Discover the benefits of acai – including what it is and how to use it – with our easy-to-follow guide on this small berry.
What is it?
A dark purple berry, similar in size to a blueberry. You won’t find fresh acai. The fruit grows in Central and South America and has to be freeze-dried within 24 hours because its nutritional value deteriorates quickly. It’s usually then blitzed to a powder, or you can buy it in frozen form.
How is it used?
In powdered form, it’s easy to add to a variety of dishes for a nutritional kick. Sprinkle on porridge and cereal or mix into homemade bars and bakes. The vivid colour makes it a popular addition to juices and smoothies. Acai ‘capsules’ have been marketed as a weight-loss aid – but there’s no scientific evidence to support this claim.
While some research suggests that the pulp from acai berries has a very high antioxidant capacity (more powerful than cranberries, strawberries or even blueberries), the studies are ongoing and there’s much still to be learned. In test tubes, antioxidants seem to protect cells from the kind of damage that may lead on to diseases, including some cancers. However, claims that acai berries and their juice can hold back ageing or prevent cancer have not been verified by the European Food Safety Authority.
Although the fruit is safe to eat, some people may experience allergic reactions. If you want to take it in supplement form, check with your GP first, especially if taking medications for high cholesterol or diabetes, or if you have kidney disease. It’s also important to let your doctor know if you are due to have an MRI scan, as large doses may affect the results.
Acai berries are typically marketed as a superfood – and can come with a super-price! If you want to get many of the benefits but want a more affordable alternative, use a frozen berry mix – blueberries have many of the same nutrients as acai.