Cultural Spotlight – Acai

Acai is my favorite thing about Brazil. It is difficult to choose a favorite thing here, but it is the first item on the list that comes to mind. Something so tasty and so nutritious is definitely worthy of my #1 spot. Difficult to find outside of the country and definitely not of the same flavor, taste or variety, Acai is a unique treat that Brazil is rightly known for. Whether it’s made into ice cream, a shake, a juice, or even yogurt, Acai is healthy for you and full of antioxidants. In addition, it really is a kind of superfood that boost your energy levels once you taste it and finish your fill.

If you are having an off day which happens sometimes, you may want to drop the coffee and put down the red bull and make a nice acai juice instead. You are likely to be glad you did. That extra energy boost can give you hours of extra productivity and even added focus allowing you to do your work better and faster. Be careful not to each too much acai as it is full of calories but if you want to substitute a meal like breakfast or lunch, having acai instead may not be the worst option to consider.

The acai berries come from the acai palm tree. The berries are small, round, and have a black-purple color. The acai palm tree is mainly found in the Amazonian region of both Brazil and Peru and has been a staple food in those areas since the 18th century. I would say that the fruit has gained popularity not only in urban cities within Brazil recently but even internationally as demand for the delicious superfood has skyrocketed due to the variety of health benefits.

The acai palm is usually harvested twice a year between January and June and then August and December making it more readily available than other Amazonian fruits. Acai has been part of the Amazon River for centuries and wasn’t only just used for food. Its other uses include a type of cooking oil or for salad dressing as well as being used for certain cosmetics or for grain alcohol or dietary supplements. The palm tree that acai comes from has been also used for hats, baskets, brooms, roof thatch for homes from the leaves of the tree and the wood trunk.

While its health benefits are not clearly known, it has a higher level of antioxidants than other fruits such as oranges, apples or cranberries. One bowl of acai with granola or a fruit like a banana is more than just a snack but rather a full meal that can pack up to 550 calories. What is definitely known about acai is that it has a high amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium content. Part of the reason why Acai can give you a boost of energy is that it is full of nutrients that we need to have each and every day.

Acai may not have the best taste even if it does contain sugar, but it tastes like something that really is of the Earth and can be drank or consumed naturally without any harmful additives. You can tell from the first time you taste it how unique a flavor it has and to feel the energy it gives you just a few minutes after you have the first bite or the first sip. I would not have acai every day but compared to coffee, tea, or other energy boosting products, this one may be the healthiest for you.

Acai does not have a lot of sugar when it is eaten naturally and is high in fats which is good for the body especially after you’ve been hitting the gym or playing a sport for an hour or two. If you need to replenish your calorie intake and to do so in a healthy way, acai may be one of the best options out there. If you can mash up acai fruit into a pulp, you may be able to get the most antioxidants out of consumption compared to a watered-down juice. The antioxidant content of acai can help someone by neutralizing the negative effects of ‘free radicals’, which to those who don’t know are uneven or unstable atoms that damage cells and cause illnesses and/or premature aging.

Having acai and other superfoods in terms of daily or weekly intake may help in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other serious ailments. Acai can also lower a person’s blood cholesterol level although more research is needed from what I have been reading. The plant compounds that are active in Acai can also assist in improving memory and boosting brain function partially because the antioxidant content can counter inflammation of these parts of the body and provide further clean-up of toxic cells that no longer function well.

While not a perfect snack, the high level of fats, proteins, and vitamins as well as active antioxidants can make acai a good choice especially when you are in Brazil for a visit or a longer stay. I would just be aware of the sugar content and to be aware if there are any other ingredients which could diminish the nutritious content. Acai berries do not last very long so many people have to eat acai after it’s been watered-down or sugared-up as opposed to its natural form. If you can have an acai puree or pulp instead of a smoothie or an ice cream bowl, that may be the best option if you can’t get it directly from the Amazon.

Acai is a flexible kind of food so you can always add more nuts and berries to it or even other ice cream, but you have to watch carefully to make sure you are making the food more nutritious and not full of sugar. Due to its healthy content of fats, fiber, protein, and vitamins, you would not go wrong if you find yourself in Brazil and want to try one of its greatest natural resources, the acai berry. You will be glad you gave it a try and may want your friends to try it too.

Colombian Fruits and Juices

paloquemao-bogota-colombia-fruit
“So many choices to choose from, so little time.”

One of the joys of living here in Colombia is the diverse and plentiful selection of fruits to choose from. The choices are quite abundant and it is an integral part of the culture to imbibe in a cold and tasty fruit juice at the end of a long day.

As I mentioned before in my blog post titled, ‘The Heat Is On’, one of the best ways to deal with the heat and humidity is to cool down with a delicious fruit juice. It is also much healthier and refreshing than having soda or coffee instead. Over the past two months, I have done a great job of sampling the different choices of fruit juices and which ones I have a preference for. I’ve listed below the common fruit juices available here on the Atlantic coast and have also highlighted my personal favorites. The one juice that I have not tried thus far is the ‘Zanahoria’ or Carrot juice but I’m willing to give it a shot during the rest of my time here.

