The cupuacu is a type of fruit tree which grows wild in the the Amazon rainforest. It is also grown for fruit production in some other areas with similar climates. In the wild, cupuacus generally reach 49 to 65 feet (15 to 20 m) in height, but cupuacu trees used for crop production are typically less than 26 feet (8 m) tall. They require warm year-round temperatures, high humidity, and lots of rainfall to grow well, and are pollinated by ants and aphids, making these insect species vital to reproduction.
The cupuacu tree has large leaves that are pinkish green when the tree is young but lose their pink tint when the tree reaches maturity. The fruit is oblong, brown, and fuzzy, and is usually about 8 inches (20 cm) long and weighs between 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg). The fruit, especially its interior, is very fragrant with a banana-like scent.
When the cupuacu's fruit is ripe, it drops to the ground and can then be gathered for the harvest. The exocarp, which is the outside of the fruit, is thick and sour-tasting, while the pulp inside has a sweet and slightly tangy melon-like taste and contains 25 to 50 seed pods. The exocarp is very tough and must be broken open on a hard surface or sawed open.
The cupuacu is a major food source for both the indigenous peoples and the animals of the rainforest. Because it tastes sweet, the fruit can be used to make juice, jam, as a flavor for ice cream, or it can be an ingredient in other dessert dishes. Since the cupuacu is closely related to the cocoa tree, its seeds can be used to create a chocolate substitute called cupulate. Cupulate is a relatively new discovery and its potential for commercial use is still being investigated. However, it has gained some popularity in Asia.
The cultivation of cupuacu as a cash crop is being encouraged because the pulp has a high market value and the demand for it, especially in Asia, often exceeds supply. In addition, the potential of cupulate is also encouraging for potential farmers. The cupuacu could be grown in countries with warm, moist climates such as Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Mexico, providing much-needed assistance to the predominantly poor farmers living in those countries.