Acaí Berry

Unless you’ve been living in a treehouse with your hands over your ears, and even if you have, you’ve probably heard the buzzword açaí. You may have seen the word and not known how to pronounce it. In fact, you may have heard it and not known how it was spelled or that it was that word you saw but couldn’t pronounce.

To begin, açaí has three syllables and is pronounced ah-sah-ee with the accent on the final syllable. Açaí berries are drupes that come from a palm. Drupes are fruits with a stone or pit that encases the seed. Peaches are drupes. So are coffee beans, olives and even pistachios. Açaí palms also produce high-quality heart of palm, but with the recent increase in global demand for açaí berry, heart of palm is being harvested from the jucara palm tree and açaí palms are being grown exclusively for their berries. The tall, thin palms average 15 to 30 feet with pinnate leaves that are 3 meter long. The leaves of the palm can be used for mats, hats, baskets and even roof thatch. The trunk can be used in home building.

Açaí berries are about an inch around. They are dark purple, nearly black. The trees are indigenous to Central and South America, growing in floodplains and swamps. The palms produce two crops annually with 500 to 900 berries per branched panicle. The berry can comprise up to 40 percent of some Brazilian populations’ total dietary intake.

Açaí has been marketed as a healthful dietary supplement due to allegedly high levels of antioxidants, another buzzword you’ve surely heard. It seems all you have to do is say antioxidant and customers will line up to feel the love. The claims are not supported by any scientific testing. In fact, Quackwatch has claimed the berry’s antioxidant levels have been greatly exaggerated and the fruit has less than blueberries.

There are others who claim the berry helps regulate body weight and even promotes weight loss. If there’s one phrase that will cause even more commotion in the marketplace than antioxidant, it is weight loss. But these claims are not supported by evidence.

In addition to the unfounded claims, açaí is also involved in scams ranging from recurrent credit card billings after accepting a free trial offer of Açaí-based products to bogus claims of reversing diabetes and enlarging the penis. Thousands of claims have been filed and as many complaints registered with the Federal government. Even media maven Oprah Winfrey took aim at the scam, since she claimed the berry was part of the diet that helped her lose weight. There are even scam sites that warn about scam sites, just to seem more legitimate.

In Northern Brazil, açaí pulp is traditionally served with tapioca in hollow gourds called cuias. It can be served sweet or salty. In Southern Brazil, it is served cold with granola. The last twenty years has seen its use in smoothies, sodas and other drinks.

Here’s a link to several açaí recipes.

Enjoy the delicious berry, but don’t expect miracles.

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