It was the hydrating health drink to be seen sipping a year or two ago: the sweet, smooth liquid, so loved by celebs such as Madonna, Demi Moore and Matthew McConaughey (all of whom invested cash in the leading brand, Vita Coco) that went from speciality health store status to corner shop ubiquity as fast as you can say ‘electrolytes’.
These days there are 40 or more coconut water brands on sale here in the UK, representing a market worth £100m a year, give or take a million.
However, as anybody who knows anything about health fads can tell you, coconut water is so 2014. Now there are three new pretenders to the trendier-than-bottled-water throne: birch water, maple water and cactus water.
But will any of these new plant waters catch on? What health benefits do they promise? And which stands the best chance of becoming the new coconut water? We take a closer look at their claims and ask Lifesum nutritionist Lovisa Nilsson to rate them.
What is it? Sap directly tapped from the trunk of birch trees. The sap can only be collected during a three-week period in the spring, when the trees come back into life after the winter. The sap isn’t thick or sticky, as you’d expect, but has a water-like consistency and a sweet, ‘foresty’ taste. Not to be confused with birch juice, which is an extract of birch leaves.
What’s in it? Manufacturers claim it contains minerals, vitamins and amino acids. In its natural form it has four times fewer calories than coconut water (five calories per 100ml). It also contains xylitol, a natural low-calorie sweetener that prevents tooth decay, and saponins, which are touted as a cholesterol-lowering compound. Not all brands are 100 per cent natural, though, so watch out for sweetened or flavoured birch water with added sugar. And there is no independent research backing up manufacturers’ nutritional claims.
Where can you buy it? Several brands are available online. Sibberi birch water is sold in a couple of speciality stores in London and Cheshire, though the company is aiming to get it into department stores later this year. Other brands include Byarozavik (big in the US), Nordic Koivu and Sealand Original Birk.
Lovisa says: “The great thing about birch water is it’s locally sourced and commonly found in British gardens. You can even make it yourself in spring, when the sap runs close enough to the surface. As a nutritionist people have given me feedback on the benefits of drinking birch water, including improvements to their immune system and cellulite. It hydrates better than coconut water and I think it’s an amazing antioxidant. It tastes good and is a good substitute for sugary fruit juices and fizzy drinks.” Rating: 4/5
What is it? Like birch water, maple water is tapped from maple trees but has no resemblance to the sweet sticky syrup you put on pancakes. It tastes like water with a bit of maple syrup in, which is not to everyone’s taste. It may be new here, but in the US they’ve been drinking it for 300 years (Beyoncé loves it, allegedly.)
What’s in it? No fewer than 46 vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – though that’s according to maple water bottlers. It contains less than half the sugar of coconut water. Again, watch out for added sugar and flavoured versions.
Where can you buy it? You can buy maple water online over here, with brands including Seva, Vertical Water and Drink Wahta. Harvey Nichols also sells a line called DRINKmaple. But remember, it has air miles, whereas birch water comes from trees in the UK.
Lovisa says: “Maple water boasts vitamins, electrolytes and minerals, but in my opinion this hasn’t been totally proven. However, it does contain manganese – a powerful antioxidant and great for muscle and bone strength. It is also very low in sugar, which makes it a good alternative to coconut water. It may also help with immune function.”
What is it? A drink made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, a desert plant native to Mexico and south-western parts of the US. The fruit is harvested and made into a concentrate, then added to water and flavoured with fruit juice such as lemon and apple.
What’s in it? Sources suggest cactus water contains beta-carotene, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B and vitamin C, plus – in no-added-sugar brands – about half the calories and sugar of coconut water.
Where can you buy it? Tesco stocks Tymbark Cactus drink, but be warned: it contains just one per cent prickly pear juice (the rest is mostly water, apple juice and added sugar). True Nopal Cactus Water is a popular no-added-sugar US brand, but it’s not available here yet, not even online (unless you buy from the US).
Lovisa says: “With other ‘super’ waters, you can usually extract them straight from the source, but cactus water goes through more processing and treatment to create a drinkable substance, so is not as natural. Interestingly, it’s known as a great hangover cure as it contains the antioxidant betalains, which may reduce nausea and dry mouths. Cactus water has also been linked to decreasing inflammation and balancing blood sugar levels, but not enough research has been done to prove its effectiveness.”