The sun is out and that classic North Carolina humidity is in full swing. It’s the perfect time for a smoothie bowl, specifically an acai bowl, which is taking the the Triangle by storm.
Acai bowls originate from Brazil, where the acai palm tree and its berries grow. The bowls made their way over to Hawaii before sweeping across the rest of the nation over the past few years.
The small berry, which looks like a cross between a grape and a blueberry, is touted for its health benefits. Acai berries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanidins, proanthocynidins, and flavonoids, which means that the berries may be able to prevent arthritis, cancer, and high cholesterol, and may also help with weight loss. That being said, there have not been many studies on the berries that fully prove their benefits, only that they contain more antioxidants than blueberries.
That doesn’t change the fact that they’re delicious, especially in smoothie bowl form, and make a yummy and healthy breakfast or lunchtime treat that will actually keep you full. If you’re in Durham and searching for something healthy to eat, here’s where you can find these satisfying bowls.
Buoy Bowls Food Truck
Find them across the Triangle
Buoy Bowls is typically stationed in Apex and Holly Springs, however, in addition to appearances at the Durham Food Truck Rodeo, we are happy to report the owners are working on a second truck to regularly serve the Durham/Raleigh area!
Owner Derek Sharpe discovered and fell in love with acai bowls while on a surf trip to San Diego. After another surf trip in Puerto Rico, he quit his 9-5 job and bought is first truck, creating Buoy Bowls in October 2016.
“You couldn’t find a true acai bowl in this area, and I decided to try and change that,” Sharpe says. “It was huge risk, but I was willing to try it.”
Sharpe’s goal was to get acai bowls in the hands of everyone in the Triangle, making them fall in love with the bowls just like he did back in San Diego. He now serves up eight different types of acai bowls from his food truck, topped with a variety of items ranging from goji berries to bee pollen to cocoa nibs. Price ranges from $9 – $10.50.
The Difference: Buoy Bowls sells a variety of types of acai bowls, while most places only have one variation. Sharpe and his team worked months to develop what they deemed the perfect consistency and each one is made fresh to order.
Bull Street Gourmet and Market
3710 Shannon Road, Durham
Bull Street Gourmet & Market started as a sandwich place in Charleston, SC, but owner Anne Niemann loved it so much that she brought it to Durham in 2011. (The original Charleston location has since closed.) Among other cafe-style cuisine, Durhamites can find an acai bowl on the menu at Bull Street Gourmet for $9.50.
Niemann spends her mornings slicing and freezing bananas, strawberries and pineapple. She blends the frozen fruit with mango chunks, acai berry puree, and a splash of orange juice, creating the smoothie base of the acai bowl. She then tops it with Bull Street’s housemade granola, shredded toasted coconut, and fresh blueberries and strawberries to finish it off.
Niemann heard about acai bowls from her kids, who run the popular “Food In The Air” Instagram account and keep up with all the latest food trends. Additionally, her sister-in-law is Brazilian, and Niemann received more details from her about what exactly acai berries were and what made the bowls so delicious.
The Difference: Almost everything in the bowl is fresh and done by hand. The fruit is fresh and sliced by hand by Bull Street staff before it’s frozen, and the granola is made in house, complete with walnuts and sliced almonds.
810 9th St., Suite #128, Solis Apartments, Durham
Owner Eric Hale has been working at Jamba Juice since he was a teenager, and says he tends to reach for food that tastes good, rather than focusing on the health benefits. That’s how he got into the acai bowl, his favorite bowl on the Jamba Juice menu. It just tasted good!
Jamba Juice’s acai bowl, named the Acai Primo, first appeared around 2011. The thick smoothie base is made from acai, soy milk, strawberries, blueberries and bananas, and then topped with organic granola, fresh strawberries, blueberries, and banana slices, shredded coconut, chia seeds, and finished with a drizzle of honey. It goes for a modest $7.19.
“The good thing about the acai bowl is that you get this mixture of fresh toppings and the smoothie underneath it,” said co-owner and Eric’s wife, Liz Hale, who likes to put peanut butter in her acai bowl. “It’s like a parfait, but way better.”
The difference: Jamba Juice uses flash frozen fruit in their smoothie base for the bowl, so the fruit is frozen and packed at the peak of its freshness.
HAPPY + HALE
703 9th St., Durham
Up the street from Jamba Juice is Happy + Hale, another spot where you can find a refreshing acai bowl. The cashier said she loves the acai bowl and likes to add strawberries and almond butter to it. There’s no upcharge for those additions, which makes nut butters a popular add-in for customers. It sells for $10.95.
Happy + Hale’s acai bowl is topped with banana slices, blueberries, granola, chia seeds, coconut strips, chia seeds, and honey – similar to Jamba Juice’s, but without the soy milk in the smoothie base.
Whichever you choose, you’re sure to feel healthy and satisfied after digging into one of these cool and colorful bowls. Make a point to try all four and let us know what you think!
Article contributed by Leah Asmelash, editorial intern with Bites of Bull City