You can find acai — pronounced ah-sigh-ee — everywhere and nowhere. The tropical purple berries, which grow on a species of palm native to the Amazon rainforest, are rarely found outside of Central and South America, being too fragile to survive the journey intact. But thanks to the fruit’s dense concentration of beneficial nutrients, a flavor that’s described as a cross between dark chocolate and red wine, and brilliant purple hue, acai has become a favorite health food ingredient.
Most commonly found as a powder, juice, or frozen puree, acai has become popular as a base for frozen blended smoothie bowls. Thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants, acai oil has been used in skin and hair care products for its potential anti-aging benefits as well. (It’s even called “the beauty berry.”) Though acai berries have only become popular in the United States in the past few decades, they have long been a staple in their native land, so much so that local lore even attributes the birth of the mighty Amazon river to a single acai seed. Their rise in prominence is certainly warranted though, given the many benefits of acai berry.
What Are the Health Benefits of Acai?
Acai’s deep purple color comes from the presence of anthocyanins, plant-based pigments with antioxidant properties. This high concentration of compounds that help protect against cellular inflammation and other damage associated with disease and aging is initially what secured acai superfood status; one USDA report ranked them near the top in an analysis of the antioxidant content of some 300 foods. But while most berries tend to be high in antioxidants, what’s surprising about acai is the added presence of heart-healthy fatty acids including alpha-linolenic and oleic acid. These could explain why women who ate acai pulp daily for four weeks had improved markers for heart health, according to one study published in Clinical Nutrition.
Acai products have been heavily marketed as promoting weight loss, and while research is fairly limited, it is known that acai berry is rich in nutrients that have been linked to weight loss, including fiber and protein. One half-cup serving of frozen acai puree, for example, contains 60 calories, 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, along with some calcium and iron. Even better, the berries are one of few fruits that are naturally sugar free, according to USDA data.
How to Use Acai in the Kitchen
Because fresh acai berries don’t travel well, most of the acai you’ll find in the United States is processed in some way, so it’s important to check labels to make sure no sugar or other unsavory ingredients have been added.
Frozen acai puree or acai juice is ideal for smoothies and blended acai bowls, but acai powder can also be a great way to incorporate this superfood into your culinary repertoire. You can sprinkle the dark purple powder into drinks, baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal and chia seed pudding for an antioxidant punch and lovely violet color. A little — no more than one tablespoon — goes a long way.
As for its flavor, acai is unique. Unlike most fruits, it’s more bitter than sweet, like dark chocolate, but with distinctly berrylike undertones, like those you’d find in a nice pinot noir. If that doesn’t make you intrigued to give this superfood powder a try, nothing will.
Acai Smoothie Bowl
Yields 1 serving
Acai was the OG smoothie bowl, and today you can find chains exclusively devoted to this exotic fruit in blended form. The mild, not-too-sweet flavor makes it a perfect base for an array of topping: granola, nuts, dried or fresh fruit, even mini chocolate chips. And thanks to acai’s antioxidants and healthy fats, this bowl is sure to turn up your glow.
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
½ cup frozen berries
1 tablespoon acai powder (I used Navitas Organics brand)
½ cup ice cubes
¼ cup orange or apple juice
½ tablespoon chia seeds
½ tablespoon flaked coconut
- Combine yogurt, frozen berries, acai powder, ice, and juice in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Mixture should be a thick, spoonable consistency.
- Add garnishes and enjoy.