Tarubá production process

We wrote in another post about tarubá, a fermented beverage made with cassava.

How it’s done? The process isn’t easy and it’s worth a documentation. We present here how Maria do Socorro Oliveira produces it. Maria is from the Escrivão village, along the great Tapajós river, within the Aveiro municipality, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Maria explained us (me and my daughter Karen) the production process in detail and she consented to record it by pictures. These are taken by Adamor Cardoso.

As long as I know, this is the first comprehensive recording of the tarubá production process.

We tried to understand better also the issue of puçanga, a powder strewed on the cassava paste. This powder is made toasting and crumbling the leaves of a specific plant. The same plant is used to cover the paste, while it rests. This plant popular name is curumim; there aren’t reliable sources that identify it, but we deem that is Trema micrantha (L.) Blum.

Tarubá production process diagram

Tarubá production process diagram

Photographic record of the whole tarubá production process

Cassava in Roero

Tucupi, cassava flour and tarubá. On the background, the farmsted in Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
Tucupi, cassava flour and tarubá. On the background, the farmsted in Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli

The cassava (Manihot esculenta) doesn’t grow up in the Roero region (Italy), but for one night was the star in Pocapaglia. Here, a group of student of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, hosted by Konstantin and Karen, could taste the true Amazonian cassava flour, the hot tucupi sauce and the tarubá.

All the three products are so important in the Amazon gastronomy, and so unknown outside this region – in particular, the tucupi and the tarubá.

The tasting. Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
The tasting. Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli

A visit in Prainha to know the “state of the art” of the piracui production

Fisherman with acari. Prainha 2015. Picture by Tamara Saré
Fisherman with acari. Prainha 2015. Picture by Tamara Saré

Since 2008 I have struggled to find ways to support the piracui producers of Prainha, Pará, Brasil. I spent the past August in the Amazon region. So, I decided to visit them. I was absent from the region since 2010 and I wanted to update my information. Beside that, my idea was to record some interviews, in order to tell with the fishermen’s own words their harsh and delicate work.

To organise the visit I counted on my friend Ivonete, who, together with me, is responsible for the piracui in the Slow Food’s Ark of taste. We created a little team, with Revelino e Flodivaldo, da Colônia de Pescadores, Tamara, photographer and friend, Karen, who’s studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and, by the way, is my daughter.

We gathered many and high-quality information, and some great testimonies, I’ll try to put in this blog or elsewhere.

I already was, but I’m now more convinced that for the piracui producers is urgent to produce less with the same income. This means that who now produces an hight-quality piracui would continue to do that; who doesn’t, has to increase the quality. And the quality must be appreciated. Only organisation among the fishermen and the right incentives from the local buyers could do that.

This change is not only important for the fishermen livelihood, but also for the environment, since the over-production of piracui is threatening the very base of it, the fish called acari1.

The proble isn’t demand: piracui has a strong, and maybe growing, regional market (Santarém, Manaus, Belém, maybe Fortaleza): nearly 10 tons of piracui leave Prainha every year; as everyone who already prepared some dish with piracui, this is a huge amount!

But in this market there aren’t incentives to promote quality. The producer who makes a good piracui generally receives some extra money from the local buyer, but his piracui is sold to the consumer mixed with low-quality piracui. And the local consumer couldn’t choose between a “good” or “bad” piracui, or even doesn’t know at all there is a “good” and “bad” piracui.

Beside that, though there are some very clear point about “what process makes a good piracui” , many uncertainties remain, above all regarding preservation. And it’s very important that the issue of food safety comes “from below” and not “top-down”. Today, no sanitary control exists; but, sooner or later, something would come. And if that it is put in place in a way that doesn’t take in account the local specificities, many producers will be hit — and maybe some of the best producers. There is in Brazil a very interesting debate about adapting the sanitary rules to small-producers (see a news about that, in Portuguese), but we still have a long way 2.

You’ll find a more detailed account of the outcome of the visit here (text in Portuguese).

I really hope that some actors could become interested in the matter and engage themselves in supporting local people in the way for a more sustainable production of piracui, that could also help to rise the living standards in the region.

The whole team. From left to right: Revelino, Ivonete, Flodivaldo, Luca, Karen e Tamara. Rio Vira Sebo. Prainha, PA, Brasil. 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
The whole team. From left to right: Revelino, Ivonete, Flodivaldo, Luca, Karen e Tamara. Rio Vira Sebo. Prainha, PA, Brasil. 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli


  1. There are other causes for the decline, but the over-catch is one of the more this is probably very relevant.
  2. Also the 2006 FAO/ WHO document Guidance to governments on the application of HACCP in smalland/or less-developed food businesses points in this direction.

Luzia Fati’s memory

Foto di Luca Fanelli/ MAIS. Nov. 2011
Santarém riverside

In order to honour the memory of an upright person, Luzia Fati, who died in March 2013, I put here the whole interview she gave me in April 2007, in Santarém (Pará, Brasil).

Over this interview, she retraces his life and the history of the rural trade unions of the Brazilian Northern region. She put together historical events, a sharp political analysis and moving personal memories.

I splitted the interview in six parts; it is in Portuguese.

I – Childhood and youth, political and personal education, until the election as member of the STTR (rural trade union) direction (21 min.).

