Acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”) is a tiny berry that grows on the acai palm tree and is native to Central and South America. The flavor is sometimes described as a combination of red wine and chocolate. When used in a green smoothie, acai is best used as a flavor modifier and not as a base fruit.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Acai berries are praised for their super high antioxidant content and possible disease-fighting phytonutrients. However, the wild claims from supplement makers that acai juice and powders can reverse diabetes, cure cancer and promote weight loss are unfounded and overhyped.
When it comes to the antioxidant load of acai juices and powders, they are well within the range of other local fruits. Studies have shown that the juice from concord grapes and black cherries, as well as red wine, contained more polyphenol antioxidant content than acai juice.
Acai berries are low in sugar in their whole form which is good news for those of you on a low glycemic diet.
You won’t find acai in the USDA nutritional database and so conclusive information regarding the nutrition content of acai berries are limited. Various freeze-dried, powdered mixtures show good levels of protein, calcium and vitamin A. The best way to benefit from the full nutrition of acai berry (or any whole food), however, is to eat it fresh or as minimally processed as possible.
Unfortunately, for those of us who live in North America and Europe, acai berries are not available in the produce section. Instead, we have to rely on juices, extracts and powders, often sold in the supplement section of certain health food stores. Since juices are not a whole food and powders are highly processed, the nutrient content of acai has been significantly altered and reduced in these products. The potency and flavor does not justify the price you pay.
For this reason, I recommend seeking out a source of acai berry purees, which should come frozen. I’ve used puree products from Amafruits.com and have found them to be very high quality and delicious. They come in 3.5 ounce (100 gram) packets. Simply take one out of the freezer and add it to your smoothie. You’ll get a real serving of acai and a chilled smoothie all at once!
How To Use Acai In A Smoothie Recipe
Acai is typically available as a frozen puree, juice or powder. I would choose purees over juices and powders because there is less processing and oxidization. You’ll also get a better price for a whole food acai puree over “supplemental” acai extracts, powders and juices.
I don’t recommend using acai juice as the smoothie liquid because the flavor is pretty strong. Pouring in 4-6 ounces or more of acai juice might make a pretty potent, hard-to-drink smoothie. Plus the juice is expensive. A shot of pure acai juice will be enough to flavor a smoothie nicely, but you won’t get the health benefits in such a tiny dose.
Acai, with it’s “red wine and chocolate” flavor mixes well with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries and pomegranates. Apples, pears and red grapes also blend well with acai. Add cacao (raw chocolate) for a decadent, rich indulgence. Try young coconut in an acai smoothie too. For base fruits, I recommend sticking with apple, pear and banana. You can experiment with mango, but that flavor combination might not work for everyone.
Acai Berry Recipes
There are a lot of acai berry scams out there, especially online with many people complaining of multiple charges on their credit cards after signing up for a free trial. For this reason, I recommend not purchasing acai products online unless it is through a trusted retailer and never sign up for a “free trial”.
One trusted company I found is Amafruits.com, which sells quality acai purees that I regularly use and recommend in green smoothies. This is the best way I have found to eat acai as it was intended to be eated – as a whole food and not a supplement.
You can purchase acai products at health food stores. However, the price of even a 4 ounce bottle of acai is hard to justify, especially when you consider that there are many fresh, ripe, whole-food, organic fruits and vegetables with the same, if not more, nutrients, antioxidants and health-promoting benefits for a lot less money than a powdered or juiced product.
I’d stick with fresh (if available) acai or a frozen puree and only use a high-quality juice product for a flavor indulgence only.
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Tracy Russell is the creator of the Green Smoothie Health & Weight Loss Program and founder of Incredible Smoothies. She is passionate about helping people improve their health with green smoothies and a whole foods lifestyle.