Açai (ah-sigh-ee) berries are all the rage right now. They're touted as a superfood with disease-fighting properties. A growing trend is to enjoy them in an açai bowl. You're more likely to find açai bowls in Silver Lake or Venice, but there are a few places to get them in our neighborhood.
Housed in a little bamboo-sided sidewalk stand outside a Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu facility in Burbank, Açai Jungle Bowls is my favorite of the bunch. Carlos Gracie himself is credited with popularizing the bowls in his native Brazil. He felt the nutrient-rich food helped maximize the performance of his jiu-jitsu fighters. Other athletes caught on and in the 2000s organic açai pulp came to America. Surfers in Hawaii and Southern California particularly fell in love with the bowls. So what does an açai bowl taste like?
The ones at Açai Jungle Bowls (326 N. Victory, Burbank) start with frozen organic açai pulp straight from the Amazon, lightly sweetened with cane sugar. It has the consistency of sorbet, the color of Cabernet and the taste of perhaps blackberries and chocolate minus any tang. The classic bowl is topped with ripe banana chunks and crunchy hemp granola ($6 for a hefty small). One can add other toppings for $1 each. I chose cacao nibs and goji berries which look like freeze-dried strawberry slivers but taste less sweet. Other toppings include chia and hemp seeds, bee pollen, coconut shavings and almond slivers. You dig your spoon in and enjoy a combination of smooth, crunchy, cool, warm (room temperature bananas) and natural sweetness. My first experience with an açai bowl left me wanting more tangy or sour flavors, as you'd find in a frozen yogurt with raspberries, but it was easy to see one could acquire a taste for this healthy habit.
The folks at Açai Jungle Bowls claim the açai berry has high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other compounds that act as antiaging, anti-inflammatory and anticancer agents. They say the berry is rich in omega-9 and omega-6 fatty acids that help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol among other health benefits. Usually less glowing than health-food advocates, WebMD even admits that studies show açai fruit pulp is richer in antioxidants, those free-radical killers, than any other berry including cranberries.
Açai bowls are also available at Juice It Up in La Crescenta (3231 Foothill Blvd.). At $7.95, these bowls are larger and heavier than Açai Jungle Bowls' offerings, but they don't taste as authentic. The açai pulp is blended with guarana (a Brazilian berry and stimulant), apple juice and banana before being folded into a bowl then topped with granola, banana and honey. The "sorbet" is too adulterated and too liquid, making the granola soft before you can eat it. I love the smoothies at Juice It Up though.
Speaking of smoothies, you can find açai in a smoothie at the new Harvest Juice Co. in Montrose (3807 Ocean View Blvd.). They plan to carry açai bowls in the near future but for now try the Blueberry Hill smoothie ($10). With açai, coconut, blueberries, banana, pineapple, honey, chia seeds and dates, it has a number of the ingredients found in a typical bowl and is tasty and filling. Harvest Juice also carries an interesting array of nutrient-rich prepared savory foods and healthy snacks — vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, you-name-it.
Give açai a try. The bowls are often eaten for breakfast but taste even better after a workout. I'd think children would love the healthy treat as well. Here's to your health!
Açai Jungle Bowls, 326 N. Victory, Burbank
Juice It Up, 3231 Foothill Blvd., La Crescenta
Harvest Juice Co., 3807 Ocean View Blvd., Montrose