Açaí factory: turning açaí berries into frozen açaí pulp
Each açaí factory follows roughly the same processes for turning the açaí berries into frozen açaí pulp. The end result, however, in both taste profile and quality can be very different. The açaí berry is very sensitive and requires rigorous quality control and management by each açaí factory. We follow our products from beginning to end, ensuring that our customers receive the world’s finest açaí products.
Before açaí berries turn up in your açaí bowl, the berry has to undergo several processes. These different phases in each açaí factory can be roughly divided into:
Because the berries spoils very fast it is essential that all these processes together do not last longer than 12 hours from the moment the berries are harvested.
Reception and weighing of the fresh harvested açaí berries
Most of the açaí does not come from plantations but is harvested from the wild by ribeirinhos. These are indigenous people living on the riverbanks of the Amazon region. After collecting the berries, the ribeirinhos sell them to the wholesalers (atravessadores) who then sell them to the açaí factory. During transport to the factory it is important that the freshly collected berries are not exposed directly to the sun. Açaí is sold in baskets called “latas” and each lata weighs approximately 14kg. The price of the lata is quoted on a daily basis according to supply and demand.
When the fresh açaí arrives at the açaí facility, they are weighted and the origin of the açaí is registered. Because the berries spoils very fast it is essential that the berries arrive not later than 12 hours at the açaí factory from the moment the berries are harvested. The storage time of the fruit until processing may not exceed 2 hours, counting from the reception at the açaí factory.
Sanitation, first selection and softening
Biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and fungi are present in air, water and soil. Because these organisms can affect human health it is important to disinfect the wild harvested açaí berries. To decontaminate the berries, plastic, tiled or stainless steel tanks are used with chlorinated water with a maximum capacity of 500 liters. The berries are kept there for around 40 minutes. This also ensures that the berries softens which facilitates the removal of the açaí flesh from the kernel at a later stage (depulping). In general, 90% of the dirt is removed during this phase.
Rinse, second selection and drainage
The purpose here is to remove any residue of the chlorinated solution so that the quality and flavor of the final product is not altered. With a sieve any remaining dirt is also removed from the berries. All the water is removed in this phase.
Depulping of the açaí berries at the açaí factory
Now that the berries are clean and removed of any dirt, the depulping of the berry in the açaí factory can start. This happens by means of friction between the berries (the edible layer of the açaí is only 1 to 2 mm thick). Specialized stainless steel machines with a vertical internal axis generate circular movements that separates the flesh of the berry from the kernel. Because the açaí berry is naturally very dry, water is used in this process. The purity of the frozen açaí pulp is determined here. The more water is used in this process, the less pure will be the açaí pulp. This number is expressed in the dry rate of açaí. Export quality of frozen açaí pulp should have at least a dry rate of 12% (açaí médio). The highest quality is açaí pulp is called açaí special and has a dry rate of minimum 14%. Each depulping machine in an açaí factory has a capacity to process around 100 – 200 liters of açaí pulp per day. A large açaí factory will therefor have the need the have several depulping machines.
After depulping the açaí berries, the paste is filtered with plastic sieves to remove any remaining material as a consequence of the depulping. For example the peel of the açaí berry or parts of the pits.
During this process the fat globules are broken up to such a small size that they remain suspended evenly rather than separating out and floating to the surface. The purpose of homogenization is making things uniform or similar that is accomplished by means of high pressure. Homogenization is a physical process and not chemical and so nothing is added or taken away from the açaí.
Pasteurization of the açaí
For food safety most distributors outside Brazil require the açaí to be pasteurized. This is a heating process that kills so called pathogens. Pasteurization is a very delicate process as it interferes both with the color of the açaí and the taste itself.
Before exporting our açaí, we test the quality of each lot at an accredited laboratory to screen for microbes, yeast, mold, agro-toxins and pesticides.
The açaí pulp has now reached its final processing and is ready for consumption. The packaging machine at the açaí factory is directly connected to the homogenization / pasteurization equipment and is done fully automatically. The packaging for format is dependent on the demands of the final client. For exportation the most used packaging is 100 grams sachets that are used for the açaí bowls.
Freezing of the açaí pulp
Now that the açaí berries are depulped and packaged it is essential that the pulp is frozen as fast as possible to avoid contamination and / or deterioration of the product. Each açaí factory has a so called freezing tunnel where the açaí is put immediately after packaging. The temperature in this tunnel is around minus 30 degrees Celsius. After the açaí is frozen it is moved to a storage room with a temperature between minus 18 and minus 25 degrees Celsius where it will stay until is it moved to the client.
Depending on whether is açaí pulp is pasteurized or not the expiry date of the açaí is 12 months or 24 months (with pasteurization).
Enjoy your açaí bowl!
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Açái Marajó – an açaí factory in Jundiaí