Berry is 'world's healthiest fruit'
FIRST it was beetroot, then pomegranate, now a Brazilian berry believed to be the healthiest fruit of all has become the latest must-have nutritional ingredient.
Acai, a purple wonder-berry which has twice the cancer-beating antioxidants of blueberries, is already a fashionable food in the United States, where scientists recently found it destroyed four-fifths of cancer cells.
It has already built up a band of celebrity fans, including Oprah Winfrey, the Formula 1 racing driver Rubens Barrichello, tennis star Andre Agassi, the singer Sting and former model Gisele Bundchen.
Pronounced ah-sah-ee, the grape-sized berries will hit Scottish supermarket shelves in June when Waitrose opens its first stores north of the Border.
Currently, it is available only in freeze-dried form at specialist shops such as Brazilian Sensation in Edinburgh, which claims to be Britain's largest mail-order supplier of the wonder-berry.
"Acai is at the same point as coffee was ten years ago - just about to become really big," said John Falconer, the owner of Brazilian Sensation. "The number of orders is increasing daily as word spreads about the health benefits."
Acai berries also have the health-giving omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids, rarely found in fruit, are low in calories and contain fibre, calcium and vitamins. Doctors say they help to fight leukaemia and premature ageing and the berries are even believed to increase libido. A study by the University of Florida showed that extracts from the berries triggered a self-destruct response in up to 86 per cent of cultured leukaemia cells tested.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups are fans of the fruit, because it is providing an alternative industry to the tree-clearing activities of logging and forestry in its native Brazil.
The first bottled juice version, made by a firm called Happy Monkey, will be sold by Waitrose from June - the month it opens two stores in Edinburgh.
Hamish McCall, the managing director of Happy Monkey, created the drink after a holiday in Rio de Janeiro, where he spotted locals drinking a "weird purple, gloopy" concoction.
Although it has become a mainstay of small and trendy juice bars, the Waitrose deal will see it transformed into a nationally available drink to health-conscious shoppers.
In the US, acai juice is now a 2.5 million-a-year industry, after being sold for the first time just over five years ago.
Mr McCall explained: "The acai is arguably the single most nutritionally beneficial fruit on earth.
"People are becoming increasingly aware of what they are putting into their bodies.
"There are some hurdles to overcome," he admitted. "No-one has heard of the acai berry - and people can't even pronounce its name - but it has a really distinctive taste which will appeal to a lot of people."
Mr Falconer added that the freeze-dried version sold in his Edinburgh store could be used as an ingredient in everything from milk-shakes and sorbets to puddings and sauces. "It is very versatile," he said.
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