A "cherry on top" is always a good thing — that famous saying means something great is now even better. That’s certainly the case if you’re talking about an acerola cherry. "I’ve been using acerola for many years, both in raw and supplemental form. Acerola could be the most underrated tropical fruit out there," says Lina V., a doctor from Sofia, Bulgaria. "It’s a superfruit with a high concentration of vitamin C."
This tart-flavored cherry grows in the tropics but has become a popular supplement of late, whether in powder form or in liquid extracts. Besides vitamin C, acerola contains a cornucopia of beneficial phytochemicals, including anthocyanins, phenolic acids, and flavonoids. Consuming acerola can benefit your immune system, skin health, brain health, digestion, and more.
What Is Acerola Cherry?
This is no ordinary cherry. It’s not only rare (they don’t grow outside of a tropical climate), but they are a superfruit. Acerola (Malpighia emarginata — and formerly M. glabra) is also called the Barbados cherry or West Indian cherry. These small trees grow native in Central America, northern South America, Mexico, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. In times past, sailors ate them for scurvy, caused by vitamin C deficiency.
Puerto Rico native Melissa N., a registered dietitian in San Juan, has an acerola cherry tree in her backyard that she’s eaten from all her life. "They’re delicious, sweet, tart, juicy," she says. Puerto Rican researchers were the first to discover the high vitamin C content of acerolas in 1946. "Right now, there’s great interest in this fruit as a functional food, holding promising agro-industrial and pharmaceutical applications." Functional foods have value beyond basic nutrition; they confer specific health benefits.
Though unrelated, acerola fruits resemble traditional cherries in the genus Prunus. Acerola cherries are also a deep red color when ripe. Acerolas are one of the highest natural sources of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in nature.
Acerola Cherry Nutrient Profile
Why is acerola so beloved? It has a nutrient profile second to none! Below are details of the top nutrients it contains, all of which make it a functional food.
Super-High Vitamin C!
The acerola fruit contains an exorbitant amount of ascorbic acid — in the range of 1500 to 4500 milligrams per 100 grams (about 3.4 ounces). That is around 50 to 100 times than that of an orange or lemon!
Vitamins & Minerals
You’ll also get vitamin A, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), folate (B9), and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium. That’s quite a nutrient profile!
Though not as powerful in the acerola as the anthocyanins and phenolic acids, some of the flavonoids like rutin do provide incredible benefits, particularly when it comes to reining in cell-damaging free radicals.
Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid but deserve mention on their own. They give acerolas their deep red color and are known as potent antioxidants. As an added bonus, the anthocyanins in acerola deter harmful organisms.
8 Benefits of This Tropical Superfruit
There’s good reason your mother gave you orange juice when you had the flu or a cold. Vitamin C is vital for good health. With one of the highest amounts of vitamin C for any fruit, you can’t go wrong with acerola! Here are the top 8 benefits from acerola.
1. Strengthens the Immune System
Acerola cherries are chock full of potent phytonutrients, which help your body ward off the oxidative stress that can lead to disease and aging.[2, 4] Your immune system is dependent on vitamin C to produce and mobilize white blood cells. Ensure you have adequate vitamin C intake for a robust immune system!
2. Boasts Excellent Antioxidant Power
It can’t be overstated how essential antioxidants are to maintaining your health. Vitamin C itself is a potent antioxidant, as most of us know. Antioxidants keep your body operating at full capacity. It’s great to take acerola when you feel the sniffles coming on or just as a daily immune booster.
3. Supports Collagen Production
Collagen makes up the connective tissue in skin, cartilage, tendons, and blood vessels. Having enough collagen not only makes for healthy skin and joints but it also helps keep your blood pressure in check by keeping your arteries and veins healthy. Since vitamin C stimulates collagen production, with its super-high-C, acerola may help.
4. Enhances Your Energy Levels
Vitamin C helps the body make L-carnitine, an amino acid that the mitochondria in your cells use to create energy. So the more C, the more energy — up to a point (vitamin C is water-soluble and the excess gets excreted). Experts have shown that acerola juice may increase energy metabolism in the brain, which can even promote a normal weight.
"I have recommended it to many of my clients, and we all agree that it helps with your energy levels and strengthens your immune system," says personal trainer and nutritionist Jamie H., of Philadelphia, who recently started using acerola cherry powder.
5. Keeps Your Body Youthful
Many believe acerola promotes longevity and has anti-aging properties through its strong antioxidant and energy-giving power. With all that extra energy, you’ll have fewer excuses not to work out. More time in the gym, on the tennis courts or on the trails for sure works in your favor in keeping one step ahead of Father Time.
