Both açaí and smoothie bowls have enjoyed a huge surge in popularity lately (for good reason). While this is generally good, I've noticed that some places seem to get the concepts mixed up– smoothie bowls keep masquerading as açaí bowls and vice versa. So, as both a former employee of a popular Los Angeles açaí bowl joint and a smoothie enthusiast, I'm here to set everyone straight by outlining a few major differences. 

Origins

Isabel Bowman

First of all, açaí bowls and smoothie bowls are completely different in origin. Smoothies have their roots in Mediterranean and Eastern cultures, which made pureed fruit mixtures similar to the modern smoothie. However, it wasn't until electric appliances like the refrigerator and blender became available that the creamy concoction became popular in the United States. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to transfer them from cups to bowls, and the rest is history.

Açaí bowls, on the other hand, hail from Brazil, which is the only place that the açaí berry itself is able to grow.  In the Amazonian region of Brazil, the bright purple pulp is a valued dietary staple, especially for poorer families. Coincidentally, I am Brazilian; and when visiting family in Brazil when I was younger, carts selling açaí bowls on the beach were a common (and welcome) sight. 

Texture

Emily Nestel

This is the area that most places tend to get confused, but the difference is actually fairly simple. Smoothie bowls, like the one pictured above, tend to be more liquid in consistency. They're basically the same as what you would get from drinking it out of a cup, just with toppings. Açaí bowls, however, are traditionally made to be the consistency of a sorbet: thick, creamy, and very cold.  

Base Ingredients

Ellie Kincaid

Even I'll admit that this is where the distinction between smoothie bowls and açaí bowls gets a little fuzzy, but I'll do my best to explain. In the case of açaí bowls, the ingredients within the açaí mixture itself tend to be more standard and more simple. Of course, there's the açaí pulp itself, then there usually is a sweetener (guaraná syrup or agave, for example). Often, places will add in another fruit, such as bananas. Or, if you're a purist, you can go without any of these extras, as many Brazilians like to do.

Smoothie bowls (and smoothies in general) get a little more creative with the base ingredients. They're easily customizable and can fit any dietary need in a pinch, too. And funnily enough, açaí pulp can even be on the ingredients list without turning your smoothie bowl into an açaí bowl. 

Accessibility 

soup, vegetable
Margaret Ross

It's tough to measure exactly how easy it is to find one versus the other, but it really depends on where you live. If your city is like Los Angeles, both smoothie bowls and açaí bowls can thankfully be found on practically any corner. However, the açaí bowl trend does seem to be a little slower to catch in certain areas.

This means that smoothie bowls are usually easier to stumble upon, even if it means buying a normal smoothie and putting it in a bowl yourself. However, for those desperate to try the açaí trend, Trader Joe's sells frozen açaí pulp (for cheap, too), and you can just as easily make your own

blueberry, sweet, strawberry, vegetable, berry
Julia Portnoff

Honestly, you can't really go wrong when you're between smoothie bowls and açaí bowls, but it helps to at least know the basic differences. So next time, you'll know exactly what to do when you get a sudden craving for something fruity, cold and, as always, served in a bowl.