The last few years in the U.S. have seen a boom in this new superfood: acai. Delicious in blended bowls with granola and fruit toppings, or mixed in smoothies or sorbets, acai is undoubtedly a tasty treat.
You might be wondering about its nutrition facts- is it really as healthy as promoted? Why do you rarely see the actual berries? Where does it even come from? Here’s a few brief answers to tackle some of your lingering questions (1).
1. Where does acai come from?
Acai berries grow on an acai palm, the same tree in which hearts of palm (a vegetable) are gathered. The fruit resembles a smaller grape that grows in panicles containing a several hundred berries. It’s most abundantly found in Brazil and neighboring countries in South and Central America.
The palm requires extremely wet and sometimes swampy environments to flourish, so it’s restricted to areas capable of meeting such demands.
2. A brief overview of acai’s history
The juice found within the pulp of acai has been consumed for centuries by South American cultures. Relatively more recently, the fruit flesh was consumed and used as a snack rather than solely enjoying the juice derivative, which is produced by crushing the seed or pulp in the middle of the berry.
The berry itself is perishable with a short lifespan- on average spoiling within 24 hours of picking. This is why any acai product sold in the U.S. is either frozen or in puree or juice form.
3. What’s so great about acai anyway?
Acai possess several compounds, called polyphenols, that work as antioxidants when metabolized. These compounds are capable of bypassing the semi-permeable membrane protecting human cells, which allows them to empower the cells to ward off pathogens and prevent infections. In fact, research comparing the antioxidant capacity of acai against specific types of free radicals determined it was the most effective fruit or vegetable defense measured yet (2).
In addition to the polyphenols, acai contains significant levels of vitamin A, iron, calcium and aspartic and glutamic acid.
4. Potential health benefits associated with regular consumption:
With high antioxidant capabilities, acai may be helpful in fighting infections and delaying conditions caused by oxidative stress. These include viral and bacterial illnesses, neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s, as well as cardiovascular diseases, strokes and heart attack (3).
Acai is certainly no magic cure for such diseases and conditions, but it has been shown to reduce rate of disease progression and even the age of onset. Further, it has been implicated as an immunity-booster and a potential aid for weight loss, and lowering inflammation.
5. Where you can buy acai?
Since it can only be freshly consumed in and near to the Amazon, acai can be found in the frozen section of most grocery stores or even as supplements when the pulp is ground into a powder and stored in a capsule. Many local smoothie and juice shops across the U.S. are also starting to carry options with acai. The best place to get fresh acai, however is directly from the Amazon.