Products linked to the Amazon Rainforest include a range of familiar things we use today. For example, confectionary or personal care products involving cocoa or Brazil nuts can be traced back to the Amazon for their existence. Even golf balls had a significant period where the Amazon was involved in their creation. There are also more obvious Amazon products like mahogany furniture and the paint used by Amazon tribes you may have seen in film or documentaries.
This is Bixa orellana, a plant used to make red and orange food dyes. The dye is known as atto and is used to color margarine, cheese, oils and ice cream. It is also the source of bixim, which is one of the most widely used natural colorings available. The fruit capsules you can see in the photo above contain the orange-red seeds where the dye comes from. The plant is also important for many Amazon tribal groups and is the source of achiote used as body paint. You can learn how to apply the paint with the Huaorani tribal community in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador.
The key ingredient in chocolate is cacao from the cacao beans that Europeans originally discovered from the Aztecs in Central America. Long before cacao beans reached the Aztecs, it’s thought that cacao was native to the Amazon Rainforest. Cacao was a frequently traded commodity between different native American groups before it reached the Aztec empire and the cacao beans were even used as currency. You can still see wild cacao growing in different Amazon areas like the Tambopata National Reserve near Puerto Maldonado, Peru.
When the Spaniards were on conquest of the Aztec Empire, they noted that the ruler Montezuma II consumed vast quantities of a bitter chocolate drink named chocolatl, which was made from cacao beans, hot or cold water, vanilla and sometimes spiced with chili. There’s also a related species to the cacao bean known as cupuaçu, which is sometimes used as a cacao substitute in Brazil.
For a few years, even golf ball coverings were sourced from the Amazon Rainforest. The covering was named balata and was made from trees of the Sapotaceae family. Between 1925 and 1940, 2000 tons was taken each year from the Peruvian Amazon for golf ball and wire coverings. The material was replaced with the advent of artificial materials like urethane, one of the main golf ball coverings today. At least this advancement released a little logging pressure off the Amazon Rainforest.
The most significant product from the Amazon Rainforest in its European history was rubber from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). The use of rubber to make products was first seen in the Omagua tribe. They made products like rubber balls for an Amazon ball game and water carriers. Little did they know that the rubber industry would shape the urban centers of the Amazon, such as Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon and Manaus in the Brazilian rainforest. These areas have some of the best examples of the wealth this industry brought to the cities in their architecture like the Iron House and Amazon Theater built as symbols of prosperity during this time. Ironically, although introduced to Europeans by Amazon tribes, the dark side of this industry was the exploitation and enslavement of local people and Amazon tribal groups. The rubber boom was at its most significant stages between 1879 to 1912 and was initiated by the bicycle craze then fueled by demand for both bicycle and automobile tires. The rubber boom ended after trees were taken from South America and grown in Southeast Asian plantations.
Products from the Amazon Rainforest are even used in modern medicine. For example, the drug captopril (trade name of Capoten) was sourced originally from the venom of an Amazon Rainforest lancehead snake (Bothrops jararaca), which also lives in northern Argentina and Paraguay. The drug is used to treat diabetes and to increase survival following a heart attack. Perhaps more famous, a medical product from the Amazon was used until very recently in surgery. The muscle relaxant tubocurarine is made from curare, an arrow poison among Amazon tribes. Tubocurarine has since been replaced by other safer relaxants.
Other products include furniture from Amazon trees like the famed mahogany. You can read more about mahogany in the Amazon trees article. Do you know of any more products from the Amazon Rainforest? Leave your comments below.