Acai Berries

Featured Article, Healthy, Ingredient, Recipes
on June 14, 2011

The berry of the acai (ah-SAH-ee) palm native to tropical South America, acai has rocked the health-food world, shooting to the top of the charts of so-called “super-foods.”

The name is derived from the Tupi word iwasi, roughly translated as “fruit that cries water.” Natives have long prized the berry for food and medicinal purposes, saying it cures everything from infection to insomnia. More recently, juice bars popularized it with Brazilian surfers, anxious to ride out claims that it boosts energy and sex drive.

Scientists have confirmed its nutritional value. Acai is a rich source of antioxidants, with up to 30 times the anthocyanins (known to promote heart-health) of red wine. It’s a great source of fiber, high in amino acids and rich in healthy fats. Findings suggest it defends against aging, improves memory, increases muscle function and prevents prostrate enlargement.

Since the berries lose their potency in 24 hours, processing is an expedited affair. Locals mix fresh pulp with tapioca or use it as a base for other dishes. In the United States, it’s available as frozen pulp, pure juice and in sweetened juice blends. It’s expensive: 4 ounces of straight juice (four daily doses) runs about 10 bucks. The pure stuff is pretty flavorless, but sweetened, it’s similar to blueberries. And whether or not it does wonders for your body, consuming it may be good for the planet: It’s a way to profit from preserving rainforests which are quickly being decimated to make way for livestock production.

Acai can be found in a multitude of forms: concentrate (perfect for making smoothies), juice, sorbet and powder. Its intense berry flavor is best combined with other fruit flavors, such as bananas, blueberries and orange juice—a perfect flavor base for a morning or afternoon smoothie.

—By Jo Marshall, creator and author of the “Cookcabulary” series.