Ark of taste
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The piracuí is a traditional food prepared by fish processing. The most commonly fish species used are the acari (Lipossarcus pardalis) and tamuatá (Callichthys callichthys). These species are characterized by the body covered with bony plates and a peculiar habit: they live in the riverbed, especially rocky beds, feeding of mud, plants and organic debris. Apart from gill breathing, they are also able to absorb oxygen from the atmosphere. During the season when the rivers reach the highest level of dryness – from August to October – a lot of them get stuck in puddles, where they can survive for a few days. Due to this easy access to capture them, they are traditionally used for the piracuí manufacturing. These species deteriorate very rapidly after fishing, fact that reinforces the fishermen choice for the piracuí processing. In the first step the fish is cooked or baked, followed by a selection process where meat, carcasses, bones and bone plates (also called ‘iscas’) are separated. The obtained meat is toasted and stirred continuously on a plate heated by wood fire. During this process, salt is added to the fish mass and smaller fish ‘iscas’ are removed. The final product, with a flour-like texture, is then naturally cooled and packaged. It is common to find some fish eggs in the piracuí. They are easily identified by the spherical shape and distinctive consistency. The acari and tamuatá species have a long reproductive period, thus the frequent presence of ovate females in the ‘flour’ preparation. However, there is a period in which reproduction is more intense and fishing is prohibited. This is the closed season, from December to March, period legally established by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA). Disrespecting the closed season may jeopardize these fish stocks in a long term. The piracuí has a high protein content, approximately 60% of its composition according to recent research. It can be eaten pure or used as an ingredient in many recipes such as dumplings, soups and doughs. The piracuí prepared with acari fish has a fibrous consistence, medium granulation and intense flavor, being a good choice as an ingredient in recipes. The tamuatá’s piracuí is thinner and has a mild flavor, being more popular for pure consumption. Today the production is concentrated in the region of Manaus, in Amazonas state, and the low region of Tapajos River, in Para state. This latter area is the homeplace of Vira Sebo community, part of the Tamuá Food Community (a Terra Madre Food Community). Traditionally, piracuí represents an important food security resource for these communities: the fish, captured during the abundance period, is conserved as piracuí for the season when fish is scarce. This fact becomes even more relevant if we consider that fish is the major protein source and that the lack of electricity makes refrigeration not a viable conservation method in that region. Nowadays the tradition of preparing and consuming piracuí is changing. On one hand, access of the villagers to adjacent cities has increased, bringing more industrialized food to the daily diet. On the other hand, the fact that currently there is no legal support for the piracuí production and marketing – which could pave the way for piracuí in the sustainable alternative market and generate an alternative income -, turning its production increasingly less attractive. These facts have reduced the number of producers and threaten the maintenance of this important food culture in a medium term.

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