I had a whistle-stop 1.5 days in Rio de Janeiro, during which I sat on Copacabana beach in my bikini, Barry Manilow playing (in my head), and refreshed myself in the 40°C heat with regular açaí berry smoothies…
OK, I am lying. I was there for what was the only rainy (and I mean proper rain) days in months of gorgeous weather. I was told that on the 26th December 2012 – exactly a week before my arrival – the temperature in Rio had hit a record high of 50ºC. In actual fact, someone got their measurements wrong and the official recorded temperature was only 43.2°C, but, either way, it had been HOT. Not really what I wanted to hear as I sat on the hostel veranda in my shorts and vest top, looking out hopefully at the downpour.
Now, though, I need to let it go, put it behind me and move on….I shouldn’t really complain because I did have a great time, despite, but basically I need to go back again – never a bad plan – as it was rather unfortunate timing.
Right, so in the interests of moving on… AÇAÍ BERRIES. I was introduced to açaí by a fellow hosteller in Ipanema. Pronounced “ah-sigh-hee” – I thought I was being offered a Japanese beer (whoops!) – açaí means “the fruit that cries” in the indigenous Brazilian language Tupi. I sipped on a few açaí berry drinks while I was in Rio (through curiosity rather than thirst), and this is the subject of today’s post.
So, açaí berries are small, round, dark purple fruit from açaí palm trees of the Amazon rainforest. The berries have been a huge part of the Amazon’s indigenous people’s diets for hundreds of years, but around the 1960s a trend emerged for açaí in the juice bars of Rio de Janeiro.
The Gracie family, famous for founding Brazilian jiu-jitsu in Rio, endorsed eating açaí before and after workouts, and this is thought to have kicked off the açaí trend that spread from the health conscious in Rio to the rest of Brazil.
It is now widely considered that açaí berries are a bit of a super food – high in anti-oxidants and fibre. In fact, if you google açaí berries you get pages and pages of sites selling capsules, tables, teas, smoothies, juices and powders boasting the health benefits of the tiny little things.
Açaí berries do not transport well. Now, I don’t know how good your geography is, but Rio de Janeiro is over 2,000 miles away from the Amazon rainforest, so the only way to get your hand on açaí in Rio is in the form of frozen pulp. Juice bars in Rio serve the blended frozen berries mixed with guaraná syrup, which an energiser also found in Red Bull (not so healthy now, eh!?).
The flavour is nothing like I had tried before… people describe it as a rich “berry-cocoa” flavour, and, whilst I wouldn’t have been able to create that description, I can agree with it. It’s very distinct and tasty, and I certainly recommend you have a try.
My friends Arianwen and Christina, who were in Rio at a different time to me (when the weather was gorgeous – pah!), bought a block of frozen açaí pulp from the supermarket and made their own smoothies. Photos below. Yum!
Some photos from my trip:
(From when I could get my camera out of my bag)