With all its purported health benefits, it’s no wonder acai (pronounced ah-sah-EE) is one of the biggest superfoods to hit the market. On the Central Coast, many are discovering it thanks to several new places serving acai bowls, and they’re worth checking out if one of your New Year’s resolutions is eating healthier.
Though it’s existed on the supplement shelves of health food stores for years, acai (also spelled açaí) burst into the mainstream when it was lauded as the latest and greatest weight-loss miracle. As with all such claims, it’s not a silver bullet to a slimmer you, but it is a very healthy food when eaten in moderation.
The acai berry is the fruit of the acai palm tree, native to South American rainforests. A nutrient-dense food, it’s been enjoyed in those regions for centuries. If harvested correctly, acai can be a sustainable and profitable crop for indigenous populations, and organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and companies like Makai Fruits are working with those cultures to preserve the forests while meeting the burgeoning global demand.
Not surprising, given its vibrant, deep red-purple color, acai is extremely rich in antioxidants, even more so than blueberries, strawberries and cranberries. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the fruit also contains fiber and heart-healthy fats.
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A quick Google search will turn up several ostensible health benefits from eating acai, from lower cholesterol to lower blood pressure, from arthritis relief to a boosted immune system, from healthy skin to anti-aging. None of these claims has been scientifically proven, but it is a fact that acai is a tasty way to get your fruit serving.
Acai has a sweet taste you’d expect from a fruit, with some faint hints of chocolate. With acai bowls, the fruit is served up in a frozen mixture akin to a thick slushy, with toppings that might include freshly sliced fruit and granola.
Among the local spots to get an acai bowl is The Neighborhood Acai and Juice Bar, aka The Hood. Opened by Cal Poly grads Doug Wells and Chris Herrera in April, it’s tucked in the same complex on Foothill Boulevard as Kona’s Deli and Charlie’s Place.
The business partners became acquainted with acai bowls while living in San Diego several years ago and wanted to bring the concept to San Luis Obispo. They source their frozen acai puree from the aforementioned Makai Fruits and use local ingredients, especially honey, whenever possible.
The Hood offers four acai bowls, and the most popular are the SLO Bowl and the High Street Bowl. The first has a base blend of acai, banana, blueberry, strawberry and apple juice topped with hemp granola, local honey and more banana, strawberry and blueberry. The latter has acai, peanut butter, banana and hemp milk topped with hemp granola, local honey, almonds and cacao nibs.
There are also about 20 add-ons you may choose from, and The Hood’s to-go menu explains the purported health benefits of those and many other foods. Opt for some bee pollen for energy, some camu camu for added Vitamin C, or some Goji berry to boost your immune system.
“We think that education on the benefits of what you are paying for is important,” said Herrera, and Wells added that “We are both huge believers in the quote ‘let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Neighborhood Acai and Juice Bar
973 Foothill Blvd., Suite 107
(Near Santa Rosa Street, behind Charlie’s Place, parking lot in back)
San Luis Obispo
Hours: Daily, Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The scene: Grab easy parking in back of the complex, order up an acai bowl from the friendly staff, and take a look at the featured local artwork.
Expect to spend: Bowls start at $8.50.
Other local spots for acai bowls include …
Bowl’d — Offers a “kid-sized” option if you don’t want an entire bowl, and also a Green Bowl with spinach and kale. Located across from the Mission at 1028 Chorro St., San Luis Obispo, 548-2695, squareup.com/market/bowld.
KravaBowl — Order one of several bowls on the menu, or make your own with your choice of a base and three toppings. Two locations: 90 San Miguel, Avila Beach; 500 Morro Bay Blvd., Morro Bay; kravabowl.com.