Açaí – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Part 1
Part 1 – Background and The Good of Acai
You’ve all seen it somewhere. You may have caught yourself elbow-deep in a container that has the word on it (and probably other words like “chocolate” or “supplement”) and gleefully telling yourself “this is good – it’s a superfood!” The superfood berry that no one outside of Brazil had heard of until a few years ago. Now, it seems like it can be found, in some form at least, almost everywhere.
Açaí is an awesome fruit – healthy, delicious, and often a powerful force for good in the Amazon Rainforest – but there are lots of different forms of the fruit on the market and they aren’t all equally super!
Açaí in the Amazon
Before we get too far in, let’s review the basics. It’s ayy-sigh-eee. Yup, no worries.
Açaí berries originate from palm trees found in the Amazon region. For many of the indigenous people in that area, these berries are a major component of their diet, but you won’t find them eating knocking back smoothies or mixing it with chocolate of course.
Açaí, after being harvested, pitted, and made into a puree (a thick juice), is often eaten as part of a porridge or stew – mixed with days-old cassava bread, rice, or even fish. That’s how Peaceful Fruits’ Founder, Evan Delahanty first encountered it actually. At the time he barely knew what it was!
In its raw form, açaí is almost like black coffee – earthy and almost bitter, it can take some getting used to. Add just enough sweetness, though, and the flavor becomes a special treat. Dipping stale bread in the juice is a great, authentic, jungle snack.
But in the Amazon, there are plenty of delicious fruits you can eat right off the tree – what makes açaí worth spending a bit more time on?
The Good Stuff
The açaí berry is often credited with giving the people in the Amazon their strength, energy, and health. A great source of antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, and even amino acids – it packs a tremendous amount of nutrition into a little purple package.
What are antioxidants and what do they do you ask? Well this is a nutrient in food that decreases free radicals in the body. This has been linked to anti-cancer and anti-aging effects (Check out this awesome summary of some of the best, peer-reviewed research if you want to add some real antioxidant facts to your diet! Science!). So you can understand why açaí is one of the most popular superfoods in the world.
Although you can’t get actual açaí berries on this continent (they need to be processed quickly to maintain nutrition/flavor and, being mostly pit, don’t travel well anyway), you can get frozen açaí puree. Even at high end stores like Whole Foods or most smoothie shops, however, you’ll often find the açaí is cut with cheap fillers/sweeteners – so you have to look carefully.
When you do find the real thing, though, the smell – unsweetened – evokes the vibrancy and energy of Mother Nature. When you mix it with honey or a sweeter fruit to make a smoothie or something similar, you can feel the delicious power of the fruit pumping up whatever you are eating.
Peaceful Fruits works with pure, wild-harvested açaí – and we refuse to put anything in our fruit snacks that isn’t fruit. By sticking to good, old-fashioned fruit, we get flavors that are naturally sweet without overpowering your glycemic index or the actual flavor of the açaí.
Saving the Rainforest
And then of course are the environmental and development benefits. Though some açaí is farmed and thus not great for the rainforest, much of it is grown wild or on lands being re-forested and reclaimed. This means it actually helps protect the Amazon!
And, because this premium fruit can be harvested by the local people without endangering their food supply or their environment, it can be an incredible force for positive economic opportunity.
We’ll talk a bit more about that in Part 2 – and also learn about some of the less pure açaí options out there. I.e. “The Bad and the Ugly!”
-Margo, Peaceful Fruits Marketing Intern