Every few years a new “superfood” will pop up in the USA from other regions of the world. Then, it crops up in everything from fine dining to supplements at a health store.
Acai is one of the most recent foods to gain the spotlight. There are even those who claim that acai can speed up weight loss or cure cancer. But is that true?
Read on to learn the truth about acai, once and for all.
Ho Do You Pronounce Acai? And What Is It?
Acai (pronounced Ah-sigh-EE) is a type of berry that grows on acai palm trees.
They are a one-inch, round fruit with deep purple skin and yellow flesh, similar to grapes. Each berry has a large, non-edible pit that makes up 70% of the mass.
Acai is native to the rainforests of Brazil in South America. This Brazilian berry has been a staple food of people in these regions for thousands of years.
Traditionally, the berry is soaked in water to soften in order to rub the skin and flesh free from the pit inside. Then, the mush is eaten with fish, game meats, as a soup or as a condiment.
What Does Acai Taste Like?
Unlike other berries, this fruit isn’t overly sweet. Acai berries have a subtle sweetness, paired with a tart earthy flavor akin to pomegranate, raspberry, or blueberry.
People describe eating acai as being similar to eating blueberries and very dark chocolate.
Many acai recipes (which we will come back to later) call for using honey or other sweeteners with acai.
Acai Superfood Nutrients
Acai has the sexy title of superfood. This means that it has an impressive amount of nutrients compared to other fruits and vegetables.
Other foods to make the superfood list include avocado, seaweed, kale, and ginger.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 1.5 teaspoon of acai berry powder contains
- 20 calories
- 33 mg magnesium
- 1.5 g total fat
- 1 g carbohydrate
- 1 g fiber
- 6 milligrams calcium
One cup of acai pureé has about 70 calories and is packed with fiber, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium.
That’s pretty impressive for such a tiny fruit. Though these berries don’t have much protein, they do have a whopping 19 amino acids as well as several sterols.
Acai berries contain more antioxidants than other berries. They also are high in fiber and heart-healthy fats.
Here are the main nutritional highlights of acai berries.
The plant components that give acai berries their deep purple hue is called anthocyanin. This is the same component that becomes an antioxidant in the human body.
Acai berries have three times more antioxidants of blueberries making this berry a better pick for your morning cereal.
Each serving of acai comes with about 2 grams of fiber. Fiber is essential for digestion and heart health as well as to prevent various chronic conditions.
Acai contains some calcium which is essential for keeping your muscles, heart, and bones healthy and strong.
Though acai doesn’t contain a significant source of calcium, it does have some.
One of the biggest disadvantages of most types of fruits is the amount of sugar in them.
That’s another huge perk of the small and mighty acai berry. At less than 2 grams of sugar per serving, acai berries have much less sugar than any other fruit you might eat.
Now let’s dive into how these nutritional benefits add up to overall health benefits for you.
Acai Benefits for Your Health
Like all superfoods, acai has many health benefits for you. Acai is good for your colon and digestion as well as for heart health, bone density and, immunity.
Making acai a part of your nutrition is a good way to boost your overall nutrition and health.
Yet, it’s important to understand that there are some myths surrounding acai berries. It has been called purple gold and purported to cure all kinds of ailments including cancer. There is no research to support this.
Yet, the health benefits of acai are real and promising. Here they are in detail.
Improved Brain Function
Age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have no cure. Yet, research shows that diets full of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods may lower your risk of these diseases.
To be more precise, it is the antioxidant anthocyanin, (abundant in acai fruits), that can lower oxidative stress and inflammation which in turn promotes brain function.
Acai berries are also rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, purple, and blue fruits and plants their deep shade.
They also fight free radicals and act as antioxidants in the body. Plus, they also improve memory by improving blood flow to the brain.
Consuming anthocyanin has also been strongly linked to oxidative stress protection.
The findings have been startling. A study in 2013 found that regularly eating foods with anthocyanins can reduce the risk of heart attack by a whopping 32% in young and middle-aged women.
Of course, the good fats in acai berries also help promote heart health. Good fats increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol in the body.
Fiber also has a role to play in lowering cardiovascular disease risk. Fiber intake also reduces bad cholesterol and may also slow down heart disease in those that are high-risk.
Maybe the reason for the myths of ‘purple gold’ to cure cancer stems from a grain of truth.
Acai berries have properties that can protect individuals against cancer. The anthocyanins in these berries do a lot to reduce carcinogenic activities at the cellular level.
For example, they activate detoxifying enzymes, prevent cancer cells from multiplying, inhibit the start of tumors, prevent cancer cells from invading, and much more.
As we mentioned earlier, acai berries are low sugar fruit.
If you are trying to lose weight, reducing your sugar intake is one way that you can shed some pounds.
Yet, beware of anyone selling you an “acai fat burner.” Acai can help you lose weight in conjunction with exercise and eating plenty of other produce. It’s not a magic pill.
Again, anthocyanins are the hero of acai berries.
The Arthritis Foundation says that this chemical can ease the symptoms of arthritis due to the anti-inflammatory properties.
