First, let’s say it right: “acai” is pronounced ah-sigh-EE. Nothing puts a smile on the face of a food server quicker than a mispronounced “acai.”
Next, let’s see what the fuss over the trendy “acai bowls” is all about. They’re all the rage at health food cafés and juice bars.
“I think they are pretty popular in the nutrition-minded individual,” said Meridith Norwood, physical therapist, nutrition and wellness consultant and a Juice Plus sales coordinator. “It’s a twist on a smoothie. It basically gives the health-conscious individual the ability to eat a smoothie, rather than just drink one.”
So what are acai berries? They grow on acai palm trees, native to the rain forests of South America. They’ve been embraced in our country as a superfood.
The old adage that the more vibrant the color of a fruit or vegetable, the higher its nutritional value certainly holds true with this dark berry.
“They are considered a superfood for the amount of antioxidants they have in them to help rid your body of free radicals and toxins,” Norwood said. “They are also high in good fats – omega 3, 6 and 9, which are essential to brain and heart health. High in fiber and also contains essential amino acids, trace minerals and B vitamins. When put into a bowl, I really recommend keeping the additional added fruit to a minimum or none besides the acai to keep the sugar down. Overall the bowls offer lots of good nutrition – several superfoods represented, fruits and veggies, and good fats and protein. They may also be good more like a brunch rather than just a breakfast.”
But forget about finding fresh acaí berries in grocery stores.
“They are too expensive to ship from South America and fragile,” said the clerk at Whole Foods Market. She showed us a powdered brand and then directed us to the frozen food section. “There are several types to choose from there.”
We have found three brands locally and online: Samzabon, Amazon Planet and Acai Roots. Some frozen packs have the juice and pulp. Whole Foods Market has packages of frozen packs that can be broken out for individual servings as well as a powdered choice.
So what is an acai bowl?
“You do actually start making the bowl like a smoothie,” said Evelyn Steel, owner of Nourish Organic Juice. “I pop the frozen acai pulp into a blender with a frozen banana. That becomes the base in the bottom of the bowl. Then it’s topped with our homemade granola, garnished with dried berries and toasted seeds.”
The toppings are what separate the acai bowl from a smoothie. They also can include cacao nibs, a splash of coconut milk, coconut shreds, fresh berries, sliced fresh banana, chopped nuts, chia seeds, ground flax seeds or even a spoonful of almond butter. The result is a smooth, cold ice cream-like bowl of creamy deliciousness with a crunchy texture. They are a little sweet, a little tart and utterly refreshing.
Acai bowls “are a little treat,” Steel said, “something special for breakfast or a snack.”
Acai bowls can be found on menus at health food eateries. If you don’t have one nearby, whir up your own creation. The only tricky part is getting the right texture. It should be scoopable, with some of the acai still in frozen chunks. It can be blended with other frozen fruit, such as bananas or strawberries, and thinned (if needed) with soy, almond or coconut milk to add creaminess. And don’t think the creamy delight is limited to a fruit base. Other superfood veggies work well in the mixture too. Think kale and beets, for instance.