Take a walk past any smoothie or yogurt shop these days, and you’re likely to see a shiny advertisement for an açaí bowl.
Açaí (pronounced ah sigh EEE) is a purple berry that grows on palm trees in Central and South America. Because it is not a fruit native to the U.S., it is commonly sold in frozen, freeze-dried or powder form.
An açaí “bowl” begins as smoothie blended to the thickness of a sherbet. The frozen açaí berry is the key ingredient; it’s typically pureed with almond milk or coconut milk.
The true allure of the açaí bowl, however, is the toppings, which typically include a variety of fresh sliced fruit, shaved coconut, nut butter and granola.
While açaí bowls have been around for a few years now, they’re more popular this year than ever. This could be due to some media buzz heralding the açaí berry as a “superfood” with numerous health benefits.
And they’re not just being sold at smoothie shops anymore.
14-year-old Courtney Autera enjoyed her first açaí bowl in Ocean Beach last year and became “addicted,” she said.
Courtney and her mother visited Kitchen Kabaret on Saxon Avenue in Bay Shore on Tuesday to order their popular take on the tasty treat.
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“The mixture tastes really good,” Courtney said. “My favorite toppings are strawberries, bananas and coconut.”
“And I like it because it’s healthy,” said the elder Autera.
While most medical professionals won’t stamp their names on any document that claims açaí is some sort of “miracle” drug, many will agree the açaí berry is a powerful antioxidant and a good source of fiber and healthy omegas.
Caitlyn O’ Connell, a partner and barista at the Bay Shore Bean on Main Street, estimates that she sells around 30 to 40 açaí bowls a day, noting that the explosion in popularity prompted her to do her own research on the health benefits of the açaí berry.
“It’s not a high-calorie snack,” O’Connell said, adding that the brand of açaí puree the Bean uses has only 9 grams of sugar in total.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not bad considering all of the health benefits the fruit has itself. It’s light and filling, it’s high in antioxidants, it helps with weight loss and speeds up your metabolism.”
Where the calories get out of whack is in the customer’s choice of toppings, she said.
“Putting peanut butter and Nutella on it is obviously not so healthy, but it makes it taste so much better,” she laughed.
At the Bean, an açaí bowl with all the fixins’ comes topped with sliced strawberries and bananas, shaved coconut, granola and peanut butter or Nutella.
A medium bowl costs $6.99 to start.
It’s easy enough to make your açaí bowl at home, as long as you have a little patience and the proper ingredients. Of course, O’Connell encourages all to get them freshly made at the Bean.
“You gotta make them with love,” she said. “We make them with love.”
Top: Kristie at Kitchen Kabaret hard at work making açaí bowls. (Credit: Mary Donnelly)