Singing the Praises of Açaí

Açaí (ah-sigh-ee) berries come from an Amazon palm (Euterpe oleracea). Açaí belongs to the Arecaceae family along with coconuts, oil palms, dates, and heart palms. The açaí palm has 3-10 tall, thin trunks that grow 15-25 meters high. Açaí berries hang from branches in clusters that look like groups of blue bottles. Each açaí berry is about the size of a small grape, 2-3 centimeters in diameter. They appear dark-green initially, and turn a deep-purple color at maturity. Technically, the fruit is a drupe which consists of an edible pulp surrounding a central large seed. Only the pulp part, comprising about just 10-15% of berry weight, is edible. The açaí berries were traditionally picked by hand by local people, who would shimmy up the tree and cut the branches. Each açaí palm tree produces round about 20 kilograms of fruit per year.

The berries have been used for thousands of years in the Amazon to help build the immune system, fight infection, protect the heart, and control prostate enlargement. In the 1990s, they were introduced to the rest of the world.

Açaí berries have very good levels of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that have health-benefiting and disease-preventing properties.

Unlike other berries and fruits, açaí is high in calories and fats: 100 grams of berries provide about 80-250 calories depending up on the preparation and serving methods. In fact, fresh açaí berries have been the staple nutritious diet of native people of the Amazon for centuries. Although fresh açaí berries contain nearly 50% fat, their fat content is primarily healthy omega 3, 6, and 9 medium-chain fatty acids like oleic acid (omega-9) and linoleic acid (omega-6). These compounds help reduce “bad” LDL-cholesterol level and raise “good” HDL-cholesterol levels in your body and thus help prevent heart disease. They’re also essential for proper neurological function and healthy skin. Their total fatty acids consist of 11% polyunsaturated, 60% monounsaturated, and 29% saturated fats, mainly in the form of palmitic acid. Commercial açaí berry supplements vary in calorie and fat count by product. An organic açaí berry unsweetened puree, for making smoothies, contains 75 calories per 100-gram pack. The total fat content is 6 grams, of which 2 grams is saturated fat. There is no cholesterol in açaí berries.

Unsweetened açaí berry puree smoothie mix contains 4 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of sugar per 100-gram serving pack. Although açaí berry puree contains only 1 gram of fiber per serving, fresh freeze dried açaí berry powder contains 14 grams of fiber per 100 grams.

Açaí berries contain the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6, as well as vitamin E and as much vitamin C as blueberries. Açaí berries supply the minerals calcium,  potassiummanganesecopperiron, and magnesium. Organic açaí berry puree smoothies supply 15% Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A, 8% DV for vitamin C, 4% DV for calcium, and 6% DV for iron, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The protein content is 1 gram. Freeze dried açaí powder contains 8 grams of protein per 100 grams, including 19 different amino acids epresenting 7.6% of total weight.

Freeze-dried açaí berries contain substantial quantities of numerous phytochemicals. The antioxidant content in açaí berries is 10 times more than grapes and twice as much as blueberries. Freeze-dried açaí has the highest antioxidant concentration of any food, and açaí may also reduce inflammation and boost immune function.

Açaí berries contain many polyphenolic anthocyanin compounds like resveratrol, cyanidin-3-galactoside, ferulic acid, delphinidin, and petunidin, as well as astringent pro-anthocyanidin tannins like epicatechin, protocatechuic acid, and ellagic acid. These compounds may fight the free radicals that cause aging, inflammation, and cancer. In addition, tannins are anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic. Ellagic acid in açaí inhibits DNA binding of carcinogenic nitrosamine toxins in food. 

You can eat açaí berries raw, as a juice, and as an additive to beverages and sorbets. Because fresh açaí berries begin to lose their nutritional value within 24 hours of picking, it is best to buy them freeze-dried or frozen. You should not heat frozen or freeze-dried açaí berries as this can also negatively affect the nutritional value.

You can prepare the frozen pulp as a sorbet. Açaí berry sorbets taste similar to blueberry sorbets with a hint of chocolate and contain less fat than ice cream. In Brazil, açaí berry sorbets are typically served with bananas and granola. You can also create your own açaí berry breakfast by combining 7 oz. of frozen or freeze-dried acai berries to 1/2 cup of soy yogurt or soy milk. Add one sliced banana and ¼ cup of granola. You can prepare an açaí berry smoothie by adding 1 cup of soy milk, 1 cup of frozen açaí berries and assorted fruits to the blender. Add ½ tsp. of vanilla extract and blend until smooth. You can prepare an açaí berry salad dressing using ¼ cup frozen açaí berries, 1 date, and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Slightly thaw the açaí berries by running them under warm water. Place all ingredients into a blender and blend well.

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