Açaí – The Fruit That Packs A Punch

November 10, 2005

Men’s Journal – July, 2003

Açaí – The Fruit That Packs A Punch
By Tyler Graham

FRUIT ARE A BIT like pop stars. Remember when pomegranates exploded onto the scene last year? But this summer, there’s a new contender that’s got something to offer that no kumquat or baby banana could ever match: Açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) actually gives you a rush.

A small, purple palm berry that grows wild in the Amazon, açaí has been hugely popular in Brazil for years, where it’s whipped up by street vendors into a frozen slush and eaten out of big bowls, kind of like Red Bull ice cream. It’s even marketed to the same hip, athletic set as Red Bull — Brazilian skateboarding phenom Bob Burnquist. And the potent fruit is a favorite of Brazilian surfers and jujitsu fighters.

You won’t see the berry itself at your local grocer; it spoils too easily. Instead, the pulp is mashed, mixed with a tiny amount of the natural caffeine source guarana, and sold frozen. The traditional way to prepare the mix is by blending a 14-ounce package with a half cup of apple juice and a banana and topping it off with granola, though health clubs also put it in smoothies. The taste is like a red wine with a hint of chocolate; the buzz, like a less jittery, more filling double latte. “Our customers love it,” says Juan Martinez, of Mani’s Bakery, a trendy Los Angeles eatery. “They eat it for breakfast and don’t have to eat again until three in the afternoon.”

It’s not completely clear where the boost comes from. The added guarana per serving contains less caffeine than a cup of decaf. One guess is that there’s something about the natural sugars in the fruit that creates a multiplier effect with the guarana. “It doesn’t really add up,” admits William Obermeyer, vice-president of research for Consumer-Lab.com. “Is it safe? All I can say is, the buzz has to be coming from somewhere.”

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