The new wonder-extract is Juçara, collected from the berries of a palm that grows only in Brazil’s Atlantic coastal rainforest. It is known to have five times the concentration of anti-oxidants found in Açaí, Brazil’s best-known and increasingly-fashionable “super-food,” that comes from a palm growing in the Amazon forest. The two palms are related, but not identical.
Juçara, (Euterpe edulis) produces a purple-colored extract that is very high in anthocyanins. When used in skin creams and lotions, anthocyanins have a strong antioxidant action, and help to prevent aging effects.
Anthocyanins are believed to be the driving force behind the free-radical and age-fighting powers of some fruits. They are common in fruits with rich red and purple colors, like grapes and berries, but fruits of tropical palms have far more than any other foods. For example, the ORAC level (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of Açaí is over 3,500, which is hundreds of times higher than fruits like apples and bananas. Açaí itself has over twice the antioxidant power of blueberries. Today, charts of ORAC values don’t show Juçara on the list.
Anthocyanins are also increasingly used as the active ingredient in healthy food, beverages and energy drinks. The new Juçara extract will likely be used in sports and cereal bars, yogurts, ice creams, and jams.
Brazilian law now has strict guidelines for the collection and processing of use of all forest-based plant extracts. Juçara fruit can only be collected from the rainforest on a sustainable basis by companies receiving authorization from CGEN (Brazilian Board for the Management of Genetic Heritage). As well as helping protect the forest, companies must share benefits with local communities.
Until a few years ago, Brazilian farmers would hack down these trees to extract the heart of palm they contain. At one stage, the palm almost became extinct, press reports show. Now they are seen as a precious renewable resource.
Community groups and NGOs have rallied around Juçara as a means of economic support and have been successful in raising sponsorship from the national oil company Petrobras, as this local website shows. Funding from the US, via the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998, also supports “debt for nature” swaps in forest where the palm grows.
The only business so far to receive authorization to develop remedies based on the Juçara berry is Atina Natural Assets, a Brazilian company with a factory based in Minas Gerais state that specializes in making organic plant extracts and essential oils for the health and beauty industry. Atina has received international certificates for international sustainability and organic status.
Atina’s representatives are in Europe showing the new “turbo-açaí” antioxidant to buyers at cosmetics shows and health and beauty trade fairs this spring.
“Atina is bringing an exciting range of extracts, essences, oils and active ingredients to Europe,” said commercial director Cristina Saiani, who is touring the Cosmoprof fair in Bologna, Italy and Beauty Trade Fair in Dusseldorf, Germany.
“Our 2013 range includes tropical forest novelties that are unique to Brazil, such as Juçara and Açai, and high quality products that will be more familiar to European buyers such as raspberry, strawberry and spice extracts, as well as oils from passion fruit, macadamia nuts, coffee and cloves,” said Saiani. “We have a great story to tell, and are delighted to help our European partners put the true essence of our country in a bottle.”
Açaí is described as the Amazon forest’s most important non-wood export crop and annual production is estimated to be around 500,000 tonnes. Its conversion into plant-based health remedies has spawned a global industry. In 2009, for instance, sales in the US alone topped US$100 million after an item on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show promoted the food supplement. Much of the positioning of Açaí as the “number one” anti-oxidant is based upon the known concentration of Omega 3, 6, and 9 essential fatty acids.
If it turns out to be true that the highly-popular Açaí palm from Amazonia has indeed had its ORAC score trumped by Juçara, its southern cousin from Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest, the race could be on to develop commercial applications for the new “super antioxidant.”