The Acai berry is a grape-like fruit that grows in clusters on the acai palm tree (Euterpe oleracea). The acai tree and its berries are native to South and Central America. Acai berries and palms are important cash crops in places like Brazil, and have medicinal uses in the Amazon. Acai berries have grown very popular since they were introduced to the United States in the 1990s, although there are opposing views as to their health benefits.
Acai berries are often compared to blueberries in terms of their antioxidants and their well-publicized ability to stabilize free radicals in the body. The acai berry also contains protein (as much as the contents of one egg), calcium, minerals, amino acids, fibers, iron, vitamins and fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9). According to health food sources, acai berries can help to control cholesterol, fortify the immune system, fight against infection and protect against heart disease.
Some health sources point out that research into the health benefits of acai berries has been mainly confined to the area of its powdered, freeze-dried form, known as OptiAcai. The contents of OptiAcai include calcium, iron, Vitamin A, aspartic acid and glutamic acid.
Acai berry products comprise juices and juice blends, pulp, supplements, ice cream, smoothies, and freeze-dried energy bars with granola, among other items. These products are readily available through many websites in the United States and worldwide. Since not all these products are necessarily authentic, consumers are advised to check with the Better Business Bureau (Bbb.org) before making online purchases of acai berry products.
The life span of acai berries is very short, which is why the berries are not readily available to purchase in fruit form in the United States. However, websites like Acai Farms (Acaifarms.com), a division of World Nurseries in Florida, offers what it describes as a 100 percent organic, pesticide-free and toxin-free acai tree, a palm tree with pinnate leaves. The website says the tree is "from special seed stock obtained deep in the Amazon jungle from superior acai trees" which are located far from pollutants in the Amazon Basin area where frozen and freeze-dried products are processed for shipping overseas.
The Indian tribes of the Brazilian Amazon have uses for all parts of felled acai trees. They make juice from the berries, eat the palm hearts as vegetables, and apply the palm fronds to forming thatched roofs. In the Amazon, the root system of the acai tree has adapted to water-logged soils and growing conditions. In the United States, acai trees require a minimum temperature of 50 degrees F to grow, and in very dry areas, they may need to be kept in a greenhouse.