Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Has Açaí Jumped the Shark?

When I used to travel around Brazil with a backpack years ago, I was intrigued by the number of small, often hand-written signs in front of small juice bars and sandwich shops that read "Açaí na Tigela". With my at-the-time limited knowledge of Portuguese, I was totally unable to decipher these signs, even after I used my miniscule bilingual dictionary to learn that "tigela" meant bowl. "Açaí" wasn't in the dictionary. So I knew that it was something in a bowl, but beyond that I hadn't a clue. One day, in a city I don't even remember, I screwed up my courage and ordered a bowl, hoping that açaí wasn't some sort of innard. I received a bowl of a very dark purple icy-slushy puree topped with sprinkles of granola and slices of banana. I was hooked from the first mouthful - a not-too-sweet, earthy, berryish flavor, and a meal in a bowl.

"Açaí na Tigela" and I became good friends on subsequent trips to Brazil, as a bowl of açaí made a great late breakfast, or not too filling lunch. It refreshed, cooled and filled one up at the same time. I still often choose it over heavier options when it's just too hot to eat a warm meal.

In the past few years, when in Canada and the USA I noticed that açaí was becoming known in the Northern Hemisphere, and was touted as an wonder food from the Amazon. Numerous health-giving properties were ascribed to it, and I saw juices and powders of açaí move from health food stores to Whole Foods to neighborhood supermarkets. Açaí was certainly becoming the flavor of the month, literally.

When I discovered recently that the Swedish vodka distillery Absolut had introduced a new vodka, Absolut Berri Açaí to the North American market, however, I wondered if it was a sign that açaí had moved from an unknown product, to a niche product, to a mass-market product, to an over-marketed product. If, in fact, whether açaí had "jumped the shark." (Click here if you don't know the phrase "jump the shark".) Surely, there can be very little actual açaí in a bottle of vodka, and I can't imagine that the healthful properties of the fruit, like its anti-oxidant properties, can survive distilling. Absolut, however, is a master of marketing, and it's clear that their advertising gurus have decided that the moment is right for açaí to join their spectrum of flavored vodkas.

Me? I think I'll stick to "Açaí na Tigela", thanks.

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