By Joanna Hansford, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Açai has become one of Brazil’s more trend-setting exports for the health conscious in recent years, even showing up at Jamba Juices in New York City. With a unique look, texture and taste, most people either love it or hate it – but for the aficionados, finding the best açai in Rio is a quest worth-while.
Açai is made from the fruit of a particular type of palm tree native to Central and South America. The fruit itself is very similar in appearance to a grape with a deep purple color, and is typically mixed as an extract with ice and served in a slurpee-like consistency.
In Brazil, açai has become a trademark of Brazilian culture. It is incredibly popular among surfers, athletes and health and fitness fanatics; in short, people who count for a large proportion of the population in Rio de Janeiro.
According to Amazônia Soul, a café in Ipanema which sells products from the Amazon, açai is famed its amazing health benefits. It’s a powerful antioxidant (thirty times more so than red wine), fights against free radicals, acts against aging, helps fight numerous diseases, and is rich in vitamins B, C and E, iron, potassium, calcium and omega 3.
Açai is served in a variety of locations across the city, and most commonly found in street corner juice bars and luncheonettes. Some of the top recommended places suggested by travel sites such as Tripadvisor are: Bibi sucos, BB Sucos, Polis Sucos, Big Polis, Amazonia Soul and Tacacá do Norte. The prices generally range from around R$6 to R$7 for a small (300 ml) portion.
However, the fun part of açai is the mix, and there are various extras that may be added to the blend. For an extra charge of R$2 to R$2.50, some of the most popular extras are: banana, strawberry (morango), granola, and honey (mel).
Sarah Nascimento, a Carioca-American who spends her time between Rio and Washington D.C. tells The Rio Times, “Açai is more than just a snack, it’s part of the Carioca lifestyle.” As far as her preference, she adds, “I like peanuts in it [and] like it after I have played a long day of altinha (the popular beach game of keeping a ball in the air) to cool off.”
Various places also offer a protein supplement (proteína) and powdered guaraná (guaraná em pó, another Brazilian fruit famous for its stimulating properties).
Michael Strittmatter from Germany loves açai blended with caramel (caramelo). Yet he still suggests, “it’s best not to add too many extras, to preserve the genuine açai taste”.
There are a huge range of possibilities out there for those willing to experiment with different mixes. Places such as Beach Sucos and Planet Sucos offer a much larger range of possibilities including cashew nuts (caju), peanuts (amendoim), ginseng, Brazil nuts (castanha do Pará), tapioca etc.
Marisa Paska, an American expatriate living in Rio and founder of Yoga Body Rio tells The Rio Times her favorite way to eat açai is, “[The] original way, from Para, no xarope (syrup)! Or, if you can’t get that, blended with maracujá, blended with castanha de pará (chestnuts), or with linseed. All three of my favorite different ways to ask. Always in a bowl as well, even if it’s a small size. It’s so much more enjoyable than eating out of a cup.”
However, for those watching their waistlines, açai is also incredibly calorific, and therefore should be enjoyed in moderation. Those looking to stay trim may want to limit themselves to one serving per day.