The South American Açaí palm is known as the “tree of life” in Brazil, and with good reason. The leaves can be made into hats, baskets, and thatch roofs; the trunks are pest-resistant and can be made into homes; the palm heart is a delicacy; and the seeds, which are full of healthy polyunsaturated fats, can be ground for livestock food or used in soil. But the fruit of the palm, called the açaí berry, is the most valuable part of all. It has been eaten by the natives for millennia, and is renowned for its antioxidant properties — so much so that there’s a thriving industry around it in the U.S., where it’s been deemed a “superfood.”
The açaí berry itself is actually a drupe (like a peach or plum), with a seed on the inside that takes up about 80 percent of the volume. They’re generally about an inch or less across, and closely resemble grapes. The berry contains five different antioxidants, three different polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, and lots of vitamin E, calcium, iron, and potassium. They’re renowned for cardiovascular health and weight loss (a natural appetite suppressant), and provides immune system support.
While this may all sound well and good, açaí is not a silver bullet. The vast majority of açaí on the market currently is in the form of juice, which is often so processed that lots of the nutritional value has been squeezed out, and it’s usually mixed with lots of other, less-healthy juices. To reap the full benefits of açaí, your best bet is to try to track down organic berries or purees, which still retain a lot of the natural nutrients.