins have been shown to be poorly conserved (less than 5%) in vivo, and most of what is absorbed exists as chemically modified metabolites destined for rapid excretion.[22][23]

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).[24] 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).[25]

Nutritional content[edit]

A powdered preparation of freeze-dried açaí fruit pulp and skin was reported to contain (per 100 g of dry powder) 534 calories, 52 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, and 33 g total fat. The carbohydrate portion included 44 g of dietary fiber with low sugar levels, and the fat portion consisted of oleic acid (56% of total fats), palmitic acid (24%), and linoleic acid (13%).[25] The powder was also shown to contain (per 100 g) negligible vitamin C, 260 mg calcium, 4 mg iron, and 1002 IU vitamin A.[25]


In the 1980s, the Brazilian Gracie family marketed açaí as an energy drink or as crushed fruit served with granola and bananas; this demand led to the building of cottage industries and processing plants to pulp and freeze açaí for export.[26]


In the early 2000s, numerous companies advertised açaí products online, with many ads featuring counterfeit testimonials and products.[26][27][28] In 2009, açaí scams were ranked #1 on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's "scams and rip-offs" list, so that by 2011 sales of açaí flattened as the fad waned.[26]

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest thousands of consumers had trouble stopping recurrent charges on their credit cards when they canceled free trials of some açai-based products.[29][30] In 2003, American celebrity doctor Nicholas Perricone included açaí berries among "superfoods", but such extravagant marketing claims regarding açaí as miracle cures for everything from obesity to attention-deficit disorder were challenged in subsequent studies[which?].[31]

The FTC handed down an $80 million judgement in January 2012 against five companies that were marketing açaí berry supplements with fraudulent claims that their products promoted weight loss and prevented colon cancer. One company, Central Coast Nutraceuticals, was ordered to pay a $1.5 million settlement.[32][33]


Street vendor of açaí, next to Ver-o-Peso market in Belém

Brazil is a major producer, particularly in the state of Pará, which alone in 2019 produced more than 1.2 million tons of açaí, an amount equal to 95% of Brazil's total.[34]


As a food product[edit]

Fresh açaí has been consumed as a dietary staple in the region around the Amazon river delta for centuries.[26][35] 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.[11] 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.[36]

Açaí bowl

Açaí na tigela (known in English as açaí bowl) is a Brazilian dessert made from frozen açaí berry purée, served in a bowl and topped with other fruit and granola.[37][38]

Dietary supplement[edit]

As of 2008, no açaí products have been evaluated by the FDA, and their efficacy is doubtful.[28]

As of 2009, there is no scientific evidence that açaí consumption affects body weight, promotes weight loss or has any positive health effect.[39]

Açaí oil[edit]

Açai oil

Açaí oil is suitable for cooking or as a salad dressing, but is mainly used in cosmetics as shampoos, soaps or skin moisturizers.[40]

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.[40] Although these compounds are under study for potential health effects, there remains no substantial evidence that açaí polyphenols have any effect in humans.[25][40] Açaí oil is green in color, has a bland aroma, and is high in oleic and palmitic fatty acids.[41]

Other uses[edit]

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.[42] Tree trunks may be processed to yield dietary minerals.[43]

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.[42][44] Seeds may become waste in landfills or used as fuel for producing bricks.[45]


