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The Amazon rainforest is home to dozens of unique foods, some of which are quickly gaining popularity in the United States and elsewhere.

One such tropical plant is cupuaçu, a tree that produces a rich, delicious fruit.

This article tells you all you need to know about cupuaçu, including its benefits and various uses.

What is cupuaçu?

Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum), also known as cupuassu, is related to the cacao tree (1, 2).

Native to the Amazon, this tree grows up to 65 feet (20 meters) high. Its fruit is the national fruit of Brazil, which is the world’s largest cupuaçu producer (1, 2).

The fruit is ovular with a brown rind and white, fleshy pulp. It resembles its relative, the cacao fruit. Its flavor is compared to chocolate with hints of tropical fruit like melon or pineapple (1).

Cupuaçu is commonly used in desserts or pressed into a juice. In addition, its seeds are pressed to extract a nutrient-rich fat that’s used as a cooking oil or beauty treatment (1).

Summary

Cupuaçu is related to cacao. Its fruit has a fleshy, white pulp with a chocolatey, fruity flavor and is popular throughout Brazil.

What’s more, its seeds produce a rich fat used in cooking and cosmetic products.

Potential benefits of cupuaçu

Cupuaçu and products made from it are becoming more commonplace in Western countries. The fruit and its butter are prized for their versatility in both food and beauty products.

In fact, cupuaçu may have a number of benefits.

May support healthy skin

Cupuaçu butter is rich in healthy fats and serves as an excellent emollient that may help restore your skin’s natural moisture barrier.

Due to its low melting point, cupuaçu butter softens when applied to the skin, allowing for quick absorption.

Its high fat content helps seal in moisture to rehydrate your skin, increase suppleness, and decrease signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles (3).

Moreover, its high antioxidant content may protect your skin from harmful compounds, such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation, environmental pollutants, and cigarette smoke (4).

Keep in mind that you may tolerate cupuaçu butter differently depending on your skin type. For example, if you have oily skin, opt for using it only on drier body parts, such as your hands, feet, and elbows (5).

May keep your hair soft and healthy

Cupuaçu is commonly used as a hydrating ingredient in hair products.

Dry hair results from a lack of moisture in the hair shaft, which can lead to damaged, dull, or frizzy hair.

Cupuaçu is rich in both saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to penetrate the hair shaft and restore hydration (6, 7, 8).

One study treated dyed hair samples with either cupuaçu butter, argan oil, or a traditional conditioner.

Both the cupuaçu and argan products significantly restored hair hydration and curbed protein loss — a common result of dying hair (8).

Rich in antioxidants and numerous nutrients

Cupuaçu is rich in antioxidants and nutrients that may benefit your health.

Its flavonoid antioxidants fight oxidative stress, high levels of which are linked to inflammation, obesity, and many other chronic conditions (9, 10, 11, 12).

Eating a diet with lots of antioxidant-rich foods is linked to a lower risk of inflammation and chronic ailments like heart disease and diabetes (13, 14, 15).

Moreover, the fruit is a great source of fiber, which supports gut health, boosts feelings of fullness, and aids blood sugar management (16, 17).

Summary

Cupuaçu butter is rich in fats that contribute to healthy hair and skin. What’s more, its fruit is a great source of antioxidants and fiber.

How to use it

Cupuaçu is available in many forms and can be used in food products as well as cosmetics.

Delicious alternative to chocolate

If you’re looking to try something new, cupuaçu is a great alternative to chocolate.

Since it comes from the cocoa family, it has many similar characteristics and can be processed like cocoa to make delicious treats. In fact, it’s sometimes added to energy bars, drinks, and other snacks (1).

Moreover, thanks to its naturally high fat content and slight sweetness, it can be processed into bars much like dark chocolate.

Cupuaçu powder can also be used in baking — though it may not work as well in recipes that call for sweetened cocoa powder, which has significantly more sugar than cupuaçu (1).

Food products

Cupuaçu has gained popularity as an antioxidant-rich food.

The raw fruit has a slightly acidic taste and chewy texture. However, it may be difficult to find outside of South America, as it’s not commonly exported — though some specialty stores may carry it.

You can use cupuaçu fruit or powder in both desserts and smoothies. In addition, the raw fruit is sometimes pressed into a juice.

Furthermore, you can use cupuaçu butter as a cooking fat.

Due to its high oleic acid content, it has a soft texture and a melting point similar to that of butter. As such, it’s best for low- to medium-heat cooking, such as pan- or stir-frying (18).

Supplements

Though cupuaçu supplements are available, no human studies support their use.

In a small study in rats, cupuaçu extract significantly lowered markers of inflammation and oxidative stress (19).

Though these results are promising, human research is needed, and the safety and side effects of cupuaçu supplements are unknown.

You should always consult a healthcare provider before adding any supplements to your routine.

Cosmetics

Given its hydrating and moisturizing properties, cupuaçu is added to many cosmetics. These include:

  • body butters
  • skin lotions
  • soaps
  • shampoos
  • conditioners
  • hair masks
  • lip balms

Most cupuaçu products contain other ingredients, such as:

  • shea butter
  • argan oil
  • other plant oils

They may likewise include:

  • fragrances
  • alcohols
  • surfactants
  • other ingredients

Be sure to read the label carefully if you’re sensitive to ingredients commonly found in hair and skin products.

Summary

Cupuaçu can be eaten raw and is commonly added to smoothies and desserts.

It’s also found in an array of cosmetic products, including body butters and soaps.

Furthermore, its powder is an alternative to cocoa powder.

The bottom line

Cupuaçu is a chocolaty, nutrient-dense fruit native to Brazil.

It’s widely used in skin and hair products due to its high fat content, which can help moisturize your skin and hair.

It’s also quite versatile as a food.

You can:

  • eat the fruit raw
  • use its butter as a cooking oil
  • add cupuaçu powder to desserts and smoothies

Although cupuaçu is sold widely in South America, it can be hard to find elsewhere. Depending on your location, products like powder, butter, and cosmetics may be your best bet for trying this unique tropical food.