- Sucos -- or juice bars -- thrive in Rio de Janeiro and beyond in Brazil
- Rodrigo Vidigal Peixoto, whose family runs Polis Sucos, says his father started Rio's juice bar craze in 1958
- International travelers may be unfamiliar with many of Brazil's exotic and delicious fruits
- Graviola is a pear-sized green fruit covered in prickly knobs that's said to aid digestion
(CNN)For the first-timer, a Rio sucos, or juice bar, is a little overwhelming.
Piles of exotic fruits, many of which you've possibly never heard of, line glass cases, or are stacked reverently in displays that seem more like a shrine to a Balinese god than a commercial enterprise.
"When the gringos arrive here, they go crazy when they see all the fruits displayed in the store," says Rodrigo Vidigal Peixoto, whose family runs Polis Sucos in Ipanema and several other locations in Rio.
According to Peixoto, his father opened Rio's first juice bar in 1958.
"When they see the fruit they can smell and touch, it's incredible for them."
The artichoke-looking thing is a fruta do conde, or sugar apple -- it's a delicious pear-like fruit rich in antioxidants that makes one of Polis Sucos' most popular drinks.
The little red fruits are acerola, which have one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C on the planet.
The orange bell pepper-like things with the curled handle on top are caju, the cashew apple, which comes from northeast Brazil and makes for a smooth, sweet blend.
The handle is the cashew nut.
The yellow mango-type fruits are caja, packed with vitamins A, B and C, iron and calcium.
Bet you never heard of this fruit
The daily sucos is a sacred ritual in Rio, a tonic to beat the heat, get a boost of natural sucrose, antioxidants or vitamins and sample a dizzying array of blends, courtesy of the exotic fruit capital of the world.
The website Toda Brazil lists 146 fruits grown in Brazil.
The count runs to 14 before you're even out of the A's: abacate (avocado), abacaxi (pineapple), abiu, abricó, açaí, acerola, akee, ameixa, amêndoa, amora, anonáceas, araçá, atemoya, avelã.
You can find sucos bars on just about any street in the city's Zona Sul.
You can order juice with sugar or without ("sem acucar") or "natural," fresh-squeezed, instead of with ready-made pulp.
Many sucos also offer cheap eats, which make them a great place to save money but eat well in a city where dining can be expensive.
You can get everything from omelets to meat, beans and rice combos, to an assortment of salgados, the meat and cheese pastries Brazilians love.
There are natural energy drinks, from guarana berries or cupuacu, an Amazon fruit whose juice is a cross between pear and banana.
Calming beverages are made from the popular maracuja (passionfruit).
Another favorite sucos is made with graviola, a pear-sized green fruit covered in prickly knobs that's said to aid digestion.
It has a hint of pina colada but it's lighter and, of course, fresher.
How to shop for fruit
Fresh-squeezed juice is the currency of the Rio sucos bar.
"The freshness of the fruit is the secret to the best sucos," says Peixoto.
He's a stickler for using only fruit that's at peak ripeness.
As a buyer for Polis, he goes to the Ceasa, the giant fruit and vegetable wholesale market in the north of Rio, and picks only fruit that's just right for juicing.
He looks first for fruit that's visually pleasing, with a healthy color.
Then he feels the product to see if it's firm.
It can't be soft, or it's past its time.
"The people in other stores buy inferior fruits, less quality," says Peixoto. "They use sugar to pretend the fruit is mature and sweet, but it's not. My juices all are (made) without sugar."
Some fruit is too fragile for shipping and handling, so pulp is used.
Polis Sucos uses pulp only for graviola, cupuacu and acai, fruits from the northeast and the Amazon.
The deep purple acai is one of the most popular items at any sucos.
The market for this "superfood" loaded with antioxidants is also booming outside Brazil.
It's served as a smoothie, blended with banana or honey or mixed with granola and served in a bowl.
Of course, there are plenty of fruits most foreigners have heard of as well, from pineapple to mango, papaya, bananas and oranges -- and all seem to grow tastier under Brazilian skies.
The favorite Brazilian banana, known as the silver banana, is typically firmer and sweeter than the kind Americans know from Central America or Ecuador.
They make for particularly delicious sucos blends.
Rio's juice bar tradition began when Peixoto's father, Eduardo Fernades Peixoto, was working as a restaurant and bar manager.
He didn't really like his job, so he was ready to take a risk when the owner suggested one day that the two of them open up a juice store in Ipanema, with Eduardo as a partner.
Eduardo eventually became the sole owner of Polis Suco, then passed it down to Rodgrigo's brother Carlos.
Today, the family operates four stores, including two in Barra da Tijuca and one inside the headquarters of Globo TV, at Projac da Globo.
"We pioneered the concept, then other people opened many other stores," says Peixoto. "People began to want a more natural, healthy life.
"It's also very hot here, so people wanted something healthy that could quench their thirst."
He recommends travelers try his mango and maracuja combo.
"The sweet fruit with the sour fruit is a wonderful combination. It's very good."
At a price of 7 reais ($3 for 300 ml) and 10 reais ($4.50 for 500 ml), it's a tasty deal, and one that could get to be a habit during your stay in Rio.
Polis Sucos, Rua Maria Quiteria 70, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 2247 2518
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