Acai for Health, Beauty, and the Rainforests
With all the press that Acai is getting these days, I’m surprised that so few know what it is. I’m hoping that I’ll help spread the word, because the little purple berries are antioxidant powerhouses offering amazing benefits to human bodies.
An Amazing Health Food
Acai has far too many health benefits to be ignored. The purple pulp has and continues to be studied for its high levels of phytochemicals, flavonoids, and phytosterols. The phytosterols in Acai are beneficial for lowering cholesterol. High levels of the antioxidant superoxide add to the benefits, not to mention the 19 amino acids it contains. The antioxidant levels of the nut like seed are being studied for use as a preservative to extend the shelf life of foods.
I know, enough of all these crazy words…what does this translate to? Basically, this is a food with higher antioxidant levels than pomegranate or blueberries that has high fiber, a low glycemic index (won’t spike insulin levels), and fights cancer cells with a vengeance in the petri dish. All those plant chemicals mentioned above help to strengthen the immune system, fight inflammation (which makes it excellent for a pain management program),and lower cholesterol levels. Acai is considered a beauty drink, and made it to number one of Dr. Nicholas Perricone’s anti-aging food list. It is also reputed to enhance sexual performance :O
I tried Acai before I even knew of the health benefits. I found it along with all the frozen smoothie packs in my local Whole Foods Market. It has a flavor that I have not experienced before, that I really adore, though I tend to have less of a sweet tooth than most folks.
OK, So How Does it Taste?
The taste is kind of a blend between chocolate and bland blueberries. It has some notes of sweeter blackberries, I guess since they contain many of the same phyto compounds. Acai doesn’t have an over the top fruity taste, and is honestly kind of bland without any sweetener. It often comes with added cane sugar or agave, a natural sweetener with low glycmeic index. Some formulas include guarana for energy, which I think adds a slight bitter edge, but it is still in the pleasant range. Be aware that Acai drinks often do not look remotely similar to anything you’ve seen before. The pure pulp is blackish purple, and the blends with sweeteners and guarana have a lighter, whiter purpleness with a haze of oil on top. Don’t let my honest descriptions keep you from trying it, it is a refreshing change of taste.
If you decide you hate the taste, you can still experience the health benefits of Acai by buying the dried, powdered version as a supplement pill, just make sure to seek out the freeze dried pulp, anything else has been dried with chemicals and heat that destroys the compounds you’re taking the stuff for in the first place!
So there are several camps selling the Acai in the states right now, and my kudos to all of them. You’ll just have to go to a health food store or one of the Whole Foods chains to find it. Trader Joe’s may be another option, and some companies sell directly over the net. A brand called Sambazon hails from California, and they make the cool smoothie packs. You can buy the pure pulp, or the blend. I’m sure the other companies have smoothie packs as well. The company from the Eastern U.S., Flavor Brazil, makes this amazing sorbet that can be used in smoothies or devoured right out of the tub. This product has excellent flavor for those used to more mainstream foods. You’ll find these forms of Acai in the frozen fruit section of the store. Zola Acai sells off the net and in stores, their product is unique in that it is flash pasteurizeed and needs no refrigeration. A friend of mine that does research assured me the flash pasteurization doesn’t allow enough long term heat to affect the integrity of the Acai. There is a brand that is a strained, clearer juice that tastes awful – not worth the money in my opinion, and you lose the benefits of the fiber. I’m sure there are a host of many other Acai products, I mentioned those I have tried.
After trying many forms of the Acai, I buy the pure Acai pulp now; they run about $4.99 for 4 packs that can make up to 8 servings. I sweeten with agave nectar, it gives the pulp a pleasant taste. The pure pulp has just that – a lot of pulp, similar to drinking fresh squeezed orange juice… you can feel the fibers as you drink it. Agave nectar is processed in Mexico from the same yucca-like plant used to make tequila.
Agave has a lower glycemic index than most carbohydrates, and is a natural flavor enhancer. You can find the nectar in the sweetener aisle in the Whole Foods, or health foods stores.
The Berry at Home
Acai is the fruit of a species of palm tree called Euterpe Oleracea, or Acai Palm. These beautiful trees with their graceful, slender trunks are native to Brazil, Peru, and other areas of South America. This is the same type of palm harvested for the hearts of palm dish that is considered a delicacy, but certainly at the expense of the rain forest, since the small, bunch like trees are downed to reap their tender tips.
The Acai berry looks similar to a very round blueberry, only slightly larger. There is very little fruit, as most of the berry (80%) consists of a large, nut like seed. It is the skin and thin layer of pulp that is edible, and it takes many bushels to make a small supply of Acai. The berries spoil rapidly once picked, so they are processed close to their origin.
Adding Acai to your wellness routine is not just good for you, it benefits the rain forest and its native peoples as well. The growing demand for Acai means jobs and capitol for the people, and Acai palms destined for destruction by deforestation and heart of palm harvesting are now being preserved and appreciated. Acai is not one of the cheapest foods you will consume, but the benefits to your health, beauty, your fellow man and the planet far outweigh the costs. Enjoy!