Once the nectar of patchouli-spritzing, free-love-espousing, granola types, fresh-pressed, organic juice blends have become a mainstream staple, equal parts health trend and hype bonanza. Flip through any celebrity mag and the same post-workout starlets who once sipped lattes the size of their sunglasses can now be seen clutching kale-green or beet-red or carrot-orange bevvies – veggies are key in this most recent iteration of juice lust, which is part of what distinguishes the new wave from the Jamba Juice mania of the mid-nineties.
Juicing, previously associated with extreme cleanses, has more recently been embraced by twentysomethings and thirtysomethings as part of an overall healthy lifestyle – the liquid equivalent of a Pilates studio membership or a pair of $200 yoga pants.
Last month, The New York Times published a story about the "juice war" in New York and Los Angeles, wherein dozens of juicetrepreneurs are duking it out for dominance in the $5-billion-plus market.
In Canada, the movement is on a similar trajectory, with dedicated juice bars popping up in the same neighbourhoods that welcomed indie java joints five years ago and specialty juices fighting for shelf space at high-end chains such as Whole Foods. "In Canada, we are definitely seeing a general trend towards healthier eating and also towards drinks that are portable," says Geoff Wilson, a food-services analyst with FS Strategy Inc. in Toronto.
In a culinary climate where pulled pork and truffle-spiked mac 'n' cheese have become commonplace, it makes sense that absolution-in-a-bottle is doing brisk business. Across the board, experts agree that increasing our green intake is a good thing, though beyond that basic truth, a juice consensus is harder to come by: Cold-pressed or high-pressure pascalization? Cure-all or placebo? Diet miracle or get-fit-quick scheme? And, at upward of $10 a bottle, maybe it's the consumer who is getting juiced.
In Vancouver, Zach Berman and Ryan Slater are the founders of Canada's first juice bar on wheels, The Juice Truck. The childhood friends started their twice-trendy company in 2011 after a year-long travelling adventure in which they discovered the amazing properties of juiced sea buckthorn berries in the Himalayas and then began paying close attention to the native libations in all of the countries they visited. Their menu now features more than a dozen internationally inspired elixirs, and they will soon expand to a 2,000-square-foot space to keep up with increasing demand. Slater says The Juice Truck is the only outfit in Canada that does cold-pressed juice made to order, a claim that touches on two juice-realm lightning rods – the method of production and the time elapsed between creation and consumption.
Cold pressing – in which fruit and veggies are crushed and then pressed for maximum liquid extraction – is the current gold standard, mostly because, unlike the more common centrifugal juicer method, the cold-presser uses no heat and minimizes oxygen exposure, both of which can be detrimental to the live enzymes that make fresh juice so healthy. Whereas a juice made in a centrifugal machine may lose the majority of beneficial nutrients in a couple of hours, cold-pressed concoctions maintain almost all of their nutrients for about three days.
Some juice companies that ship nationally use the controversial high-pressure pascalization process, which ups the expiry date to about three weeks. Juice purists say this negates the entire all-natural ethos of juicing, though it's easy to understand why a longer shelf life would be good for business. "We see the potential of HPP in terms of reaching communities where no fresh juice is available and allowing them to purchase the most nutrient-dense juice possible," Slater says.
And precisely what do all of these nutrients and enzymes add up to? Depending on whom you talk to, juicing is preached as a weight-loss wonder, a cleansing tool, even a cancer treatment. Actress Lisa Ray says that juicing is her "secret weapon," at least partly responsible for both her perfect skin, her enviable metabolism and cancer remission (Ray began juicing to combat multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer).
Miranda Malisani, a registered holistic nutritionist based in Toronto, confirms that a nutrient-rich diet contributes to overall health, and that fruit and veggies in liquid form can be particularly rich in micro-nutrients, though as far as any conclusive links between juicing and cancer treatment, the medical community remains divided at best. As for the promised detoxification, it's worth noting that our bodies already have a pretty good system for that – it's called digestion.
The weight-loss claim, while not necessarily inaccurate, can also be misleading. "Juicing can be a good way to kick-start weight-loss efforts, but it's not sustainable. It's not a quick fix," Malisani says. While everyone knows someone who credits a supermodel physique to Mother Nature's little helper, the reality is that for most people the poundage lost by juicing is likely to pile back on as soon as they switch to solids.
Also, if your weight-loss tonic tastes too yummy to be true, there's a good chance that it is: Nutritionists recommend juicing 80 per cent veggies to 20 per cent fruit, which rules out any drink that tastes like it should be enjoyed poolside with a shot of rum.
Still with the right attitude, juicing is a great tool for following a healthy diet, largely because it's an efficient way to consume much-needed fruits and veggies. "Even the most disciplined, health-conscious person has trouble eating the recommended five to 10 servings a day," Malisani says. (A green juice might contain more than half of that, she says.)
However, Malisani cautions that a liquid lunch is not exactly the same as chewing through a plate of leafy greens, since the extraction process does away with the most of the fibre. She recommends juicing as a complement to a healthy diet rather than a post-gluttony extreme measure or a meal replacement.
This might be wishful thinking since a good number of the juice-swilling masses seem more concerned with dress sizes than enzyme absorption, but if they are going to drink dietary Kool-Aid, better it be pressed with kale.
A cross-country roundup of fresh-pressed juices:
Pineapple, coconut water, citrus, kelp, mint, ginger, Himalayan sea salt
Where: Benourished, Toronto
Beets, carrot, dandelion, apple, lemon, and ginger
Where: Rejuice Nutrition, Montreal
Blueberry, pear, lime, mint, coconut water and aloe vera juice
Where: The Juice Truck ,Vancouver
The Green Dragon
Kale, parsley, spinach, cucumber, celery
Where: Nature's Best Market and Juice Bar, Regina