Improved Athletic Performance
Another benefit of acai in your diet is improved athletic performance. One study in 2015 found that athletes who drank acai berry juice saw an improvement in exercise-induced muscle injury.
Now that you see the long list of benefits to making acai a part of your diet, you’re probably wondering where you can buy some.
Acai Risks and Side Effects
Eating acai is generally safe. Yet there are a few risks to be aware of.
The most serious is contracting a parasite which causes Chagas disease. When acai berries are harvested, they might contain remnants of a blood-sucking insect. That insect could be carrying a parasite Trypanosoma cruzi which causes Chagas Disease.
Research has also found that eating too many acai berries may cause blood pressure to drop. If you have high blood pressure, this is a good thing.
But for people with cardiac problems, this can be fatal.
Where to Get Acai
Acai berries have a very short shelf life. That’s why you won’t see these berries on the produce shelves of your local grocery store.
Fresh acai isn’t sold outside of the areas they grow in. In order to enjoy acai outside of South America, you need to buy it as a pulp, frozen puree, juice, or dried powder.
Many health food stores carry acai in various forms. Also, there are many yogurts and juices that include acai berries in their ingredients.
How to Eat Acai
Working with a frozen or powdered fruit can be tricky at first. But once you get the hang of it, you will soon be able to make the most delicious recipes featuring acai as the main star.
If you buy it as a powder, you can sprinkle it on yogurt, cereal, or into baked goods. In pulp or juice form you can add it to smoothies for a refreshing drink that pairs well with all the best Brazilian foods.
If you buy frozen acai you can let the amount you need for your recipe thaw or use it frozen. You can use it frozen in juices and smoothies. If you want to make acai bowls or other recipes, simply let the required amount thaw in the refrigerator.
How to Store Acai Berries
Acai is a very perishable fruit. Be sure to carefully monitor expiry dates.
Keep frozen acai berries in the freezer until you are ready to use them. It is best to avoid re-freezing acai in order to maintain the maximum nutrients. Also, thawing and re-freezing can alter the texture of acai.
If you buy the powdered form, it will stay fresh for up to a year in an airtight container. Just make sure to store it in a cool, dry place.
Now, let’s talk about how to create delicious recipes using acai berries.
Acai Berry Recipes
Without a doubt, the most famous way to use acai is in acai bowls. This trend started a few years ago and was all the rage.
You can still order acai bowls in many farm-to-table and health forward restaurants and cafes.
Yet, you can enjoy the benefits of acai right from your own home. Here is the recipe for acai bowls as well as other recipes we think you will love.
Acai Breakfast Bowl
To make your own acaí bowl, blend a serving of pureed acaí with 1/2 cup water, coconut water, or coconut milk (if you prefer a richer texture) until creamy.
Pour into a bowl and top with fresh fruit, nuts, coconut flakes, and granola.
This is a delicious and simple breakfast or after-workout snack.
Raspberry and Acai Chia Overnight Oats
What could be better than oats, berries, and chocolate? Of course, it’s throwing in acai!
The best thing about this overnight oats recipe is that your delicious breakfast is waiting for you the moment you wake up in the morning.
Plus, the prep is so easy. Just combine chia seeds, oats, cocoa, acai, cinnamon, and salt in a jar. Shake then add milk, maple syrup, and raspberries.
Refrigerate overnight and enjoy the next day.
Chocolate-Berry Superfood Bars
In the middle of the afternoon, do you find yourself reaching for a store-bought granola or fruit bar to get you through the afternoon?
Instead of turning to the highly processed variety from the store, you can make your own that are super healthy and nutritious.
Made with maca root, acai, and chia seeds you get a triple dose of superfood goodness.
Get the recipe for these chocolate berry superfood bars here. The best part is you can put most in the freezer and keep a few in the fridge for the next few days.
Tropical Acai Slushy
If you want it to feel like a beach vacation while sitting on your porch, this tropical acai slushy is the perfect drink.
Combining ginger ale or club soda with acai juice, berries (and optional rum) instantly will transport you to another place. Skip the gas station variety and opt for this healthy yet delicious version.
Want even more refreshment? Check out these summer drinks recipes to try.
Matcha Green Tea Pancakes With Acai Creme Filling
Don’t you just love a pancake with delicious, creamy filling? These green tea pancakes with acai creme filling are so scrumptious.
In this recipe, you will get the goodness of acai, raspberries, and beetroot. Talk about a superfood meal to start your day!
Acai Bowl Cheesecake
Acai also works wonderfully as a dessert. This recipe uses coconut and Medjool dates to make a better-for-you version than the cheesecake from the bakery.
Check out this acai bowl cheesecake recipe and see how dessert can be decadent and yet good for you!
Add Acai to Your Diet Today
There you have it!
Now you are an expert on all things acai. You know what the nutrients and benefits are as well as the risks. You now know where to buy it, how to store it, and most importantly how to make delicious recipes featuring it.
If you are in the mood for more Brazilian foods, check out our wide selection of Brazilian and Latin American food items.
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.