Orally administered açaí has been tested as a contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the gastrointestinal system.[46][47] Its anthocyanins have also been characterized for stability as a natural food coloring agent.[48]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Synonyms for Euterpe oleracea Mart., Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 29 (1824)". Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. 2017.
  2. ^ "acai". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ "Palm trees" (PDF). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 May 2019.
  4. ^ Zarin, Daniel; Alavalapati, Janaki R. R.; Schmink, Marianne; Putz, Frances E. (2004). Working Forests in the Neotropics: Conservation Through Sustainable Management?. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231129077.
  5. ^ a b Brondízio, Eduardo S.; Safar, Carolina A.M.; Siqueira, Andréa D. (1 March 2002). "The urban market of Açaí fruit (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) and rural land use change: Ethnographic insights into the role of price and land tenure constraining agricultural choices in the Amazon estuary". Urban Ecosystems. 6 (1): 71. doi:10.1023/A:1025966613562. ISSN 1573-1642. S2CID 25276291.
  6. ^ Ferreira, A. B. H. (1986). Novo Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa (2nd ed.). Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira. p. 19.
  7. ^ "Acai – What is it and Where Does it Come From?". International Business Times. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  8. ^ Parker, Peter (2018). A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners. Little Brown Book Group. p. 328. ISBN 978-1-4087-0615-2. oleraceus, holeraceus = relating to vegetables or kitchen garden
  9. ^ Whitney, William Dwight (1899). The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Century Co. p. 2856. L. holeraceus, prop. oleraceus, herb-like, holus, prop. olus (oler-), herbs, vegetables
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b "Worldwide demand for açaí is growing". Fresh Plaza. Archived from the original on 31 July 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  12. ^ a b c Vargas Jones J (13 March 2024). "Children in Brazil are climbing 70-foot-high trees so you can eat açaí berries". CNN. Retrieved 13 March 2024.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Cultivar de açaizeiro BRS Pará – Portal Embrapa". www.embrapa.br. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  15. ^ Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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. hdl:11336/54522. PMID 18985487. S2CID 21174667.
  18. ^ Lichtenthäler R, Rodrigues RB, Maia JG, Papagiannopoulos M, Fabricius H, Marx F (February 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. S2CID 10683560.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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 Archived 7 November 2021 at the Wayback Machine, EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA)2, 3 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy, EFSA Journal 2010; 8(2):1489
  22. ^ "Flavonoids". Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University. 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  23. ^ 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. doi:10.1093/ajcn/81.1.230S. PMID 15640486.
  24. ^ Gallori, S. (2004). "Polyphenolic Constituents of Fruit Pulp of Euterpe oleracea Mart. (Acai palm)". Chromatographia. 59 (11–12). doi:10.1365/s10337-004-0305-x. S2CID 94388806.
  25. ^ a b c d 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.
  26. ^ a b c d Colapinto, John (30 May 2011). "Strange Fruit". The New Yorker.
  27. ^ Ellin, Abbey (12 March 2009). "Pressing Açaí foraçaí Answers". The New York Times.
  28. ^ a b James, SD (12 December 2008). "'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 30 December 2008.
  29. ^ "Oprah is coming after bad Internet Marketers". Adotas. Archived from the original on 1 July 2010. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
  30. ^ "AG warns about deceptive weight loss supplement offer". King5 News. Archived from the original on 31 August 2009. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  31. ^ Colapinto, John. "Strange Fruit". The New Yorker. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  32. ^ "Marketers of acai products fined $1.5 million for false claims and unfair billing". Consumer Reports. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  33. ^ "Internet Marketers of Acai Berry Weight-Loss Pills and "Colon Cleansers" to Pay $1.5 Million to Settle FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising and Unfair Billing". Federal Trade Commission. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  34. ^ Jorge Sauma; Caio Maia (15 March 2019). "Caminhos do açaí: Pará produz 95% da produção do Brasil, fruto movimenta US$ 1,5 bi e São Paulo é o principal destino no país". Globo (in Portuguese). Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  35. ^ de Santana, A.C. (2017). "Açaí pulp demand in the retail market of Belem, state of Para". Revista Brasileira de Fruticultura. 39. doi:10.1590/0100-29452017102.
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  37. ^ Aislyn Greene (20 June 2015). "The Surprising History of the Açaí Bowl". AFAR Media. Retrieved 10 July 2023.
  38. ^ Kugel, Seth (24 February 2010). "Açaí, a Global Super Fruit, Is Dinner in the Amazon". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 10 July 2023.
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  42. ^ a b Silva, S. & Tassara, H. (2005). Fruit Brazil Fruit. São Paulo, Brazil, Empresa das Artes
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  44. ^ Plotkin MJ, Balick MJ (April 1984). "Medicinal uses of South American palms". J Ethnopharmacol. 10 (2): 157–79. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(84)90001-1. PMID 6727398.
  45. ^ Cheeseman, G-M. (December 2010). "How sustainability is embedded in Sambazon". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  46. ^ Córdova-Fraga T, de Araujo DB, Sanchez TA, et al. (April 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.
  47. ^ Sanchez, Tiago Arruda; Elias, Jorge; Colnago, Luiz Alberto; de Almeida Troncon, Luiz Ernesto; de Oliveira, Ricardo Brandt; Baffa, Oswaldo; de Araujo, Dráulio Barros (September 2009). "Clinical Feasibility of Açai (Euterpe olerácea) Pulp as an Oral Contrast Agent for Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography". Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography. 33 (5): 666–671. doi:10.1097/RCT.0b013e31819012a0. ISSN 0363-8715. PMID 19820489.
  48. ^ Del Pozo-Insfran D, Brenes CH, Talcott ST (March 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 reading[edit]

External links[edit]