6. Improves Brain Health
Acerola cherry may protect the brain, specifically the hippocampus, from oxidative stress caused by poor diet and obesity. The best way to prevent obesity is through a healthy plant-based diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits, including acerola cherry. Both ripe and unripe cherries contain antioxidant compounds that help the brain.
7. Aids Digestion
Experts say that acerola can even enhance metabolic function and digestion. Specifically, it promotes a normal response to inflammation in the gut. Acerola cherry has long been used in traditional systems of medicine for diarrhea, stomach pains, and liver dysfunction.
8. Promotes Radiant Skin
Acerola not only does a body good, but it’s your friend in the beauty department, too. Its antioxidants are great for promoting healthy-looking, radiant skin. Acerola may play a role in smoothing out complexions connected to ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun.
Some people also use acerola for shiny, strong hair. Try combining acerola extract with moisturizers like almond or coconut oil to strengthen your locks.
Best Ways to Take Acerola Cherry
"The acerola is not like other cherries," says Chris N., founder of a sleep advice company from San Jose, California. He sought out acerola cherries for their super-C boost. "These can be a bit sour. The redder they are, the less sour they are." Below are the main ways you will find this superfood.
Fresh Fruit, Juice &Products
"My favorite way to consume acerola cherries is fresh off the tree," says Melissa N. "I’ve also made them into juice by crushing the fruit and straining it." While fresh is always best, unless you live in Puerto Rico or another locale where acerola cherry trees grow, you may not find them.
You can buy processed acerola products, like frozen fruit, marmalade, and frozen concentrate. If you find them frozen, make sure you get the right species (they are not the same as "tart cherries.") Eiter way, they can be made into jams, juices, and smoothies.
Powdered acerola cherry powder is becoming a popular way to take this superfruit. It can be added to smoothies or used for a DIY juice.
"You can easily mix acerola powder into a protein shake or smoothie or just mix it into a cup of water or juice," says Jamie H, of Philadelphia, "Whatever works best for you."
For convenience, you might also like capsules. Break them open and mix in water, fruit, or vegetable juice. Some people like to take the powder and add it to capsules. Always look for organic and plant-based capsules for your supplements.
You may be able to find acerola cherry extract on its own, but you're more likely to find it in extracts combined with other herbs and ingredients.
Global Healing's Plant-Based Vitamin C contains acerola cherry, along with other super-high vitamin C sources like camu camu, Kakadu plum, and amla (Indian gooseberry). It also contains organic plant essence blend — rosehip, sweet orange, and lemon — as well as Energized Trace Minerals™ to enhance bioavailability.
Points to Remember
Whether you put it in a smoothie, sprinkle the powder over fruit, or drink it as a juice, acerola won’t disappoint. Its antioxidants, flavonoids, anthocyanins, phenolic acids, vitamins, and minerals will make a difference in your health and well-being.
Rich in vitamin C content, acerola has a wealth of antioxidant power that helps keep you youthful and strengthens the immune system. Acerola also provides a boost of general energy, and helps your skin, brain, and digestion.
As always, consult your healthcare provider for any specific medical advice and be mindful that the vitamin C in acerola cherries is potent. How much is too much? As for acerola, it’s smart to follow the guidelines for vitamin C supplementation. Generally, follow the dosage directions on the label of the product. A great way to try acerola is in a raw extract, like Plant-Based Vitamin C.
- Carlos G. Moscoso CG. West Indian cherry: richest known source of natural vitamin C. Economic Botany. 1956;10(3):280-294.
- Prakash A., Baskaran R. Acerola, an untapped functional superfruit: a review on latest frontiers. Journal of Food Science and Technology. September 2018;55(9):3373-3384.
- SelfNutritionData. Acerola, (West Indian cherry), Nutrition Facts &Calories, Raw. Updated 2018. Accessed 25 June 2020.
- Dusman E, et al. Radioactive effect of the Barbados Cherry (Malpghia glabra L.) against radiopharmaceutical iodine -131 in Wistar rats in vivo. BMC Complement Alternative Medicine. January 31, 2014;14:41.
- Carnitine: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Updated 10 Oct 2017. Accessed 30 June 2020.
- Leffa D, et al. Effects of acerola (Malpghia emarginata DC.) juice intake on brain energy metabolism of mice fed a cafeteria diet. Mol Neurobiol. 2017 March;54(2)954-963.
- Hanamura T, et al. Antihyperglycemic effect of polyphenols from acerola (Malpighia emarginata DC.) fruit. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. August 2006;70(8)1813-1820.
- Sato Y, et al. Acerola (Malpighia emarginata DC.) juice intake suppresses UVB-induced skin pigmentation SMP30/GNL knockout hairless mice. PLOS One. 2017;12(1)e0170438.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.