Ever since Hooch showed me how to make smoothies to address my munchies back in the day, I’ve been fond of throwing fruit and other stuff into a mechanical mixing device and eating or drinking what came out. As Kathy and I traveled to Southern California – La Jolla specifically – we were introduced to a new version of the venerable smoothie that makes for a delightful breakfast treat: the acai bowl. Brazilians developed it, Hawaiian surfers embraced it, it hit California and the rest is history (1). Every breakfast joint and coffee shop out there offer them, and they’re beginning to pop up in Ann Arbor.
You can’t talk about acai bowls without talking about the acai – or if you’re into diacritical marks, açaí – berry (2). The acai palm (Arecaceae) grows in the swamps of the Amazon region and produces a deep purple grapelike fruit that is mostly seed.
(from reference 1)
The tart, earthy flesh is loaded with antioxidants and other things good for you (3). Something folks used to say about Ann Arbor’s first vegetarian restaurant Seva – “their food’s so good for you you should pay with your Blue Cross card” – certainly should apply to acai bowls. Kathy and I are both feeling younger since we started making them regularly! But obviously, you’re not going to find acai berries at a Michigan farmers’ market. I found packets of pulp in the frozen fruit section of my local Kroger’s. Amazon has these as well as a concentrated powder and even boring pills. And I’m writing this post as a foodie, not a doctor, so you’ll want to eat acai bowls because they taste good, not because they’re super good for you. But they are.
If you’ve got a food processor and enough patience to freeze up your ingredients the night before, it’s easy peasy to make these.
Here’s my recipe, serves two
The “partial thaw” of the acai packet is just enough to let you squeeze it out of the packet. The more frozen the stuff you put in, the nicer consistency it will have when it comes out. That’s why I go through the fuss of freezing the banana, slicing it up and laying the pieces on a piece of waxed paper, then sliding the whole thing into a 1.3-pint sandwich Ziploc. This even works with bananas past their prime. The back corner of our old refrigerator freezes things a little, so even the yogurt I scoop out is partially frozen.
Here’s everything set up and waiting for the blade, showing the acai packet before and after:
And here’s what it looks like when the blade gets done. It can take 5 to 10 minutes to grind up all that frozen fruit:
Now it’s time to dip the stuff out into bowls, and top ‘em. The consistency is like soft-serve ice cream, only grainier from the many little fruit bits.
It’s muy tasty, but beware! Ice cream headache is always around the corner, so pace yourself.
Only the topping fruits need be fresh, and even that’s optional. Another excuse, if you need any more, for freezing away some of Michigan’s bounty while you have the chance.
1. Greene A. The Surprising History of the Açaí Bowl. AFAR 6/19/15. https://www.afar.com/magazine/the-surprising-history-of-the-acai-bowl
2. Firman T. 10 Things You Should Know About Açaí Berries, Nature’s “Purple Gold”. Good Housekeeping 7/23/18. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a47009/what-is-acai/
3. Chang SK, Alasalvar C, Shahidi F. Superfruits: Phytochemicals, antioxidant efficacies, and health effects – A comprehensive review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(10):1580-1604. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1422111. Epub 2018 Jan 23. PMID: 29360387. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2017.1422111?journalCode=bfsn20
Appendix: Nutritional composition of acai bowl (2 servings per batch)