I’ve written about how a love of granola runs in my blood and also about my passion for smoothies, so it should come as no surprise that I’ve become a huge a fan of acai bowls, a sort of a perfect marriage of the two.
“An acai bowl [pronounced ah-sigh-ee] is a thick acai blend topped with granola, a variety of toppings and honey,” says Erin Downing, co-owner of Blenders and Bowls, an acai bowl and smoothie cafe located in the Wanderlust Live yoga studio in downtown Austin. Toppings can include anything from fresh fruit (Texas peaches when in season!), cashews, coconut shreds or cacao nibs.
Acai is a reddish purple berry that comes from the acai palm tree native to Central and South America that is considered a super food — in company with the likes of goji berries and cacao nibs — that’s packed with antioxidants.
Downing and her business partner Kara Jordan fell in love with acai bowls when both were living in Hawaii, where acai bowls are a common offering at smoothie stores and health food cafes. When the two longtime friends (they grew up together in Santa Barbara) moved to Austin a couple of years ago, they couldn’t find a good fix for their acai bowl cravings anywhere. There are a few other places serving acai bowls in Austin, including Mr. Natural, but nothing compared to what Downing and Jordan ate in Hawaii, says Downing.
So the two decided that they would introduce Austin to the wonderful and healthy world of acai bowls. Blenders and Bowls was born.
Blenders and Bowls started as a food truck offering the acai bowl and smoothie creations from various locations around town. But when Ashley Spence Clauer and Joanna Kutchey, behind Wanderlust Live, asked Downing and Jordan to open a cafe in the yoga studio, the two couldn’t say no. (The Blenders and Bowls food truck is now used for catering events.)
There are two key elements to a good acai bowl, says Downing. “The consistency of the acai blend and the crunch of the granola.” The blend refers to the very thick mixture of frozen acai packets and a splash of liquid such as apple, pineapple or coconut juice or a non-dairy milk (soy, almond, rice or hemp). In some versions, other frozen fruit or nut butter is added to the blend.
Blenders and Bowls’ Sesher acai bowl consists of a blend made with chocolate hemp milk and peanut butter, topped with fresh bananas, granola, cashews and cacao nibs. Divine.
As with many things in food, an acai bowl is only as good as the ingredients it contains. Downing estimates that 85 percent of the ingredients used at Blenders and Bowls are organic. She and Jordan also only use products that they like: Justin’s Nut Butters, Nature’s Path hemp granola, Kind granola for a gluten-free option and Round Rock Honey. They even cut and freeze fresh bananas in order to control the quality and the taste.
Like smoothies, acai bowls are highly customizable. You can add protein or green super food powders to any blend.
Packed with omega-3s, protein, the acai superfruit, fresh fruit, good fats from nuts and complex carbohydrates (granola), acai bowls — usually around 400 calories for a small serving — are the perfect “super” meal.
“They make you feel full without weighing you down,” Downing says. And after over a year of acai bowls day in and day out, Downing still hasn’t tired of them. “I still wake up craving acai bowls. And I never feel guilty about eating them.”
A fair word of warning, acai bowls tend to be addictive. Blenders and Bowls has a loyal following of regular customers, many of whom have just recently discovered acai bowls and are hooked. “When we get people in for a conference downtown, they’ll come the first day and then every day after that they’re here,” says Downing.
I can vouch for this. I ran into a friend from graduate school at Blenders and Bowls not too long ago when he was in town for a tech conference. He later told me that he had lunch there every day.