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What are Açaí Berries Anyway?

March 31, 2020

Where I’m from, you don’t really grow up thinking about where your food comes from.  You don’t know how it’s grown or how to harvest it, and you literally have to take courses to know what’s a vegetable and a fruit. And still, you don't have any real hands-on experience. You don't feel the earth between your fingers, see what the seed looks like, or feel the excitement when it first peaks above the ground... so it was a real treat for me to witness the entire process of growing, harvesting and juicing açaí berries here at Selva Armonia.

Acai Berries Juice Making Process
The Acai Juice Making Process.  From left to right: the berry picked straight from the tree; the berry after the skin is peeled; and finally the juice.

When you move to a country where understanding where your food comes from is as easy as stepping outside and picking it off a tree, you learn a lot every day.  But learning about açaí has been the most mind-blowing venture yet.  

For a year and a half, I watched the oropendolas birds build nests in the palm tree by the Selva Armonia pool.  Quite a scene that can keep you entertained for hours. One after another after another, and as they build they make the most distinct and hilarious gargling sounds.  They are persistent and when done, we are left with wilting palm leaves heavy with nests. When the weight finally breaks the branch, the beautiful creations are kept as decor.        

While all this was happening, I didn’t really notice anything else about the tree.  Didn’t even think to ask... Until I witnessed the process of making açaí juice. It wasn’t until the very end, when I asked where the juicy berries came from, that I realized it was from this same palm tree.  Amazing!  

Known as a huge health benefit superfruit, these are just a few facts about açaí berries:

  • They keep you regular
  • They are high in calcium
  • They have a ton of omega 3 fatty acids
  • They improve cholesterol levels
  • They're loaded with antioxidants
  • They boost brain function!

In Canada, you are either paying a pretty penny for açaí berries that say ‘fresh’ on the label, or you’re buying them dried or in powder form.  And really -- what’s fresh? I don’t think there’s anything more fresh than picking them right off the tree, and since they aren't grown anywhere close to my old home, I have to question the definition of "fresh"!  

10 pounds of freshly picked açaí berries later, I roamed into our Casa Grande kitchen and found the berries were ready to juice.  “Purple Gold” as they call it. Such a rich colour, and they all looked ready to burst with flavour. 

Harvesting Acai Berries

Once the berries were washed with water to remove any debris and tiny hungry jungle critters, we put them in a large pot to soak with boiled water. Next came the tedious task of removing the skin from each and every single berry.  When you have 10 pounds of it, it calls for some music and fun conversation!  

Getting ready to peel acai berries

When it came down to it, a masher just wouldn’t do, and good old fashion “get your hands dirty” was the only way to get the job done. With some determination, love, and patience, 4 hours later the skin had been removed from each tiny berry. 

A long, peeling process...

The final step was to throw everything in a blender and smooth out the bits of peel -- the parts bursting with nutrients and antioxidants that you for sure don’t want to miss out on.

This sweet goodness is now stored in the fridge, cooling down and ready to be used in tons of creative recipes, from smoothies to açaí bowls to straight-up shots of berry juice... Mmmmm!

The finished product!

Credits: 
Cook: Maria Fernandez
Photographer: Natasha Pirani
Written By: Natasha Pirani

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