Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Açaí makes the New York Times

In it's February 23rd edition, the New York Times published an interesting article on açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-EE), a fruit of the Amazonian rain forest that has recently become, in the words of the article's author, Seth Kugel, a "Global Super Fruit." (Click here for a link to the article.) Due to its claimed health benefits, açaí is now an ingredient in everything from ice cream to face creams, from pizza crust to Snapple red tea.

In his article, Kugel discusses the rapid and explosive growth in the export market for açaí in the last ten years. In 2000, virtually no açaí was exported from Brazil (380 metric tons only), but by 2009 that figure had grown to 9,400 metric tons. Almost all of that quantity comes from the Amazonian state of Pará, and is exported through its capital, Belém.

Açaí has long been popular throughout Brazil, but it is only in the rain forest regions of Brazil's north that it has been a staple food. In other regions of Brazil it is normally eaten as a health food meal or snack. According to Kugel, it is in the rain forest where the international growth of the açaí market has become a double-edged sword.Açaí producers are finally able to realize a decent profit from the production of the fruit, but at the same time, increased prices make açaí more expensive for local inhabitants, who are often very poor.

When I first ate açaí in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, quite a few years ago, I fell in love with its earthy taste. I considered it one of those Brazilian gastronomic treasures that were hidden from the world outside Brazil, and thought it would stay that way. Today's article in the NYT shows me just how wrong I was. Açaí seemed poised to join Gisele Bundchen, Ronaldinho, the samba and flip-flops as one of Brazil's most popular exports.