The Absolute Best Ways To Use Acai

"Acai" might be tricky to pronounce (it's ah-sigh-ee, for the record), but believe it or not, incorporating this superfood into your diet couldn't be easier. Acai berries have been harvested and used by the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest for hundreds of years, but it was only in the last decade or so that the vibrant purple fruit exploded on the scene in the United States. Acai is jam-packed with nutrients and is especially high in antioxidants compared to other berries (via Nutrition Reviews).

Nowadays, one can find acai in everything from smoothie bowls to Starbucks Refreshers to supplements and even beauty products. Although you'll be hard-pressed to find fresh acai berries outside of their natural habitat in Central and South America due to their extremely short shelf life (per Purple? Foods), they won't last more than 24 hours in their raw state after harvesting), it's easy to find acai in frozen puree, fresh juice, or powdered form ... and it turns out, there's quite a lot you can do with it. Here are some of the tastiest, healthiest, and most inventive ways to use acai.

Blend it into a smoothie

When mornings are a flurry of activity and you don't have the time or wherewithal to make breakfast, smoothies can be a handy on-the-go meal substitute and a great way to kickstart your day with some healthy vitamins and minerals. According to Healthline, 100 grams of acai pulp contains just 70 calories and a whole host of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals. It's also low in saturated fat, which can be found in surprisingly high amounts in some common smoothie additions like coconut milk, peanut butter, and certain protein powders. Acai's bittersweet flavor profile makes it a versatile add-in for both sweet and savory smoothies. 

Another plus? Substituting acai for fruits or veggies that fall higher on the glycemic index scale means cutting down on your sugar intake. Fleshing out a shake with lots of high glycemic foods (like banana, pineapple, and watermelon) is a smoothie mistake that can take your blended beverage from "healthy meal replacement" to "raging sugar-bomb" in the blink of an eye. Acai, being naturally semi-sweet and rich in nutrients, adds a healthy flavor punch to a smoothie while maintaining low sugar content.

Pair acai with oatmeal

According to the Glycemic Index, acai is classified as a low glycemic food. Low glycemic foods assist with insulin regulation and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other common health issues that correlate to what we eat. Per the Mayo Clinic, the glycemic index, or GI, was initially developed as a tool to aid people with diabetes in choosing their food wisely, but consuming low GI foods can be helpful to just about anyone looking to improve their health.

Oatmeal lovers, rejoice because a study from Michigan State University revealed that steel-cut oats fall in the low to medium range of the glycemic index — and they just so happen to pair beautifully with acai. Berries, of course, are a common pairing with oatmeal of all types, and acai lends a perfect balance of dark berry and bitter cacao flavor to the mix. Steel-cut oats are very affordable and easy to find in most supermarkets. The fiber-packed whole grain can be prepared via stovetop, Instant Pot, microwave, or even in a Mason jar for overnight oats, which make for a great breakfast on the go. Topping off your oatmeal with a generous serving of acai puree provides a double whammy of heart-healthy goodness.

Muddle yourself a mean mojito

The traditional classic Cuban mojito is made up of white rum, sugar, mint, lime juice, and club soda, but there are endless options for customization beyond this basic structure. Much to the chagrin of many a bartender, myriad bars and restaurants feature fresh fruit or berry mojitos on their cocktail lists today.

Muddling in acai puree with the rum, sugar, mint leaves, and lime before adding club soda is a fun way to add a berry blast to your drink, but don't stop there! Try swapping out the white rum for blanco tequila, crushing up fresh jalapeños with the acai puree, or changing out mint for basil or cilantro. Any combination of fresh herbs, bright berries, and sparkling club soda will result in a revitalizing concoction that's sure to please your happy hour crowd. As a bonus, mojitos taste just as good without alcohol, so if you're with someone who is underaged, a designated driver, or just steering clear of booze, "no-jito" mocktails make for a fun nonalcoholic drink option.

Boil it down for simple syrup

"Acai-infused simple syrup" might sound like something dreamed up by a mixologist at an upscale experimental cocktail lounge where a burger costs $17 and doesn't come with fries, but infused simple syrup is shockingly easy to make. All you need for a basic simple syrup is equal parts white cane sugar and water. Boil the sugar and water down together until the mixture reaches a viscosity (thickness) similar to maple syrup. If you're infusing simple syrup with acai puree or other berries, simply add the fruit to the sugar and water mixture before bringing everything to a boil (most recipes for berry-infused simple syrup call for 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 1 cup berries, but you can easily make a smaller or larger batch). Whisk in a squeeze of lemon or lime juice when the syrup has cooled if you want to temper the sweetness with a zap of citrus.

