The production of macaúba oil is closely linked to the history of the area around Jaboticatubas, a city in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte, at the start of the stretch of the Serra do Espinhaço known as Serra do Cipó.
Despite heavy deforestation in recent decades for charcoal production, livestock pasturing and residential construction, macaúba palm trees continue to dominate the local landscape. In the past, the processing of the palm’s fruits was one of the city’s main businesses, boosting the local economy. Most families would bring their harvest to a soap factory, opened in 1942, but with the arrival of industrial oils the factory shut down. The families continued to care for the palm trees, however, harvesting the fruits and processing them artisanally for family consumption or sale at regional markets.
Macaúba oil is obtained from the inner kernel of the fruit of the palm, whose scientific name is Acrocomia aculeata. The fruits are collected after they have naturally fallen from the tree, when the external hull is dry and brittle and the inner pulp is visibly ripe (yellowish in color, with a slightly fermented smell and an oily consistency). The highly nutritious pulp is beloved by animals both wild and farmed, particularly cattle, and can also be used for the extraction of a lower-quality oil (slightly oxidized), used for soap production.
The oil for human consumption, also known as óleo da gema, is extracted from the nut after it has been left to ferment for a varying period of time. The hard shell is traditionally broken with a stone or stick, or, in some cases, using special machinery. The inner kernels are then toasted in the oven for around 20 minutes, which makes it easier to extract the oil and gives it a characteristic flavor. The kernels are then pounded to obtain a viscous mass. In the past, this was done manually in a wooden mortar, usually made from oak, pequi or jacaranda wood, but is now done mechanically, taking a few minutes to do what once took a whole day.
The ground kernels are mixed with water and brought to a boil in a pot, stirring constantly to avoid sticking. When the water starts to boil, drops of fat rise to the surface and join together. This oil is carefully collected with a spoon. To obtain the pure oil, it is heated again until all remaining traces of water are removed.
The paste left in the pot, known as massa restolho, is saved and stored in a container to make a kind of “cake,” used to feed poultry and pigs.
These days, the oil can also be directly extracted from the fresh kernels using a press. The resulting oil is clearer and has a more delicate flavor. In this case the “cake” can also be eaten by people; it preserves some of the pulp’s nutritional characteristics and has a good amount of fiber.
Macaúba oil is used on salads, for frying and to make biscuits and other baked goods. It also has medicinal properties and can be used cosmetically for moisturizing skin and hair.
The Presidium involves 15 communities, with around 40 farmers, producers and processors.
The production of oil and other products from the macaúba palm represents a source of income for the communities, allowing them to stay in their local area and protect the environment. A strategic element is the involvement of young people in the administration, supervision and marketing of the Presidium.
The project’s second phase will involve the reforestation of degraded areas, with the reintroduction of macaúba palms and other native species.
The Presidium is being coordinated with support from the Amanu - Educação, Ecologia e Solidariedade (“education, ecology and solidarity”) association, with the aim of promoting agroecological principles and establishing a strong, collective, community-based organization. The group produces oil but also cultivates, harvests and processes various other products (native fruits, rice, etc.), plants food gardens and works on agroforestry.
Since 2012, the communities involved have been organizing the Feira Raízes do Campo market, an important space for exchange, trade and awareness-raising. The market has led to the construction of a facility for the processing of macaúba products, and a space for selling the products and organizing cultural events.
Capão do Berto, Espada, Xirú, Almeida, Barreiro, Capão do Sapé, Mato do Tição, Jardim das Oliveiras, Paciência, Maré Mansa, Sede, Capão Grosso, Vila de Santa Rita, Santo Antônio da Palma and São José da Serra villages, Jaboticatubas rural area, Belo Horizonte metropolitan region, Minas Gerais state, Southeast region
Amanu - Educação, Ecologia e Solidariedade
Presidium supported by
Slow Food Brazil
Federal University of Santa Caterina
Special Secretary of Family Agriculture and Agrarian Development
Federal Government of Brazil