Oh Say Açai
Açai bowls—thanks to their health halo and colorful composition—are appearing on more and more menus throughout the U.S. Capitalize on their popularity with these ideas.
Breakfast isn’t just the most important meal of the day; sometimes it’s the most intriguing. Such was the case during a culinary trends tour when Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC, visited Dimes, a tiny restaurant on the outskirts of New York’s Chinatown. Of all the items on the quirky, flavor-forward menu, the açai bowl—cold açai purée, bananas, and berries topped with granola and fresh fruit—in particular really caught his attention. “It was just incredibly delicious,” Ludwig says. Dimes’ Chef/Co-owner Alissa Wagner suggested he go to Los Angeles to see about açai. And there, in 2015, Ludwig found breakfast and brunch places, coffee shops, even a small chain—Backyard Bowls—all dedicated to açai bowls.
Can you say ah-sigh-ee?
It’s taste, health halo, and “superfood” status are making the açai berry a darling of health-minded restaurants in big urban areas—and the opportunity exists to be the first to market with açai bowls in some regions.
Açai is a grape-like berry harvested from the açai palm, a plant native to South American rain forests. The fruit is high in fiber and omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, as well as B-complex vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. The fruit’s high pectin content is what makes it suitable for bowls.
Açai is available in powdered form or as a frozen purée, though Ludwig recommends the latter. To create the bowls, blend the frozen açai purée with bananas and berries that are nearly frozen, but just soft enough to mix in smoothly. The resulting mixture should be served immediately, although it’s possible to make and freeze large batches. In the freezer, the açai smoothie remains scoop-able, almost sorbet-like. Temper it for about five minutes before serving so that it’s well chilled, but not frozen.
At Dimes, Wagner says all of the bowls start with frozen açai purée and banana. The most popular version adds strawberries and almond milk with a topping of goji-berry granola, hemp seeds, and bee pollen. Another combines blueberries, banana, coconut milk, and cornflakes.
Backyard Bowls, with four locations in the Los Angeles-Santa Barbara area, offers an approachable menu of açai bowls in creative and appealing flavors such as peanut butter-banana and avocado-coconut. It also offers portion options such as a “kiddie bowl” and the “behemoth bowl,” ostensibly meant for sharing.
Harvest Bar in Los Angeles menus a dozen different açai bowls, plus customization options that allow for nearly as many add-ins and toppings. These range from overtly healthful—kale, spinach, spirulina, and chia seeds —to a tropical mix of pineapple, mango, coconut milk, shredded coconut, kiwi, and goji berries.
The “treat” appeal of açai bowls certainly explains why they’ve quickly caught on. Customers are drawn to the health halo and customizable aspect, and the flavor of açai itself.
“It’s as close to a treat as you can get while still maintaining that ‘superfood’ benefit,” Ludwig says. “This trend is so exciting because it is really an emerging opportunity—it’s our prediction that every major college campus will be serving these within the next two years. They’re a great fit for so many foodservice outlets—nutritious, delicious, and very approachable.”
Menu Ready: Açai Bowls
The vast possibilities for flavor combinations makes it easy to develop a signature bowl.
- Use fruits from familiar to exotic: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries, mango, papaya, and dragonfruit.
- Thin açai purée with nut- or seed-based milks like hemp, cashew, almond, or soy.
- Add textural interest with crunchy and colorful toppings: granola, shredded coconut, dried fruit, goji berries, bee pollen, seeds, and nuts.
- Take advantage of frozen packs of açai purée that are available by special order. Ask your Customer Service Specialist for more information.
Ask your Gordon Food Service Sales Representative about our Kitchen-Tested Recipes for açai bowls.