RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
We're going to hear now about one part of the bounty of the Amazon rainforest, which is home to hundreds of exotic fruits. One of the most important is the aguaje. The nutritious fruit and the tree it comes from are central to daily life in the rainforest. The fruit is eaten by just about everyone, and the tree it comes from is used for building material and in the making of wine. It is so popular, it's raised concerns that people are chopping down the trees faster than they can grow. Reporter Annie Murphy has our story.
ANNIE MURPHY: The city of Iquitos, Peru is home to about 400,000 people, and each day, they eat more than 20 tons of aguaje: a small, scaly, brown fruit with bright orange flesh that tastes something like a carrot. And it's almost all sold by small vendors like Olivia Sosa(ph). Olivia stands on a busy corner and peels buckets of the fruit with a paring knife.
OLIVIA SOSA: (Foreign language spoken)
MURPHY: Amir Flores(ph) comes here every day after work. He's setting up a natural supplement company, and he wants to make an aguaje pill. In the jungle, it's widely believed that aguaje makes women more beautiful.
AMIR FLORES: (Through translator) It depends on the sort of beauty. There's beauty of the soul and spirit, and then there's physical beauty. But the women here in Iquitos are really beautiful. It must be the climate and the aguaje.
MURPHY: When mixed with sugar and frozen, aguaje tastes like pumpkin pie and caramel with a lemony tang. On a regular day, Amir eats about 10 of these popsicles. But that's nothing, says Luis Betparez(ph), who's worked at Shambo for two years.
LUIS BETPAREZ: (Through translator) The other day, I saw a girl eat 15 popsicles of the biggest size. I asked her: Doesn't your throat burn? And she said no. I actually think I need more. People will take aguaje in any form they can get it.
MURPHY: But Amazonian ecologist Juan Ruiz says the fruit's popularity can put a strain on aguaje forests. People cut down the tall aguaje palms faster than they're naturally replaced to get at the coveted fruit.
JUAN RUIZ: (Spanish spoken)
MURPHY: For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy, in Peru.
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