After cooling, a homemade simple syrup will keep in the refrigerator in a lidded container for up to a month. Acai infused simple syrup can be used to amp up the flavor of pretty much anything your heart desires. Try adding it to cocktails, shaking it up in a lemonade or iced tea, or drizzling it over ice cream. Let your imagination run wild — the sky's the limit!

Use it in your skin care routine

A 2012 study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reveals that acai contains a high concentration of anti-inflammatory nutrients, including antioxidants, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C — all of which are thought to have anti-aging properties (via ScienceDirect). Consuming acai orally gives you the full nutritional punch, but beauty companies have begun touting the miraculous age-diminishing properties of acai and incorporating processed berries into topical items like face masks, serums, and hair care products.

However, these items can be quite pricey, with some products valued at over $100 per unit. Per Europe PMC, acai is safe to use on skin, so instead of shelling out the cash equivalent of a week's worth of groceries for a few ounces of serum, try adding a spoonful of acai puree or a scoop of acai powder into the mix the next time you whip up a DIY face mask. Skin-enhancing face masks can be concocted using ingredients you probably already have in your fridge or pantry (oatmeal, banana, eggs, avocado, honey, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and more). Depending on what else you're tossing into the mixing bowl, you can use either acai puree or powder in a DIY face mask (go with puree if you're using more dry ingredients, and powder if you're incorporating a lot of wet ingredients). Combining age-controlling acai with other natural ingredients known to improve skin quality in a homemade mask will have you feeling clean, energized, and refreshed in no time.

Freeze it for a summer treat

Popsicles are a sticky but time-honored tradition during the hottest months of the year, but plenty of options in the supermarket freezer are loaded with processed junk, artificial flavor and coloring, and a whole lot of unhealthy fat and sugar. However, that doesn't mean you have to toss your favorite frozen treat on a stick out the window. If you're craving an ice-cold dessert without the bad stuff that comes with many of the store-bought popsicle brands, it's easy to make your own ice pops with a popsicle mold and some acai berry puree.

Simply blend together a few tablespoons of acai puree with your base of choice. For a traditional frosty popsicle-like texture, use a watery base like coconut water, fruit juice, or aloe vera water. If you're craving something with the consistency of frozen yogurt or ice cream, blend the acai puree with something more creamy — almond milk, yogurt, or coconut cream will do nicely. Add your choice of mix-ins before filling up your popsicle mold. (Keep in mind that acai is not as sweet as other berries, so you may want to add some honey, maple syrup, or cane sugar to the mix.) Fill up your popsicle molds with the blended mixture, freeze until solid, and enjoy.  

Brighten up your smoothie bowl

Grain bowls, granola bowls, Buddha bowls ... bowl food is having a moment, and the smoothie bowl is perhaps the most ubiquitous of them all. A smoothie bowl contains a hodgepodge of super healthy ingredients, starting with a creamy, blended base and finished off with just about any toppings you can think of. Because they're usually served in, well, bowls, these are a little less portable than regular smoothies — but on the plus side, you can top off a smoothie bowl with certain ingredients that don't blend as well into a run-of-the-mill shake, like granola or chocolate chunks. Given that it's both packed with nutrients and a striking shade of purplish blue, acai puree makes for a nutritious, delicious, and Instagram-worthy addition.

The base of a smoothie bowl is the smoothie itself, which leaves plenty of room for experimentation. Each element added to a smoothie can affect the texture, flavor, and nutritional content, and acai's flavor profile is versatile enough that it can jazz up a wide variety of smoothie bowl combinations. Test out a base of blended peanut butter and banana topped with some acai and chia seeds for a PB&J effect; or pineapple, mango, and coconut finished off with acai puree for a tropical feel. 

Mix acai powder into baked goods

The taste of acai can be described as a mix between dark berries and chocolate. The flavor profile is less sweet than more common berry varietals like strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. The berry flavor comes through more strongly in acai puree than in the dried form. However, because moisture is removed during the freeze-drying process used to create acai powder, that makes it ideal for mixing into baked goods and other treats that require flour (via Lemarc Agromand).

The next time your sweet tooth leaves visions of pancakes, banana bread, or muffins dancing in your head, try skipping the blueberries or chocolate chips and mixing in a tablespoon or two of acai powder instead. The slightly bitter flavor of acai makes for a great contrast with the sweetness of dessert-style baked goods and packs a powerful nutritional punch to boot. As a bonus, Sambazon and other acai purveyors assert that acai powder is naturally gluten free, making it an optimal choice for those with celiac disease and other gastrointestinal issues affected by the consumption of gluten.