II – From the STTR to the CUT national direction (CUT is a trade union confederation)

III – The CUT national direction, coming back to Santarém, the engagement in the ISAM (city manager related to environment)

IV – To be a female trade union director, the opportunities, the relationship with family

V – STTR’s history and performance, the trade union role, its political and economic role and the land issue today

IV – Ribeirinhos (people who live along the rivers) and planalto (highlands) in the rural trade union history, some points about the trade union history in the region, conclusions.

Here you can find a short account about the Luzia life (CUT website, in Portuguese).

Gastronomic event in S. Paulo

My badge at the Semana Mesa SP

Semana Mesa SP is one of the most important Latin American gastronomic events; in 2010 comes to its 4th edition; this year issue is “What gastronomy could do for the plantet?”, an incipient, but clear stance to put gastronomy outside the restaurants walls.

I participated to the event presenting the piracui (fish flour) Tamuá both in the Instituto Slow Food São Paulo stall and the Gustavo Rocha panel “Poke de filhote com guyoza de piracuí ao molho de açaí [Amazonian catfish* poke and piracui guyoza with açai** sauce]”, and speaking about landraces in the Claudia Mattos panel “Petit Gateau Nativo [Native petit gateau]”, that presented an innovative way to combine rice and beans.

* Branchyplathystoma filamentosum.

** Pulp of the Euterpe oleracea palm fruits.

Workshop about Native Bees Breeding

During the last weekend I attended in Cuiabá (Mato Grosso, Brazil) the “Technological Exchange Workshop about Native Bee Breeding, between producer communities, researcher and civil society organizations. Produtction and preservation systems and native bees honey legal framework”.

There were represented the following institutions: Instituto Iraquara, Projeto Abelhas Nativas (Maranhão), Universidade de São Paulo / Laboratório de Abelhas do Instituto de Biociências, Apruscipesc (Santarém), Centro de Apóio a Projetos de Ação Comunitária – CEAPAC (Santarém), Instituto Peabiru, Instituto Sociedade População e Natureza, RETE; some representatives of the indigenous peoples (Judiá e Kaiabí); some others producers.

In the first days were presented the different experiences, with focus on: number and caracteristics of the involved communities, kind of breeded bees, experiences’ history, breeding and managing techniques, honey collecting technologies.

In the second day, the focus was turned on the marketed products, and on the organizational arrangements. The participants tasted the honey produced by: Wilson Mello, Apruscipesc (Neida Rego), pelo Francisco Melo e Instituto Iraquara. The legal framework was discussed.

Partnerships in the Lower-Amazon region

From March the 14th to the 24th I spent some time in the Middle-Lower Amazon region, Pará, Brasil.

With me, Rodolfo Canciani, of the Italian NGO Fratelli dell’Uomo.

The aim of our trip in this beautiful region was to overlook the work of some organizations, in order to evaluate the feasibility of the partnership establishment.

First, we visited the municipality of Oriximiná, one of the bigger in the region. Here we met the Rural Workers Union.

People from both the plateau (planalto) and the river bank (ribeirinhos) attended the meeting; the first ones main crops are rice, beans, corn and cassava; the second ones plant and process cassava and have a tradition of extractivism (Brazilian chestnut, wood, etc.). The main challenges of the Rural Workers Union are now: the implementation of the rural settlements created in the region, a good use of the government credit, some form of centralization and processing of the villages’ products (in first stance fruits), and the writing of project proposals, in order to access funding opportunities.

Then we came back to Santarém, where we met the Centro de Apoio a Projetos de Ação Comunitária (CEAPAC) and the regional chief of the State Ministry of Agriculture (SAGRI).

We travelled then to Prainha, a municipality lower in the Amazon river.

Here came to be created a protected area, called Renascer (RESEX Renascer), as the final act of a long season of struggles, started in 2000 (see more about the RESEX Renascer here; the protected area creation did not prevented the clandestine loggers to attack the forest and the people of this region. Here we reached Santo Antonio, a village in the Tamuataí riverbank, 24 hours far from Santarém, by boat; here we appreciated the skill of the local people making cassava cracker (beijú) and wood handicrafts.

We slept here, under a starry sky, listening at the monkeys sound, far away in the forest. Soon in the morning we went to the near village of Espírito Santo, where we had a meeting with the local people. The main challenge in the region are the basic services, a duty the government does not comply with, and the sustainable development of the people of the protected area; a non-spoken, but clear priority is the legitimation and strengthening of the protected area new organization, the "association mother"; in this process, the conflict of antagonist political parties in the region, it is an obstacle.

From the Tamuataí river we went to the Vira Sebo village, at the encounter of the Ururará with the Amazon river. Here we spent almost a day with the local fishermen, who live in wood piles, sometimes of great quality and beauty. We heard the poem written by a wise man, listing a great number of bird, fish, mammal, reptile species, some of them extinct.

The main challenges here are the management of the most important natural resource, fish, the improvement in the commercialization of the fish and its by-products, like piracuí (fish flour), and a better water quality.

At the end of our trip we met the local NGO Centro de Estudo, Pesquisa e Formação dos Trabalhadores do Baixo-Amazonas (CEFT-BAM), and the German NGO DED, in order to discuss some means of implementation of our partnership strategy in the region.