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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Acai - a bowlful of sexy antioxidants

Acai The seller of the Açaí energy bowls wasn’t hurting his sales any. Thin and muscular with a tanned Brazilian complexion, long-ish (but not too long) curly dark hair, and a mischievous smile, he lured women to his booth left and right. The camera that was perpetually in his hand was an added attraction. After purchasing an energy bowl, he’d smile and ask if he could take your picture. What woman wouldn’t melt from the entire experience?

I’m happy to report that the energy bowls have appeal beyond this beachside Brazilian stud muffin. The primary ingredient of the bowl is Açaí sorbet. Açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-EE), also known as the Palm Berry, is a Brazilian tree fruit that is noted for its significant health benefits. With more antioxidants than any other fruit, this is a valid claim. Long popular among surfers in Brazil, Açaí was brought to the states by two enterprising men who saw the potential in the US surfing market. These men now market Açaí under the brand name, Sambazon.

The Sambazon brand of Açaí combines the berry with guarana syrup. In addition to adding sweetness, guarana claims health benefits of its own, including the ability to increase endurance and heighten mental awareness. Health benefits aside, in my mind, the best part about this snack is its luscious and rich taste. Açaí has the flavor of a chocolate covered berry. And, while it is delicious on its own, as a sorbet or a smoothie, Açaí reaches its full flavor potential when combined with the ingredients that make up the aforementioned Brazilian energy bowl.

It was during a two-week summer visit to the Pacific Beach area of San Diego that I discovered Brazilian energy bowls. Just off the boardwalk, less than a quarter mile from my hotel was the little cart that sold the bowls. A few other juice joints in town were selling them as well. It was nearly impossible to walk down the boardwalk without seeing at least two to three people eating a bowl. I tried some of the alternate sellers, but none held the allure of the boardwalk-based cart.

Each time I approached the Açaí cart, the seller was on the move. No doubt a result of his endless supply of Açaí and guarana, he had a surfeit of energy and was endlessly flirting with bikini-clad girls, taking photos of seagulls with his ubiquitous digital camera, or eating an energy bowl of his own while watching the endless parade that makes up the Pacific Beach boardwalk.

Once I got his attention, and gathered my composure, I’d place my order for a small energy bowl. He would remove a pre-measured plastic container of sorbet from his freezer and begin adding the fruit. The included fruits are frozen blueberries, frozen peaches, frozen strawberries and fresh bananas. He then would grab a squeeze bottle of honey, and slowly, seductively, drizzle a thin stream of honey over the fruit, making sure that every corner was covered. This masterpiece was then topped with a sprinkle of granola and handed to me with a smile. The first time I visited, I got my photo taken with my treat in hand. The second time I visited, he asked if I had seen my photo, posted up on a large board of other smiling women enjoying their Açaí. Indeed I had, and the photo wasn’t the only lasting memento of my visits to his booth. This all took place nearly two years ago, and I can still remember it as if it were yesterday.

I keep a supply of Sambazon Açaí smoothie packs in my freezer and occasionally make up an energy bowl for myself. It’s not as special as eating it on the boardwalk (and buying it from a Brazilian god), but it brings me back, regardless. Perhaps not as poetic as Proust and his madeleines, but it works for me.

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