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The dark purple açai fruit, frozen and blended, forms the base of the popular dish that's taking over the US one bowl at a time.

Image: Shutterstock

We've all experienced the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon at work in our own lives, whether we've realized it or not. It occurs when you learn a new word, phrase, concept, etc. and suddenly begin seeing that same thing—say, açai bowls—everywhere you look. There, in the newspaper the next morning. That afternoon at lunch, on the menu. Over dinner, a friend mentions it—before you know it, you're surrounded by mention of açai bowls, something you'd never even heard before you randomly stumbled across it during a late-night Wikipedia wormhole session.

In the case of açai (pronounced "ah-sigh-EE") bowls, however, there's more at play than just a combination of selective attention and the recency effect; the so-called smoothie in a bowl has become one of the biggest new health food trends since marketing companies started pushing pomegranate-everything down our throats. (For real, though, I do love some fresh pomegranate seeds.) Though the dark purple açai berry comes to us from the Amazon jungle, the bowl has its roots in an unusual source: jiu jitsu. Specifically, the Brazilian form of jiu jitsu created by legendary fighter and patriarch Carlos Gracie, who popularized both his signature form of martial arts and the açai bowl.

It was in 1980s Rio de Janeiro where Gracie first encouraged consumption of frozen açai pulp blended together with bananas for a healthy boost—the grape-like berries are lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants than most other fruits—that sticks to your ribs throughout the day, and before long, jiu jitsu practitioners were joined by Brazilian surfers in their shared love of the meal. Soon, surfers and BJJ buffs were spreading the gospel of the cool, tasty açai blend to the United States, where the dish began showing up on menus in Hawaii and Southern California by the early 2000s.

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The açai bowl at Tout Suite is a healthier alternative to its equally tempting mushroom toast with house-made cheese at breakfast.

Today, you can find açai bowls in Houston at places like Tout Suite in EaDo and Sustain Juicery in West U. At SoCal-based Sustain, which brought the bowls to Houston when it first opened in 2011, you can choose from a variety of toppings for your bowl, including the traditional granola and fresh fruit accompaniments. At Tout Suite, the bowl comes standard with house-made granola, strawberries and bananas. True to the claims, the bowl I enjoyed for breakfast last weekend at Tout Suite stuck with me for hours afterward; I wasn't hungry for lunch, which surprised me, as the serving itself was fairly petite. More importantly, the frozen açai pulp that made up the bulk of the bowl was delicious—the berry's flavor is like an intriguing combination of tropical blueberry and dark chocolate, making for an incredibly decadent-tasting breakfast.

Those not wishing to drop $10 on breakfast can make açai bowls at home these days thanks to the proliferation of handy frozen açai pulp packets available at stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods. Simply drop them into a blender with a banana—maybe some additional berries if you want a thinner, less frozen-yogurt-like texture—and top the resulting puree with the granola and/or fruit of your choice. Before you know it, you may be part of the açai bowl Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon yourself.

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