The acai berry is the fruit of the acai palm tree, Euterpe oleracea, that grows in South America. The acai berry has recently been categorized as a "superfruit" and gained in popularity due to its potential health benefits. While the acai berry is not widely available in the U.S. as a fresh fruit, its pulp and juice are available in a variety of processed food and health products.
Acai palms are tall and slender, growing up to 30 meters high. The crown of the tree has a classic palm form with large fronds. The acai tree produces small purple flowers periodically throughout the year. The fruit is a round, dark purple berry about the size of a blueberry and grows in in numerous large clusters of up to eight berries each. The fruit is usually harvested from July through December.
Acai palm is distributed throughout northern South America. It is concentrated along the edges of rivers and throughout flood plains in Brazil. Acai berry is also cultivated for food, especially in the states of Amazonas, Amapá, Maranhão, and Pará, particularly along the Amazon River estuaries.
Acai berries spoil quickly, once picked, so should be used immediately or processed into products that will keep. Acai berries are considered one of the richest sources of antioxidants from fruit, with high quantities of flavonoids, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and other fatty acids.
The fruit of acai berries has a flavor described as a mix of berry and chocolate. It is frequently used for its juice, which is extracted by soaking the berries in water to soften the skin and then pressing and straining them. This produces a thick liquid which is enjoyed by itself or mixed with sugar and tapioca flour as a cold drink. Acai berry juice is also used to make jellies, ice cream and other desserts and can be used to produce wine and other liquors.
Brazilians have used acai as a traditional medicine for treating digestive problems and skin disorders. In the U.S., acai berry is marketed as a dietary supplement. It possesses phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The acai berry pulp or juice is said to prevent or treat cancer, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disorders, and other illnesses. It is also said to help in weight reduction and lowering of cholesterol. However, these claims, while currently under investigation, are largely unsubstantiated. Researchers are
investigating the potential negative effects of antioxidants on chemotherapy drugs. Since acai berry has strong antioxidant properties, it may interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments.