You may have noticed a new kid on the chilled fruit juice block at your local supermarket or at your favourite smoothie bar, it's called Acai, pronounced ah-sigh-ee and it comes from the Amazon region of Brazil where it is known as ‘The Tree of Life’.
This fantastic tree, a member of the palm family and related to the saw palmetto, grows in the flood plains of the mighty Amazon river where it reaches over 20 meters high. The berries grow prolifically along branches that spring out of the top and look a bit like ‘Sideshow Bobs'’ hair and are gathered by the indigenous people who scramble up the trunk to cut the berry laden boughs and then take them to the market.
Speed is of the essence because the berries start to loose their potency as soon as they get picked so they need to be frozen as soon as possible.
It had been a popular drink in the Amazon district for hundreds of years but came to light when a cafe in Rio de Janeiro started selling it. Across the street was a Jujitsu school, run by Carlos Gracie, who tried some and insisted on his pupils drinking it to boost their performance. The pupils were very fit looking people and they said that it was because they drank acai. The surfers picked up on this and its reputation grew and grew until it went international.
The berries are not the only good thing on this tree, the Brazilians also use the stems of the leaves which are harvested as palm hearts and the bark and roots are used in medicine for a wide variety of ailments from anemia to muscle pains and worms.
This little purple berry is packed with anti oxidants such as phytochemicals, polyphenols and anthocyanins, fatty acids omega 6 and 9, calcium, proteins and fibre which are all great for a healthy life. It is the anthocyanins that are, perhaps, creating the most interest because of large amounts present in the fruit. These are the chemicals that are found in the dark purple colour in plants and came to prominence as the healthy ingredient in red wine that helps to protect the heart and there are so many anthocyanins in acai berries, they haven't all been researched yet.
Early research has shown it has been able to destroy large numbers of leukaemia cells in the laboratory but a lot more investigation is needed before any conclusions can be drawn over its full medicinal properties.
As with most of the purple berries they are useful in the fight against a wide range of ailments such as cancer, heart disease, cholesterol, macular degeneration, Alzheimers’ disease, infections of the urinary tract and have anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. Unlike other berries, these are just packed with an abundance of health giving ingredients which really does allow them to use the name super food.
Something this good usually turns out to taste like old socks, but acai juice is really nice, a berry flavour with an after taste tinged with chocolate although when sold it is mixed with other fruit juice. To ensure you are getting a good quantity of this wonder berry, check the list of ingredients and buy the one with acai listed as the highest constituent. It will probably be more expensive but well worth the extra cost.
Another way of buying acai berries is to get it as a frozen paste which you can use in making your own smoothies or as a topping for your breakfast cereal or even ice cream.
Many foods have been hyped as the greatest but the acai really does appear to have earned the name super food.
Ian Richards is the webmaster of the http://www.yourpower2be.com stable of websites