THE HISTORY OF ACAI
Acai is truly is a legendary food supply. (insert link to our legend of acai button) It has been a food staple of the people of the Amazon River region for centuries and has been documented as such as far back as the late 1700’s.
The first accounts of Acai are found recorded in the history books by early explorers and scientists. In 1768 the botanists Joseph Banks accompanied Captain Cook on his legendary voyage around the Pacific Rim. The scientists that made the expedition to Brazil were interested in what foods the natives consumed. Banks made an entry into his journal dating back to December of 1768, where he documented the newly discovered Acai as a fruit eaten by the natives. He records in his journal that the “Acai palm berries appear much like black grapes but for eating have scarce any pulp covering a very large stone.”
Portuguese explorers of the 18th and 19th century regularly visited the same Amazon region explored by Cook and Banks. The biodiversity and untamed wilderness pulled these explorers to this equatorial rainforest like a magnet. Before the days of photography drawings were made during such journeys and used to better document and capture their discoveries. Drawings of acai were made during several of these journeys through the Amazon flood plains by these intrepid Portuguese explorers. The drawings that were made during a 1791 expedition into the Amazon depicted Amazonian natives making their living along the banks of the river’s tributaries.
One of the drawings made during this expedition depicted a native who was holding Acai berries in one hand while standing next to a basket full of them at his feet. This practice is still used today to harvest the acai. The Acai palm trees were also depicted in the background of the illustration.
William Henry Edwards, who was a well-known entomologist, naturalist, and explorer, wrote a book entitled “A Voyage up the River Amazon”. In his book he describes a common scene of that time along the streets of Belem in the state of Para, Brazil. “Everywhere are seen about the streets young women, blacks or Indians, bearing upon their heads large trays of sweetmeats and cakes, for sale. These things are made by their mistresses, and are thus marketed. Nor do the first ladies of the city consider it beneath their dignity thus to traffic, and we heard of some notable examples where the money received for the doces had accumulated to independent fortunes. From similar large trays, other women are huckstering every variety of vegetables or fruits; and not unfrequently meets the ear the cry of as-sy-ee, the last syllable prolonged to a shrill scream. What assai may be we shall soon explain.”
The account continues with a detailed description of the Acai palm and its fruit:
“From various palm-fruits are prepared substances in great request among different classes of people; but most delightful of all is that from the Euterpe edulis, known as assai, or, more familiarly, as was-sy-ee’. This palm grows to a height of from thirty to forty feet, with a stem scarcely larger than one’s arm. From the top a number of long leaves, their webs cut, as it were, into narrow ribbons, are waving in the wind. Below the leaves one, two, and rarely three stems put forth, at first enclosed in a spatha or sheath, resembling woven bark. This falling off, there is disclosed a tree-like stalk with divergent limbs in every direction, covered with green berries, the size of marbles; these soon turn purple, and are fully ripe. Flocks of parrots and other fruit-loving birds, are first to discover them; but there are too many for even the birds. The fruit is covered by a thick skin, beneath which, embedded in a very slight pulp, is the stone. Warm water is poured on to loosen the skin, and the berries are briskly rolled together in a large vessel. The stones are thrown out, the liquid is strained off the skins, and there is left a thick, cream-like substance of a purple colour. To a stranger the taste is usually disagreeable, but soon it becomes more prized than all fruits beside, and is as much a necessity as one’s dinner.”
We leap forward to modern times to the glamorously titillating city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio is famous for its white and beaches that attract both vacationers and locals. It is here where sand volleyball players, bathing beauties and surfing enthusiasts created the most recent wave of popularity for Acai. Acai then spread from Rio into Sao Paulo and subsequently all points Brazil. Then in the 1990’s Acai made its way to the United States first as a novelty and now as a powerful daily dietary supplement.