Have you ever heard of berries that grow in a palm tree and have a taste that somehow resembles chocolate?
I assure you this fruit is pretty fascinating and is more than just purple diet food. It has even been the source of food scams around the US. Say with me and find out why it got so much attention.
And more importantly, what does acai taste like?
What is acai?
Acai (or acai berry) is the fruit of the Acai palm tree. Acai palm is a species of palm tree cultivated for its trunk wood, leaves, hearts of palm, and of course, acai berries. It is native to the eastern Amazon Basin and thrives in swamps and floodplains.
The palm tree can grow up to 25 m, and because of that, you might expect it to have big and juicy fruits, right?
Well, to my surprise as well, it is not the case! Acai berries are small, round, and have a black-purple color. Their size is about 25 mm and they look like grapes. Only with less pulp and a seed that takes more than half of the total fruit volume and weight.
They grow in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits. Fruits grow year-round but they can not be harvested during the rainy season.
What does acai taste like?
Acai has an earthy taste and notes of raspberry and pomegranate. A tart note is also present.
Others would say that is an interesting cross between a blackberry or raspberry taste and chocolate. It can be due to the presence of Polyphenols, a chemical compound that is bitter and has an astringent flavor.
These Polyphenols are present in a variety of foods like:
- tree nuts
- dark chocolate
- fruit-based products
- soy products.
This may be one of the reasons you can feel a similar tint of bitter taste in all. Pay attention next time you eat something from this list and you will feel it!
Its acidity steps out, and it pairs very well with fruits that are more on the sweet side.
What about the flavor?
Its astringent and strong earthy flavor makes acai a neutral element in dishes. Fruit salads, cereals, and other foods with the same profile often come together with acai.
In raw and unprocessed form, acai has a granular texture. But when you blend it into a cream or paste, it becomes very smooth. The high-fat content may contribute to the creamy texture as acai has around 32% oils.
How can you eat acai?
- In raw form
Acai has been consumed around the Amazon river delta for centuries. Because it is a highly perishable product, it is fresh only in that area or around. You blend it, and then you can use it in acai smoothies, acai puree, cereals, or eat it plain.
For places that are too far, acai is usually blended and then frozen. acai bowls are a common dish. The blended fruit is mixed with other fruits, Guarana syrup, and granola.
Acai bowl taste is strong, fruity, and has a rich flavor. While this is a classic, we can find variations that use chia seeds, tapioca balls, and even fish and shrimps as toppings. Cool, huh?
Acai juice is a refreshing beverage that can be prepared in many ways. Frozen acai puree or fresh acai berries are blended until they form a liquid or cream. Then you can drink it plain, or you can add a sweetener.
Sweet fruits are a perfect choice. But you can use other sweeteners such as sugar, syrup, and even synthetic ones if you have diabetes.
- In processed forms
- As a supplement: some companies sell acai extracts or concentrates to balance one’s diet.
- As an oil: acai’s oil can be extracted and further used in cooking. Some salad dressings contain acai oil. It also brings a green color.
- You can cook with this type of oil, but researches show us that exposure to a heat source degrades it and its components.
- Dried powder: acai fruit in powder form. This extends its availability. Stored in proper ways can make it last for months.
Speaking of exciting flavors and textures, you might be interested in our full-on post about kimchi’s taste.
While recipes are not our first concern on this topic, it is worth noticing some of them:
- Acai bowl.
We already know about it. It can be a treat, a dessert, or a food. It varies from place to place and it is present even in the Northern American continent. The amount of sugar added there is higher compared to the original recipe, and that makes it an unhealthy choice.
- Acai na tigela.
This is a Brazilian dessert made with frozen and blended acai and berries. It is topped most often with granola and bananas. Sometimes, it may contain other fruits or Guarana syrup.
There is no such thing as a Brazilian or acai smoothie. Usually, acai is added for color and taste. Texture can also change, making the beverage more creamy.
Blended acai fruits can be used in different types of ice cream. There is also acai ice cream where… You guessed it: acai is the main ingredient. The color stands out with a strong violet.
History and present-day
Acai was a thing in the Amazon basin area due to its perishability.
But today we can freeze it and send it to each part of the world. This is why nowadays you can find it everywhere. It is frozen and used in the kitchen, or present in cosmetics and supplements.
Around the 1990s, acai started to be highly shipped in Northern America and worldwide. Association with ‘health’ and ‘natural’ lead to an explosion of demand, together with many opportunities for scams.
So what about those scams?
In the early 2000s, there was a flood of counterfeit testimonials and products involving acai berries. It was promoted as an aliment full of antioxidants with a lot of health benefits.
Many said that acai berry helps in preventing colon cancer, and in losing weight. It was stated to be a super-food that can fight against some chronic illnesses like diabetes.
Finally, all those statements were confirmed to be false or exaggerated. Five companies were sued for this reason.
Today, you won’t hear much about this. Acai is treated more like a normal fruit. But you still can see here and there articles claiming that it can be a wonder for your body.
Acai’s nutritional value
We should not let those false testimonials and unfortunate events change our opinion about acai. It does not have to be a ‘super-food’ to be good for your health. More than anything, a balanced diet is more important than anything tagged as a ‘super-food’.
So let’s find out how can we enjoy acai in our diet:
- They are nutrient-dense.
Acai fruits have a lot of nutrients, while also being high in fats and low in sugars. This means you can eat them and not have a spike in blood sugar levels.
Some studies found minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium. Those are essentials for our bodies.
- They have antioxidants.
Antioxidants fight against the harmful free radicals in our bodies. As I also stated in our recent article about squid ink taste, free radicals can damage your body, sometimes by changing the molecular structure of DNA. Too much exposure and the damage can be irreversible.
Acai was found to have more antioxidants than fruits like blueberries and cranberries. A compound called Anthocyanin contributes approximately 10% to the total antioxidant levels.
- Helps with cholesterol levels
The same compound, Anthocyanin, may help impact cholesterol levels by improving HDL and LDL cholesterol.
Tests on animals show us that acai can help improve cholesterol levels by decreasing total and LDL cholesterol.
- It may boost brain function
Tests on animals found that the antioxidant properties of acai may help in improving brain activity. By eliminating free radicals, cells (and especially brain cells) damage is limited and this can improve the activity of neuronal cells.
There is not enough evidence that can prove these benefits for humans. But they are a solid base for further research. If some benefits are still questionable, there is no doubt that antioxidants, vitamins, and good nutrients contribute to human health.
Did you know
- The word “acai” comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word “iwaka’i”. Its translation is “fruit that cries or expels water”. This word is tied to the legend of the acai tree, which involves child sacrifice for the benefit of a tribe during a famine.
- Oprah made acai berries famous? She talked once about acai berries at her show when Dr. Oz was a guest, saying they are the next future food. As you expect, not too much time after, the demand for acai berries exploded and suddenly those fruits were everywhere.
- Being low in sugar makes them a very healthy snack? Almost all carbohydrates are in form of dietary fiber. This helps regulate the sugar levels in the blood and maintain a constant glycemic level.
Now that you found how does acai tastes like, you can now proceed to use it in various ways.
Try and balance its acid taste on a sweet fruit tart. Or you can pair it with some chai latte, chocolate or ganache, for some extra bitterness.
You can make use of its berry taste in a fruit salad, or you can make tasty purple pastry cream.
And if you wish for a proper meal, add it to a salad. The earthy flavor should go well in almost any mix of vegetables you want.
If you find you love its taste and flavor, it won’t be hard to include it in almost every recipe. Your inner chef will know how to use it like in a Michelin Star restaurant. And we would love to see it, so tag us and let us know the art you make in the kitchen!