Açaí is a delicious dark purple berry resembling a blueberry native to the Amazon rainforest, the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world. Its taste is most commonly described as a rich combination of blueberries and dark chocolate. It has been consumed for centuries by the indigenous population, and remains the main staple of the diet in the region. The berry (actually a drupe) grows in large bunches, up to 900 at a time, at the top of slender acai palm trees, which grow to 25 metres tall. Since açaí is highly perishable, the raw fruit must be processed within 24 hours of harvest and only the regions neighbouring the Amazon benefited from açaí until recent decades.
Açaí’s popularity began to take off when the açaí pulp was discovered to hold its nutritional value if frozen soon after processing. It was brought to the city of Rio de Janeiro in the 70s and 80s by northern Brazilians from the Amazon region, and started being consumed as a natural source of energy. To the people of Rio, known for their very active and healthy lifestyle, açaí was the perfect ingredient. Around this time another Amazon berry called guaraná, which had been used for many decades as a natural energy booster, was used with the frozen açaí to create the famous açaí bowls (“açaí na tigela”): a delicious and healthy combination of frozen açaí, guaraná, fresh fruit and granola. This style of açaí quickly became very popular with amateur and professional sports athletes, surfers and the body conscious. By the mid-90’s, açaí was firmly part of Rio’s beach culture with every bar, gym, and beach stand doing a robust trade. Today, açaí is eaten and drunk throughout Brazil and its consumption is firmly part of Brazilian culture. It is even known as ‘Natures Viagra’ in some parts of the country.
Now for the science behind this magical little berry – it contains high levels of essential fatty acids (omega 3’s in particular), it has a higher concentration of antioxidants than any other popular berries such as cranberries or blueberries, and is also high in fiber, minerals and vitamins (especially calcium and vitamin E). Açaí is very low in sugar so it won’t alter blood sugar levels and is an excellent source of dietary fiber and natural energy.