What Are Acerola Cherries and Why Are They Everywhere Right Now?
Trader Joe's has such a pulse on food trends that they often create them. Everything But the Bagel Seasoning or cauliflower gnocchi, anyone? So when they started peppering their shelves with acerola products—including the new Organic Acerola Puree and Absolutely Acerola Juice Shot—our ears perked up and we put our investigator hats on.
What Are Acerola Cherries, Exactly?
"An untapped functional superfruit," according to 2018 research published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. That's because it's one of the most potent sources of ascorbic acid, a natural form of vitamin C, and also offers a good amount of phytonutrients like carotenoids, flavonoids and anthocyanins that may play a role in chronic disease prevention. The fruit grows on trees in Texas, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, India and other areas with consistently warm temps.
The acerola cherries, also known as Barbados cherries or West Indian cherries, are generally 1 centimeter to 1 inch in diameter and are orange-red to ruby red in color. BTW, while they're called "cherries" and look a lot like bings or maraschinos, acerola are technically cherry-like berries. Their flavor is tart, thanks to all that vitamin C. Cup for cup, acerola cherries have 50 to 100 times more C than oranges or lemons. Since the cherries tend to spoil fairly quickly after picking, they're often made into juice, frozen or dried and ground into a powder (the latter of which is sometimes used as an ingredient in vitamin C supplements).
Acerola Cherry Nutrition
According to the USDA's FoodData Central nutrition database, 1 cup of acerola juice has 56 calories, 1 gram of protein, 12 grams of carbs (including 11 grams of sugar) and 1 gram of fat. It also has 3,870(!) milligrams of vitamin C. This is far more than the 124 milligrams of vitamin C in a cup of orange juice, which has experienced a major sales spike since the pandemic began.
Why Is Acerola So Popular Right Now?
Similar to OJ, we're guessing that acerola is getting a big boost from those seeking immune support during the coronavirus pandemic. Reminder: No specific foods, supplements or micronutrients can protect you from viruses or germs, but a well-fueled system can bounce back quicker.
The vitamins and phytonutrients in acerola have been linked to lower cancer risk, better blood sugar control and other body-beneficial qualities, but like with all edible, drinkable or supplemental things, it's not a cure-all if the rest of your lifestyle isn't wellness-focused. (And don't begin a new supplement regimen without talking to your doctor first.)
So here at EatingWell, we'll happily be blending TJ's acerola puree into smoothie recipes for a flavor and vitamin C boost. But we'll also definitely still be washing our hands before and after—and plan to enjoy it on a mask-wearing, sunscreen-sporting walk to give our muscles a safe, disease-preventing boost.