Cupuacu, a fruit with many health benefits

Cupuacu, a relatively unknown fruit from South America, is gaining popularity outside the continent. Consumed for centuries by people who live by the river Amazon, the fruit belongs to the cocoa family. It's popularity has increased due to its health benefits, both from the pulp and seeds.

Pronounced as "coo-poo-wa-soo", which means "food for the Gods", the fruit played an important role in the Amazonian cultures and was prized in that region for its taste and medicinal properties. Traditionally, cupuacu has been used to treat skin, health problems, as a pain killer and digestive.

Although cupuacu has been behind cocoa in terms of international demand, its demand has risen after recent studies discovered powerful antioxidants in its pulp and seeds.

The fruit looks like a cross between a coconut and a papaya. It has a buttery, aromatic pulp with approximately 35 hazelnut-sized seeds, and medicinal properties. Seeds are used to make cupuacu butter, one of the world's newest skin-softening emollients (after cocoa butter and Brazil nut butter). Used increasingly in beauty products, cupuacu butter has high phytosterol, flavanoid content and moisture retaining properties. Flavanoids are important as they fight free radicals, which are the body's molecules that attack healthy cells to damage skin and cause wrinkles. Besides effects on skin and hair, high flavanoid content helps lower cholesterol, blood pressure and boost immunity.

Scientists seem excited about cupuacu's potential health benefits and some also call it "pharmacy in a fruit". It contains vitamins C, A, B1, B2, B3, five fatty acids including powerful omega-3, amino acids and other nutrients like calcium and selenium.

Interestingly, cupuacu does not have caffeine, unlike cocoa, but has a caffeine-like effect and boosts alertness. Brazilians love it for its unique chocolaty-vanilla aroma and say it tastes better than chocolate. Restaurants and cafés all over Brazil use it to make different drinks, jams, desserts, tarts and ice creams.

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