15 hottest products of 2008: The Acai berry

Americans have always loved their miracle cures. Even better when they come from exotic locations, cure cancer, improves your sex life and put the hair back on your head.

Little wonder the Acai berry (pronounced Ah-Sigh-EE), from Brazil's tropical rainforests, has become the "it" food of 2008. If the snake-oil salesmen are to be believed, that $7 Acai drink you're about to quaff will restore your youth and do your laundry.

Dubbed by its boosters to be a "super food," the Acai berry also has more anthocyanins, amino acids, essential fatty acids, fibers and protein than you can shake a medicine man stick at.

But let's back away from the hype for a bit. Apparently there is some scientific truth to the claim that the Acai berry packs a real anti-oxidant wallop. Those are the compounds in food that help keep nasty bits like free radicals in check. The all-American blueberry is known to be full of them. And the berry has been a staple in the diets of Brazilians for many years.

The pesky trouble is, the fruit, a small bit of purple pulp surrounding a large seed, doesn't transport well. It spoils quickly, and supposedly loses much of its nutrients within a day of being picked. That presents problems for North American and European companies that want to market Acai-based products, as well as a host of opportunities for grifters looking to scam them.

The berry has been coming up the food trend ranks since at least 2005. But it's been 2008 that put the berry on the A-list. Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray, among others, have been talking up the alleged super fruit this year, putting it squarely in the limelight.

Now enjoying hype on the scale of Brangelina, the Acai berry can be found in everything from shakes to Pop Tarts. So little wonder critics are saying that many products, once tested, have varying degrees of Acai berry in them, if indeed they have any at all.

Will the little purple berry keep its spot as the no. 1 superfood of 2008? It's not going to go away anytime soon (we're still buying all things pomegranate, for example), but expect the Acai berry to be replaced with another exotic. Maybe one easier to get to. And maybe a little easier to pronounce.

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