Part of becoming a fringe dweller has been my foray into exotic sounding health foods. Intriguing sounding delights such as hemp seeds, almond milk, chia seeds, quinoa, coconut oil and aloe vera juice to name just a few. My latest enchantment has been the humble acai berry of the South American rainforests.
Used by Amazonian tribespeople for thousands of years, it is only in the last 20 years that westerners have discovered this superfood which has a long list of reputed health benefits: boosting energy levels, slowing the aging process, reducing inflammation, improving digestion and mental clarity, and enhancing sexual drive and performance! Who could help but love this little wonder berry then?
With 42 times the antioxidants of blueberries these little purple, chocolaty tasting berries are hand harvested by climbing trees in the Amazon forest, far from the toxins of modern life. So as you chow down some acai to cure that hangover you can be confident knowing that it’s helping to cure the free radical build ups from the night before whilst propping up your poor body with over 50 essential nutrients and aiding in a good solid, much needed mini detox. The acai are rich in protein, fibre, vitamin E and essential omega oils.
Due to their high fat content (30-50%), acai only has a 24 hour life span in which the properties of the juice are still active, so it is generally made into juice, supplements, powder, or the pulp is flash frozen. Which brings us to the latest craze in Australia, bowls of frozen acai mixed with a little juice or non-dairy milk, a sliced banana and some muesli. Thanks say the trendies in town who now have a highly nutritious frozen snack that will give you that all day staying power you need, not just a temporary sugar high like many grab and go items.
The humble acai may also be a key to preserving part of the Amazon rainforest. In 2005 Greenpeace said that despite there not being a single solution to saving the Amazon, the acai palm has a role to play in sustaining economic development and thereby reducing destructive logging. Acai trees grow quickly from seeds in the right conditions, so as long as it is economically more profitable to harvest acai berries the plantations and wild groves should remain, as trees for lumber take far longer to grow. Conservationists worry that acai could succumb to the destructive agribusiness model of clear-cut lands, sprawling plantations, and liberal applications of pesticide and fertiliser, or that these economics may force Indigenous people away from their traditional lands and drive the local price of acai out of reach of many Brazilians. However at the moment they’re just happy the acai is replacing destructive cattle and sugar cane farming.
Acai is as much an important part of the Amazonian diet as it is their folklore. The name of the tree is iwasai, meaning fruit that cries, or expels water. Legend says that during a time when food was scarce and over-population rife, the tribal chief decreed that all newborn babies should be killed until more food and water was found. When his own daughter, Iaca, had a baby she also was shown no mercy. Days later the distraught mother heard a baby’s cry in the forest and set off for the source, only to find a palm tree laden with purple fruit and not the baby she had expected to see. Overcome with grief knowing if this food had been found a few days earlier her infant would have lived, she lay down and died.
When Iaca’s body was discovered and the chief realised they now had a source of food so the sacrifices could end, he named the fruit in his daughter’s honour, ‘acai’, Iaca spelt backwards.