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Acai Background

Pronounced as "ah-seh-ee", the acai berry has recently piqued American and international interest. With recent publications of its many health benefits, acai is quickly replacing wheatgrass as the juice of choice for health fanatics around the globe. The history and traditions of this fruit reveal it to be an integral part of almost every community on or near the Amazon River in South America. The recent popularity of the berry will surely encourage its development in regions other than its native Amazonia. Many contend that a plant gains its natural ingredients from the soil it is raised in and this might affect the acai if grown elsewhere. However most agree that it can only be a good thing to see this fruit play a more prominent role in the diets of everyone.

The fruit can be found at the top of an acai palm. These massive trees often tower 80 feet high, and just under the leafy palms at the top can one find hundreds of tiny purple berries. For thousands of years, natives in that region elect a brave youth to shimmy up the trunk, and retrieve handfuls of the precious berry. The acai plays an important role in the diet of these forest dwellers, and is a crucial element in their staying healthy without the aid of modern medications. With the recent surge in interest, many locals have found a renewed interest in protecting the forest they live in, now that the trees can supply them with a constant source of revenue.

The berries are harvested, and transported by boat to the nearest major village. The berries have a very short life span, often no more than 24 hours. This means it is hard to transport them out of the country, and forces them to be made into juice, pulp, or freeze dried. When the berries are picked, only about one tenth of the berry is edible, the rest being the pit and seeds. Therefore, the berry must be processed and ground up into a thick pulp. Many natives have crude machines that effectively do the job to create their own personal supply of anti-oxidant pulp.

Because the rainforest is so tropical, the acai berries are in season nearly year round. By picking the berries from the trees, farmers and locals encourage the tree to produce more berries quickly. In a region where deforestation to make way for farms, or simply to sell cheap lumber is rampant, this is a new reason for locals to protect their forests. Furthermore, this is a prime example of why we should not destroy places like the Amazon. Many researchers and scientists fear we will destroy the cure for cancer or some other major disease by destroying the precious eco-system of the rainforest in places like the Amazon.


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