The Asai, or Para palm (also spelled 'Assai' or 'Açaí') is neglected outside of Brazil, but it is a tree of much promise for other parts of the Tropics. While it has been introduced into India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and to a lesser degree elsewhere, it remains unknown to most people in the Tropics. It is a tree of many uses, considerable economic value, and much potential.
The Asai is at its best in tropical lowlands. In the Amazon basin, it occurs in frequently flooded lowlands as well as on firm land. In many parts of Para, Brazil, it is the principal and dominating tree of the landscape. It occurs in large clusters of up to 25 trunks or more because it suckers at the base. A cluster generally consists of trunks of all ages, and as older trunks die, younger trunks grow to fill their places. Thus, a clump of trees has an indefinitely long lifetime.
The individual trunk is slim and tall (reaching 20 meters). The long pinnate leaves have pendulous segments. The tree is elegant in appearance, a choice palm for gardens. It flowers and fruits the year around, but during the dry season the fruit is most abundant.
The fruit, in large clusters, is small and round, 12 to 15 millimeters in diameter. Its collection from large trees is a difficult and dangerous task.
The fruit pulp has an unusual flavor described as similar to rasberries or blackberries but with a nutty taste also. It can be eaten fresh, out-of-hand. It is very popular crushed in drinks, and it is made into a sirup or sauce to be used with other food. In Brazil it is especially appreciated cooked with cassava meal. The fruit is also used in many baked products.
In addition, the Asai is one of the best sources of palm cabbage. Because the tree occurs in clusters, old trunks can be removed for cabbage without destroying the tree itself.
The fruit pulp is high in calories because of its starch and sugar contents. It is also a good source of vitamin A. Its calcium, phosphorus, and iron contents are significant.
DATE: May 1990
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