Below, I’ll be mentioning a few different kinds of fruits found (and widely consumed) in Brazil.
Açaí – The Chocolate Blueberry
Açaí (ah-sah-ee) is hands-down my favorite Brazilian fruit. The first time I tried it was on Barão da Torre in Ipanema in late 2005. Everyone at my hostel was raving about this purple pleasure they sell next door, so I made my way over there one morning and bought a 600ml (20 oz.) cup of it. They took it out of a small freezer, threw it in a blender and added a banana. It was that simple and once I tasted it, I was hooked. Some people say “não é a minha praia” (its not my beach = not my cup of tea) and that it tastes like terra (dirt) but for me, I couldn’t get enough of its sweet flavor often compared to a mix of chocolate and blueberries.
Who Eats It & How
In a study of three traditional mixed race Indian populations in the Amazon region of Brazil, açaí palm was described as the most important plant species because the fruit makes up such a major component of diet (up to 42% of the total food intake by weight) and is economically valuable in the region (Murrieta et al., 1999).
The juice and pulp of açaí fruits (Euterpe oleracea) are frequently used in various juice blends, smoothies, sodas, and other beverages. In northern Brazil, açaí (or jussara, which is one of the fruit’s common folk names) is traditionally served in gourds called “cuias” with tapioca and, depending on the local preference, can be consumed either salty or sweet (sugar, rapadura and honey are known to be used in the mix). Açaí has become popular in southern Brazil where it is consumed cold as açaí na tigela (“açaí in the bowl”), mostly mixed with granola – a fad where açai is considered as an energizer. Açaí is also widely consumed in Brazil as an ice cream flavor or juice.
As açaí deteriorates rapidly after harvest, its raw material is generally only available outside the immediate growing region as juice or fruit pulp that has been frozen, dried, or freeze-dried. However, several companies now manufacture juices, other health drinks, and sorbets made from açaí berries, often in combination with other fruits.
The Way It Grows & Helps You Grow
Açaí comes from a palm tree and only grows in floodplains and swamps, producing fruit twice a year. It is the size of a small grape and 80% of the fruit is the seed itself. The way the flavor is extracted is through the purple skin that surrounds the seed.
A recent study using modern procedures and a standardized freeze-dried açaí fruit pulp and skin powder found nutrient analysis results from 100 g (3.5 ounces) of powder to equal 533.9 calories, 52.2 g carbohydrates, 8.1 g protein and 32.5 g total fat. The carbohydrate portion includes 44.2 g of fiber (Schauss et al. 2006a). Having nearly one-third of its mass as dietary fiber, açaí is an exceptional source of this valuable macronutrient: a 100 g serving of the powder would provide all the recommended fiber needs for adults (20-30 g per day).
Acerola – 10x the Vitamin C of an Orange
Asking for acerola juice is as normal in Brazil as asking for orange juice is in the U.S. Although just one glass of acerola juice is as rich in Vitamin C as up to 14 liters of orange juice. In addition to its high content of Vitamin C, it also contains two times the amount of magnesium and potassium as oranges, with a high level of Vitamin A as well.
Originally a South & Central American find, it is now grown in Southern California which means its finding its way into a store near you. Next time you are feeling a cold coming on, ask your local health food store (or even Safeway, where I recently found it) for some acerola, either in pill or juice form.
Cupuaçu – Be Sure to Add Sugar!
Cupuaçu, also at times spelled Cupuassu and Copoasu, is a tropical rainforest tree related to Cacao. Common throughout the Amazon basin, it is widely cultivated in the north of Brazil, with the largest production in Pará, followed by Amazonas, Rondônia and Acre.
The white pulp of the cupuaçu is uniquely fragrant, and it contains theacrine instead of the xanthines (such as caffeine) found in cacao. It is frequently used in desserts and sweets. More specifically, the best uses of the fruit are obtained by making it into ice-cream, juices and shakes which are highly consumed throughout Brazil. Sweets with a base of cupuaçu are also admired in the form of mouses, spreads and jellies. Among other uses, one can find cupuaçu “wine” (albeit without alcohol) and traditionally as an ingredient in the making of bon-bons.
If asked to try it out one day, make sure to add a bit of sugar as its natural flavor it isn’t so tasty. I found out the hard way.
Cupuaçu supports a phylogenetically intriguing butterfly herbivore, the lagarta verde (green lizard butterfly larvae), which can be a serious defoliator.
Recently, cupuaçu was in the middle of an international debate on biopiracy. A Japanese company called Asahi Foods registered the exclusive use of the fruit only to later have it cancelled by the EU, together with Japan and the USA.