Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ask the Ancestors

I was recently talking to a friend and she asked if I knew anything about Acai berries, with it being so hyped up right now. My response to her was that I was familiar with it and this new rage sweeping health nuts; but that I don’t give much credit until I find some historical or cultural background. For example, if you take green tea, it’s been around for centuries in the Middle Eastern (Arab), Indian and East Asian (Chinese and Japanese) cultures. People from these cultures have been drinking green tea for centuries, post dinner or after large meals to help with digestion. They also add mint or cardamom to act as a breath freshener and digestive.

The Japanese culture also used green tea for medicinal purposes and for centuries has produced it in many forms to serve a variety of purposes. One thing which was never proven in the western world is how green tea can help reduce the harmful affects of smoking in the human body. It was widely understood that green tea helps cleanse the body of toxins but traditionally men in the Arab world drank green tea when they smoked the water pipes (hookah). Japanese men, a group known to be heavy smokers, are more commonly known to have health issues related to stress, NOT smoking. The benefits of incorporating green tea as part of a health
food regimen are vast.

We can find a similar cultural significance with Fish Oil or Omega fatty acids. In the South Indian and Bengali cultures, the importance of fish oil is widely understood. If you ask a child on the street” what is the best
food you can have”, they will tell you fish! Ask why? Its not only brain food, its food that gives you life. They may not know the medical benefits or theories but they know it’s good for the heart, thus giving you life. You can find many recipes and even videos on how to make fish on

Getting back to the initial topic of this article; based on our conversation my friend sent me information on the Acai Berry. Its significance in the Amazon culture, its use for health and healing and the number of tribes that believe in its benefits are shocking! I had no idea that it was something so common in South America and that it was widely used for many medicinal purposes centuries ago. The various tribes not only used Acai for antibiotic and anti-venom purposes but understood its energy boosting properties. The men also used Acai to help with prostate issues (it was considered natures Viagra).

More recently, researchers have found that the Amazonian people used to have Acai when they would have fatty foods. It was learned that the Acai not only has antioxidant properties but is high in Omega fatty acids, which help to reduce the bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in our body. One important thing to note, the health properties of an Acai berry are only active for 24hours once it has been stripped from the tree. This is why many people used to pulp and freeze the berry when using it in other forms. If you find yourself getting a smoothie with a boost of Acai or having desserts with Acai berries… learn the nature of the source. In other words see if the
chef or restaurant is using pulp, freeze-dried powder or juice? The juice will most likely be good for flavor but not the nutrients, unless of course you are in Brazil or Peru where the berry could have been freshly harvested!

I will leave you with some traditional ways in which the berry was/is eaten. In Northern Brazil, the Acai or Jussara (one of the common folk names) is served either sweet or salty with tapioca. In southern Brazil they like to have it in a bowl with granola or all over Brazil in ice cream form. Acai used to be sold commonly as a juice, soda or ice cream flavor but the old Amazonian tribes used to also make Acai wine!


daffy said...

Great article Saira!
Another interesting thing that people eat for health reasons are Nigella seeds, also known as Kalonji in Pakistani and Indian cultures. They're meant to provide a cure for everything except death.

Jennifer said...

Wow! Thanks for another wonderful article. I am learning so much! Maybe you can dig up some info on the secret health benefits of Nutella among the ancient Romans ;) hehe. Let me know if you find any acai berry recipes!

Yax said...

Very insightful article! I knew green tea was supposed to be some sort of metabolism booster but I had no idea that it reduces the harmful effects of smoking in the body! As a South Asian, I know all too well how fish is brain food and that oil and omega fatty acids are also great for the skin, hair and nails :) Keep on writing, these articles are great! I'm waiting for some carnivorous recipes :)