The recent move towards healthier eating has given us juice cleanses, bone broths, quinoa bowls and coconut water.
Touted as a nutrient-dense powerhouse (and miracle hangover cure), coconut water has been a staple of tropical diets for centuries. Its newfound popularity in North America and Europe has given rise to an industry now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Keen to get in on the action, beverage companies are now clamouring to offer the next ‘next big thing’ in bottled waters.
Enter maple water, which is the sap tapped from maple trees normally boiled down to make syrup. Like coconut water, maple water is said to be packed with electrolytes, minerals and antioxidants. It has the added bonus of being local, and therefore more sustainable than tropical coconut water.
“Aside from the health benefits, when harvested responsibly, maple water is a sustainable source of water,” says Charlene McGlaughlin, whose family co-founded Lower Valley Beverage Company in Flesherton, Ontario. The company makes a maple water called Sapsucker.
“Sapsucker is the taste of home for us,” she says. “It’s part of our family tradition… the simple act of drinking fresh tree-filtered water from mason jars. Now we want to let the world in on our little secret.”
The global maple water market is predicted to reach over US $994 million by 2020, according to a recently released study by Technavio, a global market research company.
Vijay Sarathi, lead analyst for Technavio, attributes this forecast to the rise in healthy eating habits among consumers, an increasing demand for organic and natural products and a willingness to pay more for sustainably-sourced ingredients.
McGlaughlin says Sapsucker and products like it are sustainable because they are produced as a by-product of the natural growth process of maple trees. “The water each tree gives off originates as rain and ambient moisture in the air and soil,” she explains. “Therefore, gathering water in this way doesn’t require drilling into underground aquifers.” It also provides an economic incentive to leave the trees standing instead of cutting them down for lumber.
A maple tree can produce sap for about 100 years from the time it matures, she says. As a bonus, it naturally absorbs carbon dioxide.
Maples aren’t the only trees being tapped for water. While not as well known as maple or coconut water in North America, birch water is a traditional beverage in parts of China and northern and eastern Europe.
Because birch water is low in sugar and rich in minerals, companies like Säpp organic are banking on its potential appeal with North American consumers. Säpp made its debut in the United States in June 2015 and is now in about 60 stores on the east coast. Currently made from birch sap tapped in the Ukraine, the company says it is working on sourcing it locally in the near future.
Another unusual water product is Caliwater, which debuted in 2014 after its co-founders fell in love with a cactus water recipe they created in an old Jack LaLanne juicer.
“Most people describe the taste [of a prickly pear cactus] as resembling a watermelon mixed with kiwi,” said co-founder Matt McKee. “Since it is even lower in calories and sugar than nearly all coconut water and aloe juices on the market, it has struck a chord with health-minded individuals, especially parents seeking out beneficial alternatives for their kids.”
Like other plant waters, McKee says cactus water is a good hangover cure and has naturally-occurring electrolytes to support hydration. But he says his product is unique in that prickly pear cactus fruit is the only superfruit containing all 24 of the rare and potent antioxidants known as betalains, which reportedly offer beauty benefits for the skin.
The cactus fruit is handpicked seasonally from cactus plants that grow in the wild and are centuries old. “We have a direct relationship with the farmers in California,” McKee says. “I like to say that ‘No cacti are harmed in the making of cactus water’”.
Can the water craze go too far?
Steuben Foods, a beverage manufacturer in upstate New York began marketing banana water last year.
“People are getting bored with water to some degree,” says Stacey Inglis, the company’s senior vice-president of marketing. “They don’t just want ‘water’ – they want water that has some kind of special value beyond what you get from the tap.”