Acai berries are berry fruits from the acai palm, which is native to Northern Brazil. The berries have formed an important part of the diet of Brazilians and Native Americans for centuries, and began to be processed and exported for general global consumption in the 1990s. Many health food promoters seized upon acai berries as a “superfood,” because they are rich in a variety of vital and useful substances. Health food stores and gourmet grocers carry Acai berry products such as juice and frozen pulp.
The Euterpe genus of palms includes seven species, all of which produce acai berries. The palms can grow almost 100 feet (30 meters tall), with clusters of long leaves grouped at the top. Acai berries grow in clustered groups, like grapes, and also resemble grapes physically since they are dark purple and rounded. Inside the acai berry is a single large seed.
In Brazil, acai berries are eaten traditionally at several meals, especially breakfast. The berries are rich in antioxidants, amino acids, protein, and fiber. The berries appear to have one of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit, much more than grapes, mangos, and other fruits eaten for their antioxidant benefits. The other components of acai berries are also very beneficial to human health, and a study at the University of Florida concluded that acai berries may also be helpful in fighting cancer.
It is difficult to find fresh whole acai berries for sale outside of Brazil, since the plants have thus far proved difficult to grow in regions other than South America. The fruits are highly perishable, and must be treated in some way for shipment. Juicing the berries is the most common way to prepare them for shipping, although much of the fiber component will be lost through juicing. However, the other benefits of the acai berries remain intact, and the juice can be drunk, mixed with yogurt, or blended into smoothies. Freeze dried acai berries appear to retain a great deal of their nutritional properties, and they often appear in this form outside of Brazil.
The flavor of the berries is often compared to other berries and chocolate. In Brazil, acai berries are sometimes served with a sweetener to enhance the flavor. They are also blended into smoothies and sodas, while the seeds are used in composting and mulch. The leaves of the acai palm can be used as thatching as well, making almost every part of the living tree useful, allowing people to harvest products from the trees without harming them.