By Joe Naab
August 1st, 2012
Growing in both the Amazon Rainforest, as well as the subtropical South Atlantic Rainforest, is a palm tree called "Juçara" (joo-SAH-rah), that produces the widely popular fruit, "Açai" (ah-sigh-EE). Açai is consider if not the, then one of the most very nutritious foods found on the planet. Sparing you the details, Açai is loaded with about every great vitamin and mineral your body needs, and it has great proteins, quality fats and is loaded with anti-oxidants.
Açai Must be Made into a Pulp
The açai berry has a very thick, inedible outer skin. At its center is a woody seed. In between the seed and the outer skin is the rich and edible pulp. Note that even this pulp does not taste all that well. It is sour, not sweet, and almost always mixed with one or more other foods to improve the taste.
The pulp is extracted either with industrial-sized machines, artisan-sized machines, or by hand. In either case the process is about the same. The berries are soaked in warm water for a half hour. They are then put into a bowl (giant, large or small), and agitated in some way so as to break the outer skin of all the berries. A filter screen is put in place and water is passed through the berries repeatedly, flushing out the pulp. Hence, the pulp of açai always contains added water. Extra profit can be made by excessive diluting with water, and the typical supermarket frozen açai pulp is thin and weak. I buy mine at organic fairs or natural food markets.
The Quality Rating of Açai Pulp
Due to the above, açai pulp is rated, "fine" (thin), "medium" and "gross" (thick). Fine will have 5% to 9% açai and the rest is water. Medium will have 9% to 14% pulp and the rest is water. Thick will have more than 14% pulp content. It is hard to make açai pulp with a pulp content above 40%. You simply need lots of water to flush out the pulp. Thick açai is not available anywhere. Buyers here arent that savvy and the price would be shocking relative to the prices for fine and medium.
Açai Spoils Very, Very Fast
Due to its high oil and anti-oxidant content, both the açai berry itself and the pulp made from the berry, spoil very, very fast (though this doesnt keep people from selling it and consuming spoiled açai). Once harvested, the berries must be de-pulped ideally within 24 hours and no longer than 48 hours. Once made, the pulp should be consumed within 24 hours or frozen immediately, or frozen with 24 hours of having been made.
Two Basic Ways to Eat Açai
Most everyone in south Brazil as well as all over the world thinks of açai as a dessert, or smoothie, or juice. Yet in the Amazon and the northeast, where it was first popularized, it is very rarely eaten sweet. In fact, its most common to be eaten on the day it was made fresh, without having ever been frozen.
In Brazil, all types of food fall into two basic categories- "Doçe" and "Salgado". "Doçe" means "sweet", and is anything from desserts to juices, to smoothies and more. "Salgado" translates to "salty", but in this usage of the word it might be best to think of it as "not sweet". This can cover bland, salty, sour, bitter and simply regular food. Its a catch-all phrase in this context.
Açai Super Smoothies
For the purpose of this article well focus on using açai to make smoothies. The two most common additional ingredients for açai smoothies are banana and guarana syrup. Guarana is a seed with an extremely sweet syrup that can be extracted. Also, the smoothie can be made extremely thick and served in a bowl with a spoon. This is actually more common than a smootie, and youll see it on menus as "tigela de açai". Often, youll see the option to substitute strawberries for bananas.
What Im talking about here are smoothies that you make yourself in your own home in a blender where you are free to experiment all you want. Because you are working with frozen pulp, and likely frozen bananas, the better the blender the better the experience. For example, I brought in a Blendtec blender from the U.S., the best blender on the market. I bought a 110v to 220v transformer so I can use it down here.
Extended List of Possible Açai Smoothie Ingredients
Im going to end the article here with a great list of potential ingredients for your smoothies. Its so very fun to experiment that I wont try to give you measurements and ratios and such. Have fun experimenting. Know that the more of these ingredients you use in one smoothie, and Ive done this, the heavier and denser the taste. If you want your smoothie to be light and fresh, try fewer ingredients.
- Frozen açai pulp - One pack of 100gms, or 100ml, will due for one tall smoothie. Double it for twice the fun.
- Frozen bananas - I use 2-4 small bananas. They dont have to be frozen. I peel them first and then freeze them because I want them frozen.
- Bee Pollen - This is my primary secret ingredient. Bee pollen is the single most nutritious and complete food source on the planet. The bee pollen I use comes from the rainforest and is extra nutritious. I use one tablespoon.
- Honey - My preferred sweetener here is honey, because the honey here is amazing and honey is a superfood.
- Guarana syrup - Ive actually never used this at home, though for no particular reason.
- Agave Nectar - Only this year did this sweetener become available where I live. Note also that you only need one of these three sweeteners.
- Coconut water - You will need to add either water or coconut water, or both. This is how youll control thickness. Coconut water has a fairly neutral flavor and is very nutritious. It can be expensive, too.
- Coconut Milk - This can make the smoothie extra creamy and will definitely add coconut flavor.
- Raw coconut oil - Also very, very nutritious and has a strong flavor. One teaspoon is enough. It tends to solidify when combined with frozen ingredients, but the strong blenders will still mix it in completely.
- Tahini - This is my other secret ingredient. Ive come to love Tahini, which is a creamy spread made entirely from lightly roasted sesame seeds. It contributes a great flavor and lots of thickness. I use 1-3 tablespoons, though I dont measure, I just pour it in.
- Nuts and seeds - Raw nuts and seeds are very healthy and contain excellent fats and proteins. My favorites to add to this smoothie are cashew, almond and sunflower seeds. They are also great for thickening.
- Cinnamon - Cinnamon adds a great flavor. I buy it whole and ground it in a coffee grinder.
- Nutmeg - Much like cinnamon. A little goes a long way.
- Ground Seaweed - Seaweed is one of the most complete nutritious superfoods. I buy it dried and either ground it first in a coffee grinder or if its fairly ground already I put it straight into the Blendtec, which is very powerful. A teaspoon of powder is very nutritious and doesnt alter the taste of the smoothie.
- Fresh Arugula - Sounds crazy, I know, but fresh arugula leaves are extremely healthy and if you dont go crazy with them, they dont affect the taste. When you get used to them as I have, youll enjoy their subtle presence.
- Whey protein powder - This is optional for those who are working out and taking whey protein as a supplement.
- Raw eggs - This is another optional ingredient for those wanting added protein. Be careful to use only organic eggs from a known source. I get them from my own chickens.
The Taste is AMAZING!, and the Rush Even Better
My açai smoothies are the best tasting smoothies in the world (biased opinion). Ive experimented with any and all combinations of the above, also altering quantities of each ingredient. Do what works best for you!
Joe Naab is the author of Brazil for Life!, a how-to living guide for those who want to start a new life or have a second home in Brazil. He is presently working on a near-coastal, countryside real estate subdivision project outside the city of Florianópolis, Santa Catarina. He can be found at http://brazilforlife.com and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Youtube channel is called BrazilforLifeTV.
Previous articles by Joe:
Add Thousands of Brazilian Portuguese Words to Your Vocabulary Right Now
How to Work and Support Yourself in Brazil