The açai (ass-eye-ee) is a tropical palm that grows mostly in swamps and floodplains. This palm can be as tall as 30 meters (about 90 feet) and produces a small, round, black-purple, and very hard fruit, known as açai berry, which contains a seed that occupies almost three-quarters of the fruit.
For many rural villagers of the Brazilian Amazon, açai berries—when ripe—are a very important item in their diet (42%). Açai berries are so tough that stepping on them will not squish them! They must be boiled and pounded with mallets to extract a purple pulp, which can be so thick that it can be eaten by the spoonful with farinha (manioc flour). When the pulp is mixed with water and sugar it makes a refreshing drink.
Some local villagers collect açai berries from the forest or from small, cultivated areas. The first challenge, though, is to climb the palm trees to reach the fruit.
Here is a video that shows how açai fruit is traditionally harvested.
Açai has become a popular fruit, creating a demand that results in agribusiness that can have detrimental effects on rainforest conservation.
On Houseboat Amazon we were lucky because the local people often shared the prepared açai with us! So delicious!
Açai leaves are also used to make baskets and roofs for homes, while seeds are often ground for livestock food.