Cupuacu (also spelled Cupuassu or Copoasu), is a fruiting tree that grows in the rain forests of Brazil. Though it is farmed only in very few places in the Amazon river basin, the demand for cupuacu has been increasing rapidly. The increase in demand is due to the popularity of the fruit produced by these trees, and the many consumer products that can be made from it. The fruits are relatively large, about melon-sized with a husk-covered coconut-like shell. Inside the cupuacu fruit there are large seeds and creamy white pulp. It is the pulp fruit that is so sought after. As a species, the cupuacu plant (Theobroma grandiflorum) is related to cacao, and the flavor is often compared to that of chocolate.
Part of the demand for cupuacu is the result of the limited supply. Though agriculturalists believe that it can be farmed in warm, tropical climates in many parts of the world, the farms are currently limited primarily to Brazil. Combine this with the existing local demand and the growing overseas demand, and there is just not enough cupuacu to go around. The fruit can only be harvested once a year, usually between February and April. The trees appear in size and shape very similar to their cousin cacao, growing to heights of anywhere between 15-60 feet (5 to 20 meters), with broad, bright green leaves. A new cupuacu tree will normally grow between three and five years before bearing fruit.
With a taste that is often compared to already very popular foods, such as chocolate, banana, melon, or bubble gum, the cupuacu fruit is served in a wide variety of ways. When the seeds are processed using a method similar to that used to refine cacao seeds into chocolate, you get the base flavor for cupulate. Cupulate is a hot drink that is related topur hot chocolate. From the sweetened pulp of the cupuacu fruit comes a variety of desserts, including candy, jelly, ice cream, and juice. In addition to the sought-after taste, cupuacu is often harvested and sold as a health supplement.
On the Today Show, Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel described cupuacu as "the pharmacy of the Amazon." According to him, the populations that have been eating and cultivating cupuacu for generations look to the plant for a variety of treatments. Cupuacu is often used as a pain killer. It purportedly provides antioxidants and other benefits to the digestive system. In addition, the theobromides in cupuacu act like caffeine to provide energy and alertness. Finally, cupuacu is often sold as a lotion or cream because it has rejuvenating effects for skin.