The Acai (pronounced ah-SAH-ee) berry is the latest super antioxidant food sweeping the world. This small round fruit is produced by the Acai Palm which is native to Central and South America floodplains and swamps. The fruit is rich in anthocyanin / anthocyanidin phytonutrients which are members of the flavonoid class of antioxidants. The dark purple berry, which tastes something like a blend of berries and chocolate, supposedly contains 10 to 30 times the flavonoids contained in red wine. The pulp is also rich in B vitamins, minerals, protein, Vitamin E, caffeine, fiber and essential fatty acids (such as Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9). This wonder food is purported to fight cancer, control cholesterol, increase energy, improve your sex life and help you lose weight. The University of Florida is studying its cancer fighting properties and Dr. Nicholas Perricone has recommended it as one of his top 10 superfoods for age-defying beauty on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, and in an article in Oprah magazine and also in his book The Perricone Promise. This little berry has been touted as one of the most nutritious and healthy foods in the world.The acai berry is a small dark blue fruit, similar in size to a blueberry or small grape but with less pulp, that grows in clusters or panicles of approximately 800 berries on Acai palm trees. The tribes of the Amazon knew of the health properties of this fruit for centuries and traditionally pulped it to make wine. The berries contain a thin layer of edible pulp surrounding a large seed. These palms are extremely prevalent in the floodplain areas of the Amazon River and are easy to cultivate as a replacement tree in areas where the rain forest has been destroyed. The slender palms grow from 40 to 80 feet tall and have leaves up to 10 feet long. Each palm can produce more than 50 pounds of berries annually. The harvesting of this powerful antioxidant rich product has become a major industry in Brazil and employs up to 30,000 people on a daily basis to harvest and process the product. Unfortunately the fruit deteriorates rapidly after harvesting (active properties can disappear after 24 hours) and so it is restricted to being eaten in the growing region or being processed and shipped as juice or frozen pulp. This industry has become an economic and environmentally-friendly alternative to unsustainable harvesting of hearts of palm, logging and conversion of the rain forest to farming or ranching. During the last decade in Brazil, acai has become a major food fad and Brazilians consume the frozen pulp alone or in yogurt, ice cream, smoothies, drinks, fruit or as a cereal topping. The frozen pulp tastes like a blueberry sorbet or ice cream with a hint of chocolate.
Acai can be difficult to find outside of South America although the frozen pulp and juices are starting to be imported into the US and Canada. Your best chance of finding the product is in health food stores or the health food section of your supermarket. Make sure that the acai berry is wild harvested and quickly frozen to retain its maximum nutrient value. Also in the US, acai is being sold as an ingredient in a number of beverages, and as frozen fruit that can be added to home-made smoothies as well as in health food extracts and supplements.