Move over chia seeds, and let’s forgo the bail on kale. There’s a new superfood in town: açai berries, fresh from the rainforests of Brazil. You’ve probably seen them trending on your Instagram feed, often presented in the form of delectable smoothie bowls that look too good to be true. Read on to find out the essential facts on açai and how you can benefit from them.
Let’s Get the Name Right
First, let’s learn the correct pronunciation. Don’t be fooled by its spelling – it’s definitely not “ah-chaii”. Instead, the unique name is pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”. Wen Khyn Cheah, co-founder of Cabana (a newly opened açai bar in Publika) and Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) 4 Featherweight Champion, introduces the fruit, saying, “Açai is a berry that’s grown only in the Amazonian rainforest. It looks similar to blueberries, but it contains twice the amount of antioxidants, and has a whole lot of other nutritional benefits. In Brazil, açai is commonly consumed in the form of a smoothie bowl.”
The Inside Scoop on Açai’s Nutritional Powers
Before you dig into your açai bowl, find out the nutritional punch the wonder berry’s able to deliver. “Açai is very rich in antioxidants, iron, calcium, fibre, and vitamin A due to its reddish colour,” says Ee Ling Yeoh, MH adviser, and dietitian and education manager at Fitness Innovations Malaysia. “It also contains good fats like oleic acid, which contributes to heart health.”
The fruit in its original form resembles a stone fruit more than a berry, as “about 90% of the berry is actually seed”, Cheah explains. The açai you consume is actually derived from the skin, but Cheah is quick to point out that “açai has to be pulped and frozen before it’s ready for consumption because the skin in its natural from is rather hard and inedible.”
Raw açai berries are almost impossible to source outside of Brazil due to their highly perishable nature. “Açai berries need to be processed or frozen as soon as they’re picked. Otherwise, they will oxidise and turn rancid,” Yeoh says. “Most of the açai we get in the market is either in a freeze-dried powder, extract, puree, or capsule. What you want to make sure is there are no added substances – you want it in the purest form.” According to Cheah, açai berries are usually pulped or frozen within 48 hours after being harvested to preserve their nutritional content. “Once frozen, the pulp can last for up to two years,” he adds.
The Battle between Pulp and Powder
As a general rule of thumb, the açai bowls that are available in the market utilise either açai pulp or powder. If you’re unsure how to tell the difference between the two, consider this your cheat sheet. “The most notable difference would be the taste, colour and texture,” Cheah says. “An açai bowl made with açai pulp usually has a darker shade of purple with some brown overtones, whereas açai bowls made with powder tend to have a bright purple hue.” Furthermore, açai bowls made with pulp tend to be thicker, while powdered ones can be slightly more watery and diluted, Cheah adds.
Wondering what açai tastes like? We got to sample a couple of açai bowls during Cabana’s recent launch; the immediate flavour notes that hit our taste buds from the very first spoonful were those of a sweet, dark chocolate, with a hint of red wine. The texture resembled thick sorbet, complementing the sliced fresh fruits and granola combination that comprises smoothie bowls. If you’re wondering how you can incorporate açai bowls into your diet, try out Cheah’s suggestion for athletes and gym-goers: “They [açai bowls] are a great snack for before or after working out.”