Acai Berry Origins

The acai berry origins can be traced to around 8,000 years ago when people from an early civilization wandered through the Bering Strait in Alaska.(1) They then headed south until they reached the Amazon rainforest where modern day Brazil is situated. At that time, the natives discovered that a palm tree with tiny, purple berries had tremendous medicinal properties that alleviated a variety of ailments. For centuries, the natives benefited from the berry which subsequently comprised roughly 40% of their daily diet. The palm turned out to be the acai (ah-sigh-ee) palm which bears the now famous acai berries. The acai palm is a member of a variety of palm trees from the genus Euterpe and its name originated from the European adaptation of the Tupian word ïwasa’I, which means the ‘fruit that cries or expels water.’ Eight species of acai palm are native to Central and South America, from Belize to Brazil and Peru.(2) The acai berry can also be found throughout Colombia, Ecuador, the Guyanas and Venezuela.(3)

Thriving mainly in floodplains and swamps, acai palms are tall and can grow to 15–30 meters in height, with leaves up to three meters long.(4) The acai fruit is a small, round, deep-purple drupe about 1-inch in circumference, similar in appearance but a bit smaller than a grape.(5) The berries are produced in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits and can be harvested year-round due to South America's warm climate.(6) It has a single large inedible seed that makes up about 80 percent of the fruit. The berries have lesser pulp compared to a grape and the taste is superb, often described as a blend of mixed berries and dark chocolate.

Shuar Medicine People Of The Amazon
Shuar Medicine People

The Amazon has the world's largest river basin and supplies one fifth of the world's freshwater.(7) It is also the world’s largest rainforest, home to one-third of all animal and plant species alive today.(8) One of the more prominent tribes in the region is called Shuar.(9) The tribe’s healers, also known as Uwishin, worked with medicinal plants and are said to know all the secrets of the rainforest.(10) The Uwishins gained a great deal of knowledge of medicinal plants through experimentation and research to find remedies for the natives’ health issues.

Fresh Acai Berry Juice
Fresh Acai Berry Juice

Acai berry origins wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Belém. With a population of about 1.3 million, it is the main city in the Amazon estuary and considered as the world center of acai
berry.(11) It is estimated that over 200,000 liters of fresh acai berry liquid is consumed each day, making the drink even more popular than milk.(12) Since acai berry is harvested and consumed within 24 hours, a massive facility was built in Belém that employs about 30,000 people, providing the population with fresh acai berries and a daily source of income.(13) The boom in acai berry over the past decade has had more impact than merely changing the eating habits of health conscious people. Agronomists have also made headway in developing methods of cultivating acai berry with high yields. During the last decade, acai berry production in the region has tripled and brought livelihood to the impoverished rural areas. To date, Belem has at least 60 factories that export acai berry.(14)

Carlos Gracie
Carlos Gracie

The man responsible for pioneering the exodus of the acai berry from the Amazon was Carlos Gracie.(15) He was the great-grandson of Scottish immigrants from Dumfries and was born in Belém in 1902. During his early teens, a chance encounter with a Japanese immigrant led to his obsession with the martial art known as jujitsu. In 1922, Gracie moved to Rio where he opened Brazil's first ever jujitsu academy. When a store near his Copacabana residence began to import frozen acai berries, he incorporated the fruit into his diet and would also encourage his jujitsu students to drink it. His students were known for their sculpted physiques and everyone in town wanted to know what 'miracle' potion they were drinking. Eventually, Rio's beach lovers became huge fans and the acai berry drink became part of the beach culture. By the early 1990s, all juice bars in Rio were selling it.

When Westerners trekked the Amazon in the 16th century, the acai berry's remarkable health properties were of great interest. However, since the fruit is highly perishable, there was no way to preserve it and introduce it to the rest of the Western world. Later, when technology advanced and new preservation techniques were discovered, including freezing and freeze drying, the acai berry enjoyed world-wide acclaim. In the 1900s, improved refrigeration techniques made it possible to ship fresh acai berry from Brazil. The locals in Rio embraced the acai berry as a health food as various medicinal uses were uncovered and it became well-known for its antibiotic properties.

Over time, the benefits of the acai berry spread like a brush fire and there was no stopping it. The 1990s saw the rise of the acai berry, heralded as the latest super fruit to hit the market, and the demand reached unprecedented levels. Recently, a number of new scientific and medical studies in the United States and across Europe have found health benefits of other amazing fruits but the acai berry still retains its title as the ground-breaking leader in Mother Nature's medicinal arsenal.


        Source References    

(1)   Ancient Wisdom - American Indians
(2)   Rainforest Alliance - Central & South America
(3)   Nature Conservancy - Roots of Acai 
(4)   Wikipedia - Acai Palm 
(5)   Flipper - Acai Berry 
(6)   Botanical Online - Acai Cultivation 
(7)   Center for Inquiry - Amazon 
(8)   RainTree - Rainforest 
(9)   Hands Around the World - Shuar Indians 
(10) Friends of Nunkui - Uwishin Healers 
(11) Conservation & Society - Belem Economy 
(12) Honolulu Advertiser - Demand for Acai 
(13) Food Museum Blog - Belem Employers 
(14) NWFP Digest - Wonder Berry Acai 
(15) Wikipedia - Carlos Gracie     

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