They’re a pretty hot item in the natural food world!
What’s so special about them? What are they?!
What Are Acai Berries?
The acai (pronounced Ah-Sigh-Ee) berry is a tropical berry which grows on an acai palm tree. They’re native to the rainforests of South America, like the Amazon!
They look a lot like blueberries or purple grapes, except most of the berry is covering a giant seed. The berries are about 1 inch in diameter. And the seed? It takes up almost 80% of the berry! (That’s a lot of seed!)
Since they have an enormous seed, acai “berries” aren’t really a berry at all. The fruit is called a drupe. It’s like a plum or a peach. Fleshy on the outside, with a big seed in the middle.
But because they look a lot like other berries, the term stuck!
These berries can grow in a couple of different ways. One is in clusters, just like a grape. Another way is in long strands.
The easiest way to collect this fruit is for harvesters to climb the trees and pick the berries.
The acai palms can grow from 30-50 feet tall! And the fruit grows from the top of the tree.
Acai berries also don’t keep for very long. In fact, they start to go bad in about a day!
Most of the acai berries that you’ll discover in supermarkets and health food stores only come in frozen or powdered form.
Since they’re from South America, they wouldn’t keep long enough to make the trip very far!
History of the Acai Berry
The acai palms grow naturally in places like Brazil, Panama, and Trinidad, an island in the Atlantic Ocean (the southernmost island of the West Indies.)
These trees flourish in places which have tropical forests.
The native people in these areas have included acai berries in their diets for hundreds of years.
The name acai is thought to be a Portuguese version of the Tupi or Tupian word ïwaca’i. That language makes up the base language for about 70 different dialects spoken through South America.
In that language, the word ïwaca’i translates to “the fruit that cries” or “expels water.” Which fits, because these little fruits hold a lot of liquid in their pulp.
Acai, The Surfer Berry
A nickname for the acai berry is “surfer berry.” This came from its introduction to the athletic and sports crowds back in the 1990’s. That’s when it was first introduced to North America.
The fruit of the acai palm is rich in things like antioxidants (stuff that helps you stay healthy.) It provides a natural boost of energy.
Acai berries have loads of vitamins in them. It’s what is known in today’s terms as a super food. That just means it’s got a lot of good nutritional stuff in it.
When surfers, skateboarders, runners, and Olympic competitors began to include the berry in their diets, interest grew.
Snacks and foods like granola bars and powders to make smoothies included acai. It caught on and became pretty popular!
The Importance of Acai to Rainforests
One thing that’s a hidden benefit of the popularity of this tasty berry: it’s helping to preserve the rainforest.
Amazon rainforest in Brazil
Acai is an important crop to the people of Brazil. There are thousands of acres of the Amazon rainforest where the acai tree grows naturally. These are protected areas.
That means that people can’t go in and cut the trees down for lumber, because it’s way more beneficial to harvest the berries!
People have jobs harvesting and taking care of the trees, transporting the fruit, and processing it to ship out to other countries. It’s an important crop. And it’s a natural crop. Double bonus!
The Amazon rainforest provides a home for many animals, and it’s one of the largest in the world. Endangered species are protected in this region. And the rainforest provides lots of oxygen to the planet, which is important for all of us!
(You can learn more about the Amazon rainforest in our Explore Brazil in a Week Lesson Plan in your Explorer Toolkit!)
This little berry is a big deal!
Bonus Recipe: Acai Popsicles
Here’s a super chill, super easy recipe for you to try out.
While you can’t get fresh acai berries unless you take a trip to Brazil, you can find frozen acai berry pulp in some grocery stores.
This recipe makes a fun summer treat: about 10 4 oz, popsicles with some of the mix leftover.
What you need:
Popsicle mold or small paper cups and popsicle sticks
1 package Acai Berry Pulp
1 can Pineapple Chunks in Juice
1 small carton of Strawberries, Blueberries, or Raspberries (whatever you like)
Place all the ingredients in the blender. Break up the Acai Berry pulp into smaller chunks. Clean and hull the Strawberries, if that’s what you’re using.
Puree the ingredients until it’s as smooth as you want it. (It’s perfectly fine to have chunks in the mix.)
Pour the mixture carefully into the popsicle mold (you’ll have extra. You can make a smoothie bowl, or add it to yogurt, or top it with granola!) Place it in the freezer to make the popsicles.
If you’re using paper cups, pour the mixture into the cups, leaving about ½ inch of space at the top. Don’t overfill. Things expand as they freeze!
Place the cups in the freezer (maybe on a cookie sheet so they don’t tip over or spill) for about ½ an hour. Then take them out and stand the popsicle sticks in them, so you have a handle!
Put them back in the freezer for at least 2 more hours.
Enjoy your amazing creations!
You can try more flavors of Brazil in our Brazil box. Explore the amazing recipes and have a popsicle for dessert as you eat2explore!