Açai (ass-eye-ee) is a tropical palm fruit that is very hard, but when pounded and boiled becomes a thick, purple syrup. And when this syrup is added with water and sugar—it makes a delicious juice. In the USA, we only find açai in thin, overly sweet, expensive juices. But in Brazil, it can be so thick it is eaten with a spoon instead of used as a drink!
We have posted on the process before -- the local boiling and mashing to get the berries off the palm fronds. But I wanted to show a series of videos of collecting wild açai - something that is done opportunistically by villagers whenever a palm is seen with many ripe berries.
But let's start with the basics. First, there is the climbing. Açai palms can be as high as 30 meters (about 90 feet) tall!
Açai are frilly, delicate-looking palms with a very recognizable shape.
Looking good! I have the cloth around my feet, have a good grip...and this is as high as I got!
Watch how it is really done. This local man takes a length of vine he finds in the forest, makes a small loop and puts it around his feet. It isn't tied on, just looped and used for friction against the smooth palm. And up he goes with a machete in his teeth!
Now--watch what it's like to be the one climbing an açai palm! We put a GoPro on the head of one of the local guys in Lorena where I was making my palm-climbing attempt.
Once the bunches are cut, they are piled in the forest and then put onto the canoe for transport back to the village. They are very heavy: up to 40-50 lbs a bundle!
Most rural people collect açai from the forest. Some villages have one or two trees nearby, but they are typically not grown on farms, like they are in the north for commercial sales.
Piled up and ready!
Loaded in the canoe!
The açai palm berries are so tough that stepping on them does not squish them. They must be mashed with mallets and then boiled to release their juice.
We are lucky on Houseboat Amazon because after all of this work, the local people will share the prepared açai with us! So delicious! I will miss wild açai drink very much when I go back home.