All About Açaí

February 5th, 2018

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What is Acai and how in the world do you even pronounce it? In our Stonehenge Resident Blog Post Series, we ask our residents to write about a topic that they're passionate about. Madeleine Fein from Stonehenge Village loves Acai bowls. Not only does she enjoy them from all over the world but she also is an expert at making them! ----- Açai (ah-sigh-ee) noun; a berry native to Brazil. For those of you that have somehow made it to 2018 without trying açai, I’m sorry. You have been missing out on the best food ever for too long! Açai bowls are sweeping the nation. In my hometown, a New Jersey suburb of Manhattan, five açai bowl shops have opened nearby within the last year and half. Surprisingly, Bergen County has been late to the trend. I completed my undergraduate studies in Washington D.C. and had been eating açai bowls well before anything came to my hometown. Before Washington D.C. caught on to the trend, I tried my first açai bowl on a family trip to Hawaii. The hotel café served them. I had never heard of the fruit before, let alone had no idea how to pronounce it. My sister convinced me to try one and we were instantly hooked. Nutrition, health, and wellness have always been passions of mine. I practice yoga, can frequently be found at the gym, cook healthy food for myself, always down to try to new “scary” vegan place down the street (disclaimer: I’m not a vegan so if you’re not a vegan you can still relate to this article!), and am known to eat an açai bowl almost every day. I enjoy eating acai bowls not only for their great taste but for their health benefits and breadth of variety. The different acai bowl combinations are essentially endless; it is hard to eat an acai bowl every day and ever get bored! What is crazy is that my trip to Hawaii was three and a half years ago. In the past three and a half years, açai has gone from a foreign food to being found everywhere! If you check out my Instagram page @acaiandme you can easily see that I am an experienced acai bowl-er.

What exactly is an acai berry?

The açai berry is often considered a “superfood” as it provides many health and wellness benefits. Açai berries are filled with antioxidants and fiber, boosts the immune system, promotes weight loss, and the list continues. Açai berries are different from most fruit. Surprisingly, at least in the United States, it is impossible to find fresh açai berries. Unfortunately, I have not traveled to Brazil yet to see this straight from the source, but in my experience açai is almost always frozen. What is very interesting is that the whole berry itself is not frozen, rather the fruit is pureed and frozen. The frozen açai berries are then used to make smoothies and the trendy açai bowls. Açai berry powder, while not as popular as its frozen form, is also sold. This purple powder, the same hue as the frozen puree, is not as common as the frozen puree and is typically only found in smaller health food stores. It can be used for baking, or even sprinkled in oatmeal. I personally believe the frozen purees offer a bolder acai flavor.

What is an açai bowl?

The frozen açai puree is blended with other frozen fruits and non-dairy milk. It is poured into a bowl and topped with granola, fruit, and other toppings such as coconut flakes, peanut butter, nutella, almonds, goji berries, etcetera. While acai bowls have become the “Band-aid” of smoothie bowls, the term acai bowl is often used to refer to any type of smoothie bowl. While I personally believe an acai smoothie base tastes best, depending on the shop, one can often find other smoothie bases for the bowl even if it does not contain the acai berry. Acai bowls are also great for people with allergies. For example, I am gluten free so it is super easy to substitute gluten-free granola for regular granola. In my experiences however, most acai bowl shops already use gluten free granola anyway. It is also easy to avoid nut allergies by eliminating peanut or almond butter and granola when necessary. Additionally, acai bowls are vegan.

Where can I get an açai bowl in NYC?

Clearly, I have tried several açai places in New York City. My favorites?
  1. Loco Coco: This Upper East Side spot is a winner! Great sized acai bowls that all taste great! My favorite is the Purple Rain with peanut butter on top. They’re all picture perfect; almost too pretty to eat….almost.
  2. Juice Generation: Probably the most famous and largest NYC juice and acai bowl chain. It is hard to be in NYC and not find a Juice Generation walking distance to you (Okay I take that back – the only place that I seem to be at a Juice Gen withdrawal is while on campus at Columbia University so Juice Gen if you’re reading this please bring a Juice Generation close to campus!!). In any event, when I’m desperate for acai and have some postmates promotions I often postmate Juice Generation to campus. Anyway, I digress. Juice Generation is a great place for beginners to try acai. All of their options are extremely tasty. Additionally, their acai bowl menu is not too overwhelming so beginners won’t get too overwhelmed ordering one for the first time. My personal faves are the Hella Good Greens (add almond butter on top!) and the Almond Butter Bliss bowls. But really, you can’t go wrong with whatever you choose from here.
  3. Playa Bowls: A New Jersey favorite! What started down the shore has now begun taking over the tri-state area. With 28 stores currently, and more opening soon, Playa Bowls in Manhattan can be found at 108 MacDougal Street and at 550 West 54th Street. What is great about Playa Bowls is not only how delicious their acai bowls are, but the breadth of options. Consumers can choose between an acai bowl base, pitaya base, coconut base, or green base. (Again I still think the acai ones are the best!!)
  4. Liquiteria: Another NYC chain! I live on the Upper West Side but most Liquiteria’s are downtown. Whenever I have the time to go downtown I stop here. My fav is the Cha Cha Chia Bowl.
  5. Pure Green: One last NYC chain! While I wish they had more locations, Pure Green is more limited geographically. I have had the pleasure to try it multiple times as it was nearby my old office. The best bowl: Coconut Chia Açai.
  6. Others: Additionally, while these are acai bowl and juicing focused shops in NYC, many restaurants also serve acai bowls. Check out Two Hands or Chalk Point Kitchen. Please note, there are many other restaurants that serve acai bowls, here are just a few of the ones I’ve really enjoyed.

How can I make my own açai bowl?

Buy frozen açai packets in the frozen fruit section of your grocery store. The best part of making your own açai bowl is that you can customize it to whatever you like! Like green bowls? Add spinach and kale to the blended base. Want more protein? Add protein powder to the base! Hate granola? Only top with fruit! Huge peanut butter fan? Blend peanut butter into the base or add a scoop of peanut butter on top (or both!) Here a couple recipes of bowls I make at home. The first is a more classic approach. The second, I add a little twist that usually isn’t found in restaurants.
Recipe 1: Madeleine’s Basic Acai Bowl
Base:
  • 1 frozen acai packet
  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • ¼ cup frozen blueberries
  • ¼ cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 handful of spinach (more or less or none depending on if you enjoy spinach or want to include more nutrients)
Toppings:
  • Granola
  • Peanut Butter
  • ½ banana, sliced
  • Blueberries
  • Mango
Directions: In blender or food processor or my personal favorite, the nutria-bullet, blend all base ingredients together. Feel free to add more or less milk depending on the thickness of your preferred consistency. Pour into a bowl. Top with toppings. Enjoy!
Recipe 2: Tropical Twist Acai Bowl
Base:
  • 1 frozen acai packet
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup froze pineapple
  • 1 handful of mint (more or less depending on your flavor preferences)
  • ¼ cup frozen strawberries
Toppings:
  • Granola
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • ½ banana sliced
Directions: Same as Recipe 1. IT’S THAT EASY! NOTE: it is very important to use only dairy-free milks. I have tried it with regular skim milk and it doesn’t taste good! Any flavor is fine, for example, vanilla almond milk will work great as long as it is the flavor profile you enjoy! Any questions or comments? Please DM me at my Instagram page @acaiandme. Feel free to send me pictures of your acai bowls and I would love to post them on my page! Traveling to other cities and need açai suggestions? I'm your girl! Want to grab an acai bowl with me sometime? DM me as well