I hope that for those of you who plan on traveling to Colombia in the future will consider this ‘fruit juice’ list as a helpful guide to you. It can be a very hard choice to make when you’re at the ‘Fruteria’ and there are ten choices available but you’re not sure which one will be most refreshing.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices detailed below. Colombian fruit juices are freshly blended together rather than squeezed as is the case in the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition, the fruits are mixed with water or milk (smoothies) and topped off with a little bit of sugar. What results is a very fresh and tasty drink to keep you cool during those hot days and humid nights. The Colombian people take their fruit juices seriously and so do I.

  • Lulo: Orange on the outside with green and yellow pulp on the inside, Lulo has a citrus flavor that is very sour to eat. However, jugo de lulo, mixed with some sugar, is perhaps the most popular juice here on the Atlantic coast. Also known as Naranjilla in other parts of Latin America, the fruit is related to the tomatillo and some people would describe its flavor as somewhere between green apple, and lime. It’s up there with being one of my favorite juices here.
  • Guanabana: Another one of Colombia’s most popular fruit juices. Its’ thorny green skin is filled with white filling and black seeds, similar in appearance to the fruit known as the cherimoya. Its juice has a creamy flavor with hints of strawberry and pineapple, and goes well with water, milk, and sugar.
  • Tomate de Arbol: The ‘tomato of the tree’ in English is an egg-shaped fruit with a yellow filling that is distinct from the typical red tomato that you would find in the supermarket. It has one of the most unique flavors I’ve ever tasted, and is similar to a mix of passion fruit and tomato, and supposedly has many health benefits. I enjoy its unique flavor and its refreshing qualities.
  • Granadilla: This fruit is a close relative of the well-known passion fruit. On the outside, it looks like a small orange or mandarina, but when it is cracked open, it contains a gelatinous pulp filled with black seeds. The flavor is similar to that of the passion fruit, but sweeter, and the seeds are easily disposable by spitting them out amidst the delicious juices. When turned into a fruit juice, it’s pulpy yet satisfying on a hot and humid day.
  • Mamoncillo: On the outside, this fruit looks like a lime, but when cracked open, it reveals a pinky-orange flesh similar to that of a lychee. The flavor is a mix of the tartness of a lime with the mild sweetness of the lychee. When blended into a juice, it looks like an iced tea and has a light orange/beige color.
  • Maracuya: Another part of the passion fruit family along with the Granadilla. It has an oval-shape, can look a bit wrinkly, and makes for a delicious juice or ice cream flavor as well. Maracuya is a great source of Vitamin C and is also known to be a natural sedative too. It also is known to aid digestion of food in the stomach. Extremely similar to the look of orange juice, Maracuya has a yellow-orange color when turned into a juice.
  • Gulupa: A cousin of the aforementioned Maracuya and another passion fruit. It has a dark purple skin that becomes wrinkled when it is ripe for eating or drinking. Along with Maracuya, it has plenty of Vitamin C and can help ease stress and tension in the body. When blended into a juice, it has a yellow color and looks very similar to orange juice.
  • Zapote: One of Colombia’s toughest and most durable fruits. It can grow very fast and is resistant to heavy wind and drought conditions. Zapote is full of minerals and antioxidants and can help with ailments ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to gastritis. It is very high in fiber so be careful not to eat too many as it does act as a natural laxative. Like other fruits here, it goes well with sugar and has a pink-orange color in juice/smoothie form.
  • Borojo: Known to be a ‘Love Juice’, and possessing some aphrodisiac qualities, this juice has been well-known for centuries and can act like a natural Viagra if you’re in the mood. Nutritionists have claimed that ‘Borojo’ is one of the most nutrient-rich fruits in the world can help combat malnutrition. When mixed and blended into a fruit juice, it gives off a dark to light brown color.
  • Mora: Known as ‘Blackberry’ in English, this is my favorite juice to have here in Colombia. Rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, and nutrients, it is the most refreshing drink I’ve encountered thus far. I also enjoy the dark red color of the juice and enjoy it after a long day outside. While not an exotic fruit or drink, it gets the job done and I enjoy the simplicity yet refreshing qualities of the juice itself.

While I only listed ten fruits / fruit juices to indulge in, there are over dozens of unique fruits here in Colombia to try out. Some of the most exotic and sought-after fruits reside here in Colombia and you usually can’t find them anywhere else. A lot of the fruits I mentioned in this post have great health benefits and are packed with nutrients. Different than the apple, banana, and grape, these ‘superfruits’ can cure ailments, keep you well, and give you more energy. If you decide to ever visit Colombia, eat the fruits and try the fruit juices. I promise you won’t regret it.

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