Around a decade ago, the açaí berry (pronounced ah-ssa-ee) was starting to get a lot of attention in Brazil, where many began consuming its pulp in a bowl mixed with granola or other ingredients to benefit from its antioxidant and energetic properties.
Word spread quickly, and soon the fruit – which is taken from a variety of palm trees that grow natively in the Amazon region – made its way into the US market. The first company to exploit it Stateside was Sambazon, an American company that specializes in exotic tropical fruit.
Since then, açaí has been regarded as a ‘super fruit’ that is now featured in over a dozen products, going from fruit smoothies to dietary supplements, conditioners and açaí-infused vodkas by Absolut and Veev – the latter of which is used to make the “Veev-a Loca” martini at the Signature Room on Michigan Avenue.
The latest product to make its way into shelves is Cedilla, a liqueur produced and bottled in Brazil by Leblon, a US-based company known for its eponymous premium cachaça. According to their CEO Steve Luttman, the idea came to them by accident.
“We were infusing some fruits in Cachaça for some punches and bartender tinctures, and one that came out exceptionally well was with açaí,” he says.
It wasn’t, however, an easy process. “Açaí is a very challenging fruit, as it has a high level of fatty acids which need to be filtered out of the product without filtering out the flavor, color, etc… It was a ton of trial and error, and we made quite a few batches, both to overcome the technical issue and most importantly to hit the product sensorially. We figured it out, but it was not easy, believe me.”
With the growing global demand for açaí, one could not help but wonder about how it has impacted the communities where the tree is cultivated. “The growth of açaí has been a very beneficial force for the indigenous communities in the Amazon,” Luttman explains.
“Many of these people before lived in poverty and on subsistence diets. Açaí harvesting has become an important part of their economy and survival. In addition, since it’s fully sustainable and grows in the existing Amazon rainforest, it preserves the environment where these communities live, and there is no question that income levels and quality of living has improved significantly.”
Luttman believes that the popularity of açaí has much to do with its health benefits, but there is more to it. “The other driver is the exotic image i.e. a fruit from the Amazon rainforest,” he says.
“But in the end, nobody eats or drinks anything unless it tastes good. I think this is the case with people who really like açaí (like me). People who like açaí really like it for the taste. There’s definitely a following but without question, there’s some that do not like the taste of açaí. It is not for everyone, and for those who do not like açaí, they’ll probably dislike Cedilla.
According to a recent article published in Brazil’s Claudia magazine, a women’s publication dedicated to health and lifestyle, “açaí is rich in minerals like iron and calcium, carbohydrates and protein.” However, the same piece warns that “100 grams (3.5 ounces) of the fruit contains as much as 240 calories.”
At a recent event at Leblon’s offices in New York, guests sampled various cocktails made with Cedilla, going from a modified caipirinha to Rio Royale (recipe below), a mimosa-like concoction made with prosecco and a dash of the liqueur.
In the caipirinha it added tartness without taking away the basic personality of Brazil’s national cocktail, and with the prosecco it added sweetness without overwhelming the flavor of the wine itself.
On its own, Cedilla, which is made with unaged and unfiltered cachaça, has a bold fruity flavor that somewhat resembles mirto, the Italian liqueur produced in the island of Sardinia.
Cedilla is distributed in Chicago by the Wirtz Beverage Group, and should be hitting local bars soon enough.
“We’re rolling it out now as we speak,” says Luttman. “We expect to be national by April 1st, with 25 States up and running this month.”
Here are some recipes created from the new liqueur (all courtesy of Leblon):
2 oz. Leblon Cachaça
1 oz. Cedilla Liqueur de Açaí
½ oz. light double cream
dash of rose water
In a mixing glass, stir Leblon and Cedilla. Strain into a martini glass. In a separate mixing glass, mix the cream with rose water, stir gently, and carefully strain into the martini glass. Garnish with a fine layer of cream, and sprinkle with purple sugar and rose petals.
1 oz. Cedilla Liqueur
4 oz. prosecco or sparkling wine
In a champagne flute, pour in Cedilla and gently top with prosecco or other sparkling wine. Garnish with a lime zest.
by Chris Cardone (East Islip, NY)
2 oz. vanilla vodka
1 oz. pineapple juice
¾ oz. Cedilla Liqueur
¼ oz. St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
dash Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Shake well, and strain into a Collins class over fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and lemon twist.
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at email@example.com. This piece appeared in NewCity Chicago.