What it is: Açai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is a small, deep purple berry that grows on certain palm trees in Central and South America. Derived from ancient legend, its local name is “içá-çai,” meaning “fruit that cries.”

Where it comes from: In addition to being harvested from certain parts of Central and South America, açai is particularly abundant in the Amazon rainforests in Brazil.

Properties: Available in a few colors, the purple variety of açai berries are some of the most nutritionally dense foods in the world. The berries are about one inch in diameter and contain a large pit inside. The taste has been described as a delicious combination of blueberries and chocolate. Açai are also said to have fat-burning properties, fatty acids, amino acids, trace minerals, fiber, and 10 times the amount of antioxidants of red grapes.

What it’s good for: Açai has surged in popularity thanks to its multitude of uses, which include improving energy levels, digestion, sleep habits, brain functions, skin appearance, circulation, heart functions, and overall health. In addition to eliminating toxins, weight loss has been one of the more popular uses for açai, considering that supplements are made with pure açai extract and without artificial ingredients. Açai berries are also rich in protein and in glucosamine, an ingredient that many arthritis sufferers use to reduce pain.

Where you’ll find it: Fresh açai berries are not available outside the Amazon, but other forms are available as close as your nearest supermarket. You’ll find juice, dietary supplement capsules, powders, and frozen purees. Supplements have the longest shelf life and are much more potent than fresh açai berries or açai juice.

Other uses: Açai oil has been gaining momentum as an ingredient in a variety of beauty and cosmetic products, including face cleansers and masks, age renewal creams, lip and cheek products, body washes and creams, and hair care lines. The oil contains a large variety of beneficial vitamins as well as Omega-6 and Omega-9 fatty acids.

Fun fact: In Brazil, a dish called Açai Bowls Rio Style, or açai na tigela, is a favorite treat and is made using a combination of frozen açai, granola, guarana syrup, and bananas.

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