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October 20, 2016

Açaí Bowls

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First things first: açaí is pronounced ah-sigh-EE, for all of us who have been confused ever since Garnier Fructis started putting it in their haircare products. Açaí is a berry native to South America that has a texture similar to grapes. According to the Global Healing Center, it is packed with antioxidants that protect the body against free radicals, help lower cholesterol, reduce respiratory irritation and promote healthy skin. It also has a lot of fiber for efficient digestion and enough vitamin C to keep our immune systems ready to combat the approaching Ithaca winter.

Attracted by the high nutrient content, Americans have latched onto the idea of açaí berries. They have turned them into aesthetically pleasing, Instagram-worthy smoothie bowls that just look as if they holds all of the secrets to good health. And, honestly, it just might. Typical recipes call for açaí berries blended with ice and some form of milk, poured it into a bowl with whatever toppings you want. Other recipes include various fruits and vegetables, amping the nutrient content and providing other flavors.

Although the health benefits associated with açaí berries are solid, be sure to use an açaí powder or frozen purée that is pure or organic. Normally I would say that organic produce just means paying a lot more not to scrub your fruits and vegetables of pesticides. However, inorganic açaí products, like those from Jamba Juice, tend to have enough sugar to make anyone from below the Mason Dixon Line cringe if it were added to their sweet tea. The organic versions don’t include any added sugar, making the sugar content basically zero — music to the ears of all nutrition majors.

The possibilities are virtually endless when it comes to these bowls — the smoothie portion itself can include a variety of different components, ranging from fruits to vegetables to nut butters. The toppings can be as conservative or off-the-wall as you desire. Granola, nuts, seeds, coconut, fresh or dried fruit and lots of nut butter, for those of us who can eat a whole jar of Jif peanut butter with a spoon, are a few options. The Food Network has a recipe in which the frozen açaí purée, half of a banana and frozen blueberries are blended together and then topped with banana slices, honey, granola and unsweetened coconut flakes. I imagine that the meat eaters out there could add some pepperoni slices or chunks of ham, but the flavor combination may not favor those additions as much. This bowl is all about flavor, texture and health served up in a convenient bowl.

It’s the costs of getting the açaí to the bowl that may not be so convenient. Because there is a lot of processing involved with puréeing or freeze-drying the fruit, these products are usually more expensive. They are also a little harder to find, as they are typically sold in health food stores such as Whole Foods. If you’re from a small rural town like I am, then these stores can be a whole tank of gas away, making the value of açaí berries somewhat questionable. But if you have a pretty fuel-efficient car and a decent amount of time on your hands, giving açaí bowls a try could definitely be worth it.

Despite the potential issues of expense and availability, açaí bowls are easy to make, since the ingredients can be thrown into a blender (unless you’re not a morning person and anything louder than a door closing sounds like an explosion). They can be made with a variety of different ingredients, depending on your taste. And, with proper lighting and the right filter, they can get you enough likes on Instagram to actually show up as a number instead of as the usernames of the three people who like everything you post.