What Is Acai Berry?
You’ve likely seen acai berries on every “superfood you have to try now” list over the past few years, and for decent reason: these purple berries are packed with healthful nutrients and antioxidants. Unfortunately, they’re not particularly easy to get, nor are they technically berries.
Native to the rainforests of Central and South America, these pitted drupes have a very short shelf life and cannot travel. Acai berries grow on acai palm trees (Euterpe oleracea), and they’re only available in the immediate regions where they are grown.
The rest of the world has to make do with frozen purees or powders, which is precisely why they’re commonly consumed in smoothies or acai bowls. Even still, fresh acai is hard and needs to be soaked to soften its skin, before being mashed—it is not eaten whole, for example, like blueberries, plums, or strawberries, but rather as a paste.
The specialty from the Pará region of Brazil is the açaí na tigela (acai bowl), most commonly topped with banana and granola before being mixed with other fruits and guarana syrup.
The flavor of acai is described as somewhat of a cross between blackberries and unsweetened chocolate.
What’s in an Acai Bowl?
Acai bowls come in many shapes and sizes and can be rather healthy, or a legit junk-food snack. It all depends on what you put in it and the quality of ingredients used.
Mix it up with some Greek yogurt, almond butter, and oats, and you’re getting plenty of good stuff. Toss it with “Nutella,” chocolate chips, and sugary drizzles, and you’re getting a bomb of potentially harmful calories.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the healthful ingredients to include in an acai bowl.
No surprise here. Although acai purees are rather high in sugar, they should have the bulk of their fiber intact in most pureed forms. Some options may have added sugars, syrups, or flavors, and you’ll want to avoid these, instead opting for a brand without these additives.
Acai berries are a rich source of antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins (which provide their deep purple hue). Some benefits of acai berries may include lower cholesterol, improved brain function, lower inflammation, and anti-cancer effects.
That said, it’s important to remember that no single food is going to optimize health or provide protection from disease. A quality varied and nutritious diet and regular exercise go a long way.
Adding oats to your acai bowl can provide some heart-healthy fiber and help slow the absorption of the fruit-based sugars. Even though pureed acai should have some of its naturally occurring fiber intact, the combination of soluble and insoluble fiber found in oats can offer increased benefits.
Oats can help with digestion, promote a healthy population of gut bacteria, help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, improve blood sugar control, and are a rich source of minerals and antioxidants.
When it comes to choosing oats for your acai bowl, avoid flavored oats. Unflavored “quick oats” aren’t the worst option, but steel-cut or less processed varieties may provide added nutritional value (they just take a little longer to cook).
Like oats, the type of yogurt you choose can influence the overall value of your acai bowl. Opting for plain varieties instead of flavored options with added sugar is the first step. Next, it’s a good idea to select higher-protein options like Greek or Icelandic yogurt. Boosting the protein value of your bowl can help add to your daily protein totals, to help maintain muscle mass, build a strong immune system, and keep you feeling satiated.
Nut butters are a great way to add a little more taste, texture, and nutrition to an acai bowl. They are all a great source of healthy fats, vitamin E, and trace minerals, while also adding a little bit of fiber and protein to the bowl.
Two things to pay attention to when adding nut butters are added sugars and total calories. Selecting natural options will take care of the added sugar problem, so check the ingredient list before buying. Nut butters are also very calorically (yet nutritionally) dense, so don’t go overboard. Most nut butters contain roughly 90 to 100 calories per tablespoon.
Other common ingredients include nuts and seeds, fruits of your choice, and granola. Also, you’ll need some liquid to get things moving in the blender—water, unsweetened nut milk, or cow’s milk are suitable options.
How to Make an Acai Bowl at Home
You can get acai bowls or smoothies at health foods stores, juiceries, and restaurants around the country, but you can’t really ensure their health value unless they are made at home. That’s where you’ve got control over the ingredients and portion size, helping to evict any unwanted added sugars and calories.
Here are three acai bowl recipes to help you get started:
1. Berry Oat Acai Bowl
For acai blend:
1/2 cup cow’s milk or plant-based milk
1/3 cup steel-cut oats
1/2 frozen, overripe banana
1/4 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1 tbsp white chia seeds
1 tsp acai powder
1/2 cup mixed berries
1 tbsp pistachios, chopped
1 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp freeze-dried pomegranate seeds
2 tsp dried cranberries
- Add milk of your choice, oats, frozen banana and berries, and acai powder to a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth. Let sit for a few minutes to thicken.
- Pour into a large serving bowl. Top with berries, pistachio, and seeds.
2. Banana and Berry Blast Acai Bowl
3/4 cup milk (unsweetened plant-based milk or cow’s milk)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 frozen banana, sliced
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup (2 packets) frozen acai puree, broken into pieces
Assorted toppings: nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, etc. to taste
- Add milk, yogurt, frozen banana and berries, and broken-up acai to a high-speed blender with a tamper. Blend on low-speed, using the tamper to push the frozen fruit down, mixing around as much as possible. Blend until smooth.
- Divide the smoothie into two large bowls and arrange your favorite (healthy) toppings on top.
3. Tasty Acai Bowl
For acai blend:
1 packet frozen acai puree
1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
1 frozen banana
3-4 tbsp rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened nut or cow’s milk
- Break acai puree into a couple of pieces. Add acai, frozen fruit, oats, and milk to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Garnish with toppings.
Don’t Believe the Hype!
Acai bowls can definitely be a healthy and fun way to boost the nutritional content of your diet. Most recipes are rich in antioxidants and number of other health-promoting nutrients. But these bowls are also very high in sugar and aren’t the ideal way to eat fruit. Therefore, don’t eat one every day. Instead, use it as a treat once or twice per week for a sweet dessert or snack, opting for whole fruits and berries the majority of the time.
Jennings, K., “5 Impressive Health Benefits of Acai Berries,” Healthline, May 31, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-acai-berries, last accessed November 18, 2019.
Nunes, L., “Oat and berry acai bowl” Taste, 2019; https://www.taste.com.au/recipes/oat-berry-acai-bowl/af1dd66f-80bc-4b37-bfa5-f226610e061c, last accessed November 18, 2019.
Randhawa, J., “Acai Berry Bowl Recipe-How to Make Your Own Acai Bowl” The Forked Spoon, September 20, 2019; https://theforkedspoon.com/acai-bowl, last accessed November 18, 2019.
Fox, H., “How to make an Acai Bowl + 8 Insanely Creative Recipes!” Hurry The Food Up, July 11, 2019; https://hurrythefoodup.com/how-to-make-acai-bowl/, last accessed November 18, 2019.