I remember my first spoonful of a deliciously zingy Açaí bowl profoundly. Although the taste is likely to mentally transport you onto a dreamy tropical beach, the image it conjures up for me is sweaty, kimono-clad grapplers in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament. For those of you who aren’t into fighting sports; Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a popular form of wrestling, a martial art where instead of striking your opponent you artfully choke him into submission in a tangle of limbs. It turns out BJJ is as intertwined with the history of Açaí bowls as its fighters are with each other.
An ‘Açaí bowl’ (pronounced ‘Ass-sigh-eee bowl’) is in its essence a thick smoothie of pulped Açaí berries with other colourful fruit (often bananas, blueberries, mangos or papaya), guaraná syrup, oats, bee pollen, nuts or chia. It packs a powerful punch of antioxidants and energy. Açaí berries resemble overgrown purple blueberries, and grow on the Açaí palm, a lithe palm tree native to the Amazon. Although Açaí berries have constituted a major part of the diet of indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon for decades, it was in the 80’s that legendary founder of BJJ, Carlos Gracie, brought the modern-day Açaí bowl to fame. He introduced the rich purple puree within his city, Rio de Janeiro, as fighting fuel for his students. Surfing is another sport that is huge in Rio, and many of Gracie’s students could be found in the water when not on the mat. Surf culture is close-knit, so it wasn’t long before the superfood started popping up as an energy-boosting snack all along Brazil’s beaches. The trend became unstoppable. In the early 2000’s, Açaí began to travel where the surfers did; first to California and Hawaii – and soon all over the world.
Before long, Açaí bowls started appearing on the menus of hip health stalls as well as sports nutrition sites and gyms; marketed to the health conscious as well as a supplement for fitness fanatics. Because once the pulp is mixed with other ingredients, and the ‘Açaí bowl’ is born, it’s one hell of an energy bomb. However, there is one hefty downside to this divine concoction. The very reason behind its addictive sweet taste: Sugar. Although the sugar is mostly from the fruit itself and therefore ‘natural’ (this of course depends on the goodies you throw into the bowl), the quantity found in a single bowl is staggering – upwards of 50g. Add the guaraná syrup, and you’re really in trouble. Now, although not necessarily unhealthy, even natural sugar should be consumed in moderation. A misconception about nutrition is that so called ‘healthy food’ can be consumed in excess without weight gain. Nothing could be further from the truth! Of course, the right amount of good, wholesome food is the basis of a healthy body (and by that I do not mean skinny!) but it is movement that gets us truly in shape.
Açaí bowls are great for fighters, surfers and other sports that burn vast amounts of calories but not so much for us mere mortals that aren’t training intensely. In conclusion: Açaí bowls are a fantastic stamina booster but it is unwise to consume them daily, no matter how colourful and health conscious it looks on Instagram! However, when enjoyed as a treat rather than a staple, Açaí bowls can be enjoyed by everyone.