Acerola (pronounced ah-sir-oh-la) is a small, cherry like fruit that grows on large, densely branched shrubs throughout the tropics of South and Central America and the Carribean. It is sometimes called the Amazon Cherry. It has a taste that ranges from tart to semi-sweet with the variety grown in the Amazon regions of Brazil being some of the tastiest. Acerola is recognized for having an ideal source of nutrients necessary for immune support.
The really amazing thing about acerola, though, is that it contains 20-30 times the vitamin C of oranges making it one of nature's most potent sources of vitamin C.
Acerola fruit is not only a rich source of vitamin C, it also has a unique combination of niacin, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, protein, iron, phosphorus, calcium, and polyphenols, such as, epicatechin, procyanidin, quercetin and anthocyanidins. When compared to oranges, acerola also provides double the amount of magnesium, potassium and pantothenic acid.
The various mineral salts present in acerola, principally iron, calcium and phosphorus, can help stressed and tired skin to be remineralized. The proteins present in acerola possess skin-hydrating properties and support capillary functioning.
Despite having a lower anthocyanin content than berries, acerola has a much greater amount of total polyphenols contributing significantly to acerola’s high antioxidant capacity.
Acerola has long been consumed in Brazil as a health tonic, and as an enjoyable and refreshing natural drink. The acerola cherry can be eaten fresh but has also been added to juices, smoothies, jams, syrups and jellies. In fact, juice from acerola is as widespread in Brazil as orange juice in the U.S.A. It is one of the top sources of vitamin C for Brazilians.
Traditionally, acerola has been consumed in Brazil as a natural remedy for fever and dysentery, as well as being used as an anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, arterial stimulant for the liver and renal systems, and as a heart tonic. It is employed as a natural aid for anaemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, liver problems, fungal infections, rheumatism and tubercolosis.
Acerola is also used for preventing heart disease, “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), blood clots, and cancer.
Some people use it to treat the common cold, pressure sores, bleeding in the eye (retinal hemorrhages), tooth decay, gum infections, depression, hay fever, and collagen disorders. Athletes use acerola for improving physical endurance.
Acerola grows in the wild and in cultivation throughout Brazil, principally in the northeastern regions. The fruit grows on short stems on a shrub-like tree which grows to 3-6 meters (10-19 feet) in height. The diameter and weight of acerola fruit varies between 2-4 cm and 5-15 g, respectively. The fruit has a thin skin that may be light reddish-yellow or deep red when ripe. The flesh is usually of a reddish-yellow hue, although some types with dark red skins also have dark red flesh.
The fruits are usually picked manually during the coolest part of the day early in the morning, and must be handled with care since they bruise easily and are highly perishable. In fact, fruit deteriorates rapidly once removed from the tree and is typically unusable within 3-5 days. Unrefrigerated fruit develops mold quickly and frozen fruit often breaks apart when thawed. For these reasons, frozen acerola pulps (purees) are one of the preferred ways to preserve and transport acerola outside of its principal growing regions for personal use.
In the Amazon region of Brazil, there are typically 3-5 harvest periods per year. Older trees can yield from 30 to 60 pounds of fruit. When grown from seed, the acerola tree can fruit in the 2nd or 3rd year; cuttings may fruit in the first year. Productivity increases over a 15 to 20 year period, and then levels or declines.
Plantings of acerola are increasing worldwide, with Brazil leading the way. The increased plantings are a direct result of increased use of acerola for a natural source of Vitamin C for nutritional supplements.