Picture this: it’s your first time at an acai shop—the acai, purple, and you, green. There’s one person in line ahead of you, but you don’t mind since it gives you time to practice your order before you get to the register. One acai bowl, please, you recite in your head (crushed it). Or is it ah-ky-yee? Ah-see? Uh-kye? With a wave of the cashier’s hand, you’re next. Wait, exactly how do you pronounce acai? Suddenly, your blood runs hot—if only you had a deliciously chilled acai bowl to cool you down. Was it always this warm in here? How are you supposed to hold on to your acai bowl when your palms are this sweaty? You’re pretty sure you can hear sirens wailing in the distance.
What is acai?
These little purple orbs look just like blueberries, but they’re not berries at all. They have a single, hard pit, making them drupes, like peaches or cherries. You won’t find the raw fruit in the United States, as the highly perishable drupes are pureed and frozen within hours of harvest from their native environment in the Amazon Rainforest. To harvest the acai drupes, farmers tie palm fronds between their feet to leverage against the tree trunks as they shimmy to the top, holding a blade between their teeth to cut the bunches down once they get there. The trees can be anywhere from 15 to 30 meters high and are native to only a handful of countries in Central and South America.
How do you pronounce acai?
Before anyone faints, acai is pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”, according to Sambazon, the company responsible for first bringing the fruit to U.S. consumers almost two decades ago. The word acai means “fruit that cries” since it expels water, and comes from a family of indigenous languages called Tupi-Guaraní, which are only spoken in a few regions in South America.
“The way ‘acai’ is pronounced in Guaraní is not the way it’s pronounced in Portuguese, and the way it’s pronounced in Portuguese is not the way it’s pronounced in English. It’s completely normal for speakers to borrow cool new words from other languages and shape them to their own sound systems,” says Dr. Anna Babel, a sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist at The Ohio State University. So, don’t stress too much about how to pronounce acai exactly right when you’re ordering a smoothie bowl, you’re in an acai shop, after all! They’ll know what you’re talking about. Besides, even smart people mispronounce these 54 words.
Where can you buy acai?
If you want to avoid the “oh-my-stars-how-do-you-pronounce-acai” anxiety of ordering at an acai shop, there are plenty of options for making smoothie bowls at home, too. It’s available at most major grocery stores, and you can even order a variety of products online: acai puree, acai powder, acai energy drinks, and even acai sorbet. Most people think acai tastes like a combination of blackberry and dark chocolate, which makes it especially enticing in its pureed, frozen form—it’s practically breakfast ice cream. Acai bowls usually mix the puree with ingredients like banana, granola, coconut milk, strawberries, kiwi, peanut butter, and chia or hemp seeds, but you can toss anything you like in there. One of the good things about acai is it’s a servant of whatever your culinary genius invents; the puree is a bit of a chameleon that way! If you think acai is hard to say, it’s nothing compared to these 14 hardest words in the English language to pronounce.