Food Trends: Brazil’s Acai Berry Comes North

Like its mother country, Brazil’s acai palm tree is a study in contrasts. Its leaves yield brooms and baskets worth pennies. Its berries yield juice and powders worth $66 million.

That’s last year’s total sales of acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE), the latest Holy Grail of antioxidant health and energy boosters. Never ones to ignore a trend, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch have launched acai-fortified drinks, and the Procter & Gamble labs are frothing over with acai-infused shampoo.

The promise of energetic hair aside, are the accolades legit? According to Ryan Black, founder of Sambazon, the first U.S. acai importer, the purple, cocoa-nuanced acai “blows blueberry’s doors away.” Consider its bona fides: omega fatty acids, protein, fiber, calcium, iron, antioxidants. Oh, and negligible sugar. Its cult status has spawned claims of weight loss, aging reduction, and leukemia prevention, but for now, “claims” is all they are.

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Since the berry itself is fragile and degrades quickly, its juice has claimed the spotlight. Once the sideline purview of natural-food stores, acai juice and its frozen concentrate sidekick have gone mainstream at markets like Whole Foods and DeCicco’s. If you prefer your acai hit in powder or capsule form, try any of the county Mrs. Green’s or shops like Food for Thought (7 Spring St, Hastings on Hudson, 914-478-3600), Nature’s Temptations (890 Rte 35, Cross River 914-763-5643), or Near & Natural (1 Court Rd, Bedford, 914-205-3545). Says Near & Natural co-owner Helene Rosenhouse-Romeo, a registered dietician, “Acai is part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s no cure-all.” In other words, expect superb nutrition, high antioxidants, even an energy boost. Just don’t expect miracles.

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