Where I come from ‘Juice Bars’ conjure up images of weird, rich people sipping wheat-grass and beetroot juice. These joyless health obsessives have just come from an ayurvedic flotation tank session and are on their way to an organic coffee and yoghurt colonic. Here in Brazil I’m happy to say they have a very different feel to them.
Casas de Sucos are sprinkled all over Rio. They are basic and unpretentious – open to the street with huge and colourful displays of (real) fruit behind a simple stainless steel counter. Ordinary working people will prop themselves on a stool and have a freshly blended fruit juice and perhaps grab a snack before heading off to work.
On my first visit to one of these juice bars I was taken aback by the size of the menu. There were more than 20 different fruit juices and half of them I had never heard of.
I was curious to know what all these mysterious fruits tasted like and so decided to make it my mission to try as many as possible. I haven’t tasted them all yet, but I’ve managed a fair few over the last few days I’m not going to bother telling you about the boring ones like orange juice – you can try them at home.
Abacaxi & hortelã
Abacaxi [abba-ca-SHEE] is pineapple. Hortelã [or-tell-AH] is mint. This is a popular combination here and really delicious. They chuck a handful of mint into a blender with pineapple, some ice and water and blend it. I don’t think there’s much to add to that really – maybe you should give it a try some time and see what you think?
This is pronounced ‘ass-eye-EE’ – not ‘ack-eye’! I vaguely remember seeing açaí back in the UK, possibly in a fancy supermarket or healthfood shop. It seems to be in the premier league of obscure, overpriced ‘superfoods’ sitting alongside goji berries, ginseng and noni. However, here in Brazil it’s cheap, ubiquitous and, best of all, really yummy!
Rather like a dark purple version of spinach, flecks of açai will stick to your teeth for a while, so if you’re self-conscious about things like that then you should avoid it on first dates. The berries themselves grow in large bunches on a palm that is also harvested for palm hearts. However, you rarely see them fresh – instead they are served up as a thick, purple sludge in a glass or bowl. Often it is accompanied with bananas, strawberries and granola and is always blended with something to sweeten it (usually honey or sugar and guaraná, etc). It tastes quite unlike any other fruit. The best I can do to describe it is to say that it has an earthy taste, but try to imagine earth tasting sweet and delicious. Hmmm… describing flavours is difficult.
Things to remember:
- Don’t ask for it without sweetener. I’m told that without something to sweeten it, açai tastes more like a handful of mud.
- It is really yummy – apparently it’s good for you too.
I just did some searching and found that acerola [assa-ROE-la] has quite a few alternative names (my favourite is Wild Crapemyrtle). I hadn’t tried it before, so in the interests of research I just popped out and grabbed one for lunch today. It was a dark pink colour, sour and a little astringent like cranberry juice. The flavour itself isn’t very strong – faintly appley I suppose – but something about it sceams “I am really good for you!”.
Apparently acerola is packed with vitamin C (according to one source, acerola has 65 times more vitamin C than oranges). To be honest, I’m not crazy for acerola – it’s just OK. But if I had a hangover or was feeling guilty about other unhealthy indulgences (crisps, chocolate, etc), I’d probably gulp down one of these in an attempt to soothe my guilty conscience.
Cacau [ca-COW] is where cocoa comes from. The tree has weird pods growing straight off the trunk and in the middle of the pods are a bunch of beans that go on to become the main ingredient of chocolate. But surrounding these beans is a white pulp that doesn’t taste anything like chocolate. If you are expecting chocolate you will be both confused and disappointed. However, if you try to forget about that and just taste the drink you will find that it is really delicious and refreshing. I found it to be slightly creamy in texture with a lovely sherbet-like flavour.
This was one of the first juices I tried after arriving in Rio and it was a real eye-opener. It tastes bizarre. Seriously, if you didn’t know it was natural you’d think it was 100% artificial. It has a strong, almost chemical flavour which I still can’t get over. I imagine the cupuaçu as being a mango that went down the gym in an attempt to become more intense but didn’t know when to stop.
Graviola is a strange one. If you google it you’ll find thousands of sites assuring you that this fruit is more effective than chemotherapy for various types of cancer. Rather depressing to see these people preying on the desperate, playing up cynical conspiracy theories about how ‘they’ (scientists, pharmaceutical industry, etc) don’t want you to know about this miracle cure. Interestingly there appears to be some genuine evidence that drinking a lot of graviola can actually bring on something like Parkinson’s disease. I haven’t tried this one yet, not because I’m scared, but because 3 juices for lunch is my limit. My wife tells me it’s delicious.
I managed to track this down today and it really highlighted how difficult it is to describe flavour. It was a golden brown colour, slightly prickly on the tongue and had a very faint (and not unpleasant) taste of overripe apples. My favourite fruit fact for Taperebá is that it’s other name is Hog Plum.
OK, I’m going to stop now to keep this snappy (well, to stop it sprawling any more). There are still loads more I have to try - Bacurí, Pitanga, Umbu are just a few of those that have so far eluded me. If any of them are amazing then I’ll let you know (and I’d be happy to hear from my Brazilian friends if there’s anything I have to try).
Just time to mention that I noticed Berinjela on the menu of a juice bar on my way to work this morning. Berinjela, if my Portuguese is correct, is Aubergine (egg plant for you North Americans). Nice refreshing glass of aubergine juice sir?