Growing in the jungle of Amazon are acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee), the tallest palm trees growing up to 80 feet tall and with pinnate leaves that are about three meters long. Named after the Brazilian Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word “iwaca’i” which means “fruit that cries and expels water,” these palm trees are often cultivated for their fruits and hearts.
Endemic to Brazil, Trinidad and northern South America, the palm trees thrives where the sunlight and shadows meet, usually on the margins of the forest, along the rivers and streams and through the canopy of trees.
The palm trees are very useful. Their leaves can be used to create hats, mats, baskets, and brooms as well as roof thatch for houses. Because they are pest resistant, woods from the trunk are best for building construction. The hearts, meanwhile, are a delicacy. Good source of polyunsaturated and saturated fatty acids, the seeds can be gound to make livestock food.
But it is the grape-like fruits that most are interested with. The fruits are a major diet component of the Brazilian people living in the Amazon, more than 40 percent of their total food intake. A staple food, fresh acai is often describe as somehow tarty and quite earthy. The fruits are shelled, separating the inedible seed from the pulp and purple skin. People would often bring acai with them while fishing in the river, sprinkling it with toasted cassava.
Through the years, there has been a growing global demand for the acai berries. In a blink of an eye, the unassuming berry become a global superfood. In recent years, it has taken the world by storm and becomes the much-hyped food. It has now reached the Philippine shore through Organique Acai Premium Blend.
A registered nurse, Cathy Salimbangon worked in Geriatrics in the US and Canada for several years. She saw how healthy lifestyle can make a good impact on one’s body. In 2009, she and her husband Elton, who worked in a nutraceuticals industry, launched Organique Acai Premium Blend.
Among those available in the market, their product has the highest concentration of acai. It also has the USDA Organic Seal, which means that the product is about 95 percent organic, implying that it is free from synthetic additives such as pesticides and fertilizers and not processed using industrial solvents, irradiation or genetic engineering.
“We believe it is the king of superfoods. Acai berry is rich in antioxidants which combats cell damage. It is basically a cellular approach. Our cells are being attacked by free radicals from the pollutants around us, antioxidants help repair them,” relates Cathy.
It was a claim backed by the National Institutes of Health report: “Acai contains chemicals that are antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to protect body cells from the damaging effects of chemical reactions with oxygen (oxidation). According to some research, acai has more antioxidant content than cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, or blueberry.”
In another study, laboratory test showed that a powdered preparation of acai may contains 533.9 calories, 52.2g carbohydrates, 8.1g protein and 32.5g total fat. The fat content consists of oleic acid, palmitic acid and linoleic acid. The carbohydrates include 44.2g dietary fiber.
“The pulp and skin of acai fruit are rich in anthocyanins (ACNs), proanthocyanidins (PACs) and fatty acids. It is marketed as a dietary supplement for lowering cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and for cancer treatment.
In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that acai has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pro-apoptotic, antitumorigenic, and athero-protective effects. An acai extract inhibited beta-amyloid inhibition, which suggests it may also have neuroprotective activity.
Further, nasal acai polysaccharides were found to potentiate innate immunity against pulmonary infections in mice; and oral administration of acai extracts prevented the development of exercise intolerance, cardiac hypertrophy and dysfunction in rats with myocardial infarction.
Some laboratory studies suggest acai may reduce cholesterol, prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and cause programmed cell death in leukemia cells. Due to its antioxidant effects, acai may interfere with the actions of certain chemotherapy drugs. Consumption of contaminated acai fruit with insects carrying Trypanosoma cruzii, a protozoan that causes Chagas disease, resulted in 178 cases of acute disease. However, studies in humans are needed to confirm these effects. While proponents claim many health benefits of acai, research on acai berries is limited, and health claims haven’t been proved.” (Source: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)
Just to be sure, check with your doctor before consuming, especially for people taking medications for high cholesterol or diabetes and those with kidney disease, as large amounts of acai might affect the management of these conditions. Also, it is best to let your doctor know that you are taking acai if you’re scheduled to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. Very large doses of acai might affect the results of MRI scans.
But don’t worry. Acai is practically safe to consume, as long as you are not allergic to it. It can be eaten raw, in tablet form, in beverages (juices, smoothies, energy drink) or in other food products (jelly, ice cream).
With Organique Acai Premium Blend, you can drink it as it is. (Cathy recommends 30 to 60ml per day, depending on the health conditions of the person). Or you can try and combine it with other food.
Here are some recipes you can try:
GRILLED CHICKEN WRAP with mayo garlic and Acai Berry sauce
(Recipe by Chef Tenten Casasola)
6 large pieces chicken breast
1 bunch lettuce
1 piece cucumber
4 pieces tomato
2 pieces onion
6 pieces tortilla wrap
4 pieces garlic
For the sauce:
1 cup mayo (you can also use sour cream)
¼ cup Acai Berry Juice
2 pieces garlic
lemon juice, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Wash and prepare the vegetables. Cut the cucumbers (with skin) to julienne. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Then slice the quartered tomatoes into strips. Slice the onions thinly.
In a bowl, add chicken breast, oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside for at least 5 mins. Grill the chicken breast until tender. Slice the grilled chicken into one-inch thick strips.
In a separate (smaller) bowl, add the ingredients for the sauce. Season to taste and set aside.
To assemble the wrap: Spread the sauce evenly over the tortilla wrap. Layer the vegetables and chicken. Roll the tortilla wrap tightly. Cut in half. Makes 6 servings.
AMERICAN SALAD with Acai Berry Vinaigrette
(Recipe by Elaine Grace Gatdula, RND)
For Olive Oil Preparation:
½ cup olive oil (pomace)
1 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tsp rosemary
2/3 cup Acai Berry Juice
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp corn syrup
450grams romaine lettuce
2 pieces medium-sized apple, sliced
2 pieces carrots, julienned
½ cup croutons
¼ cup pili nuts, crushed (you can use other kinds of nuts)
Heat olive oil in a pan. Saute garlic and rosemary until brown. Remove the garlic and rosemary out using a strainer. Let the olive oil cool.
In a bowl, combine Acai Berry Juice, apple cider vinegar, corn syrup and olive oil. Mix them well until smooth. Transfer the mixture in a container and keep inside the chiller.
In a salad bowl, mix lettuce, apples and carrots. Top the salad with croutons and pili nuts. Serve with acai berry vinaigrette on the side. Or you can drizzle the vinaigrette on the salad before serving. Makes 5 servings.
GRILLED TILAPIA with mango and Acai Berry salsa
2 pieces tilapia fillet
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp Acai Berry Juice
1 tbsp parsley, minced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tsp basil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 piece large ripe mango, diced
1 piece red bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp onion, minced
1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Acai Berry Juice
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade. Pour the marinade to the tilapia fillet. Marinate in the refrigerator for an hour.
Prepare the salsa. Combine all the ingredients for the salsa (mango, red bell pepper, onion, cilantro, lime juice, Acai Berry Juice, salt and pepper) in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Grill the tilapia over medium-high heat in an outdoor griller. Lightly oil the grate to keep the tilapia from sticking. Cook well.
Serve the fillet with the salsa on top. Makes 2 servings.
ACAI BERRY SMOOTHIE
200 grams strawberry
200 grams grapes
1 cup Acai Berry Juice
1 cup yogurt
3 cups ice
½ cup corn syrup (you can also use honey or sugar)
Mix all the ingredients in a blender. Set aside some strawberries and grapes for garnishing. Blend until smooth. Add water if necessary. You can make this by batches. Pour the mixture in glasses. Garnish with slice grapes and strawberries.