Aug 31, 2017
The Colorful Story Behind Açaí
Renowned for its flavor, nutrients, and unique purple hue, açaí is both delicious and now ubiquitous, a feat you'd be hard pressed to imagine more than a decade ago. The story behind this magical Brazilian berry that you may have been mispronouncing (it's a-sah-EE) is as enticing as the berry itself.
As the fruit of the açaí palm, the food has been a staple in South American diets for centuries, but it didn't begin to really catch on in the United States until the 2000s when Brazilian surfers visiting Hawai'i helped spread its fame. "It's been a staple of the diet of the region's people since before recorded history: first the floodplain tribes who settled in the rain forest, now the people of mixed Indian and European ancestry who farm the area and live in widely spaced houses on the Amazon tributaries that thread the jungle like tiny capillaries," wrote the New Yorker's John Colapinto.
"The ribeirinhos, or river people, as they call themselves, harvest and prepare açaí in the manner that's been used for centuries: they scale the trees, bring down the berry clusters, then pull off the fruit and soak it for hours in water to soften the skin and flesh, which they rub off the pit by hand. They eat the resulting thick purple pulp with fish or game, or by itself, like soup. It has a creamy texture and an earthy flavor, with hints of unsweetened chocolate. It is so ubiquitous in the local diet that the ribeirinho do not consider a meal complete if it does not contain the fruit. 'Without açaí, I'm still hungry' is a common saying."
To be sure, açaí (often eaten in a bowl and topped with bananas and other fruit) spread in popularity from rural areas in Brazil to the country's major city. In the 1970s frozen açaí
berries began making their way to northern Brazilian hubs and cities. In the 1980s, world famous jiu-jitsu master Carlos Gracie helped popularize the food by espousing its numerous health benefits to his jiu-jitsu students and created the
Gracie Diet, which included açaí bowls as a staple. Eventually, Brazilian surfers visiting Hawai'i helped cast a craze for this tasty fruit in the Aloha State and Southern California. Soon, companies like
Although it may have just arrived on the scene in the United States, if recent trends are any indicator, açaí will continue to have a place on our collective palette for years to come. Whether we're craving a traditional bowl from Jamba Juice, a Power Bowl from Mocha Java, a guava-infused bowl from Pa'ina Cafe or the world famous Nalu Bowl from Nalu Health Bar & Cafe, this scrumptious treat is always within reach at Ward Village—and that's a very good thing.
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