Should you travel to the Amazon one day and enter one the ubiquitous stores selling "AÇAI" (pronounced "ah-sigh-EE", with the accent on the last syllable), you may be in for a surprise: No açai fruits anywhere, only plastic bags containing a dark purple liquid! Why? Because nobody eats the açai fruits themselves as they consist of a large, inedible seed covered by a very thin, edible skin. Imagine a blueberry with a hard seed in place of its fleshy pulp and just the purple skin around it: you could scrape the skin off the seed in your mouth but how much fun would that be?
Therefore, since ancient times, Amazon natives separate the thin, edible part of the fruit from its seed in a manual or machine-based grinding process and mix it with water. The result is a thick, dark purple liquid commonly referred to as “açai” (in fact, if it isn’t clear from the context that one is referring to the fruit, “acai” will always be interpreted as referring to the liquid and not the fruit). Traditionally - and still today in areas with no electricity - açai is made manually by smashing acai fruits with a pestle over a terracotta plate (thereby separating the skin from the seed) and using water to wash the seeds off over a strainer (the seeds remaining on the strainer and the water + ground skin flowing into a receptacle below). While nowadays açai is mostly made with AC-powered, stainless steel machines, the process still consists of the separation of the thin skin from the large seed and its mixture with potable water. So now you know: Açai is not a juice (most of the water is added), nor a berry one eats, but a water-based solution of ground açai skin (technically, an emulsion). Interesting, isn’t it?
In the Amazon açai is much more than a fruit-based beverage: It is a food. In açai’s heartland, the Amazon River estuary, natives consume several bowls of açai per day, either unsweetened, as a savory sauce accompanying fish, meat or shrimp, or sweetened, as a stand-alone meal. In rural areas açai is even given to small babies as a substitute for their mother's milk. Rightly so! Açai is one of the healthiest foods known to man as it provides energy in the form of heart-healthy omegas 6 and 9 and supports the body’s vital functions through an unrivaled concentration of antioxidants. It also contains a high amount of fiber, some protein but practically no sugars! And what better way to get all this nutrition than through a creamy, delicious liquid with a dark-chocolaty, mild flavor.