Add it to your charcuterie board

No charcuterie board is complete without a little something sweet. As "Top Chef" contestant Malika Ameen explained to Eater, "Salt is a flavor enhancer, and when it's correctly combined with something sweet, it creates flavor layering." In other words, sweet (cue the acai) and salty (cured meats, cheese) flavors are a match made in heaven.

Building a charcuterie board is as simple as layering up a cutting board with a smorgasbord of cheeses, cured meats like salami, capicola, and prosciutto, and a variety of flavorful bites including nuts, olives, pickled veggies, and crudité among others. Just add some crusty bread or crackers for easy stacking and snacking (yes, meat and cheese boards are basically Lunchables for adults). Jam or jelly is a common addition, but you can shake things up and really wow your guests by providing a ramekin filled with acai puree to spread instead. The bittersweet acai will pair well with soft cheeses like brie and can help tone down the heat of spicy salumi.

Sweeten up your salsa

Fruity salsas, like pineapple or mango, are easy to find on grocery store shelves, but oftentimes, salsas are loaded with sugar and preservatives after being thoroughly processed. Many of us are trying to cut back on sugar and artificial sweeteners these days, and luckily, salsa is a cinch to prepare at home. Whether you like your salsa chunky and fresh or blended and smooth, adding acai powder or puree provides a natural sweetness that plays nicely off the acidic notes in tomatoes.

Typical ingredients for homemade salsa are chopped tomatoes, diced onion, minced garlic, chili powder or whole chili peppers (dried or canned), diced jalapenos, lime juice, fresh cilantro, and dried seasonings (think cumin, cayenne, or green herbs like oregano). If you like fresh salsa, you can simply combine all of the prepared ingredients in a bowl and mix in a tablespoon of acai puree for a sweet and savory snack. If you're a fan of roasted and blended salsa, sprinkle your onions and tomatoes with a few teaspoons of acai powder and your seasonings of choice, broil them in the oven or air fryer until slightly charred, then blend the roasted tomato mixture along with the fresh ingredients once cooled. Voila!  Enjoy a healthier low-sugar dip that's sure to impress at your next barbeque, Super Bowl party, or game night.

Whip up a batch of frozen yogurt bark

We all need to indulge sometimes, and frozen yogurt bark is a pretty darn healthy dessert option if you're hankering for a sweet treat. As Healthline shares, yogurt is chock-full of probiotics, which aid in digestion, keep your heart healthy, and can even help reduce the effects of certain skin conditions like eczema. Combine that with the nutritional benefits of acai, and you've got yourself a superfood powerhouse.

You can mix acai pulp or puree right in with plain or flavored yogurts and eat it on the spot, but if it's morning and you know you're going to be craving Ben & Jerry's after dinner, consider making a batch of frozen yogurt bark and substituting some (or all) of the berries in your favorite recipe with acai puree. Yogurt bark is a breeze to make; it involves very little prep and comes together in about 10 minutes. Just remember, the bark takes around 12 hours to cool and harden, so make sure you pop it in the freezer well ahead of time.

Give energy bites a boost

Energy bites are a popular no-bake snack, particularly among fitness enthusiasts. According to Absolute Cycle, the ingredients they're typically made with (oats, nut or seed butter, the dealer's choice of sweetener, dried fruits, and add-ins) pack a powerful punch of protein, fiber, and healthy carbs into a tasty, fun-sized bite. They're easy to carry around in plastic wrap or Tupperware, so they're also a convenient choice for a quick bite on the go.

Acai can be considered both an add-in and a sweetener when it comes to energy bites, and once you've got your base down, there's a lot you can do with the fixings. A binding agent is needed to help energy bites stick together, and the powdered form of acai helps the balls to retain their shape (in addition to providing a yummy flavor boost). Nibbling the protein-packed treat will often lead to an energy boost, so they make for a great pre or post-workout bite or a filling mid-day morsel.

Sweeten your salad dressing

You may have heard the phrase "eat the rainbow" tossed around in conversations about health and diet recently. What exactly does that mean? Simply put, it's a call to incorporate a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables into your diet. Plants get their naturally-occurring colors from phytonutrients, and different colored plants have varying levels of respective vitamins, minerals, fibers, and other nutrients.

One of the best ways to make sure you're eating the rainbow is to throw together a salad or grain bowl brimming with leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula), starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, green peas), and healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds) which you can then top off with made-from-scratch acai salad dressing. Simply whisk together acai juice with olive oil, vinegar, and any citrus, herbs, or seasonings you see fit and you've got the purple portion of the rainbow covered.