This is the era of the Green Drink.
Organic juice bars are everywhere and Vitamix is a household name. This is good. There’s power in these beverages. There’s an addictive high from the nutrient blast, an enduring energy burn from infusing the blood with chlorophyll and other superfoods. The skin begins to glow – at any age. The digestive system gets a break from the heavy lifting, freeing up all kinds of energy for other things, like spontaneous jumping jacks and cleaning marathons.
It can be a challenge, though, to learn to love the flavor of green drinks. It’s a process, an evolution that can take place if you are convinced of its worth. To push past the initial aversion depends on acquiring a taste, and knowing how to ease into it. Palate is where the success or failure of this endeavor lies. Many have given up because they went from no experience with green drinks to gagging on a spinach and yogurt concoction. Turned off for life, they wonder how anyone can drink that stuff.
Crafting a green drink, whether blended or juiced, deserves the same approach to design as any other culinary creation. Above all, a green drink has to taste good. The goal is not to choke down a glass full of super nutrients like a handful of horse pills. Pleasure is the goal. Free your mouth. Your body will follow.
Here are a few guidelines for creating juices or smoothies that you will love, and that will love you back:
START WITH WHAT YOU ALREADY LOVE
Do you like pina coladas? Make the basis of your drink coconut milk and fresh pineapple and from there add in spinach or kale, ginger, etc. Be open to compromising the original flavor a bit. The essence of what you love about pina colodas will be there. Does a chocolate milkshake sound good? How about an almond milk smoothie with raw cacao and ice and a scoop of green powder full of super intense nutrients? Big fan of lemonade? The flavor of juiced cucumbers can be camouflaged with lemon juice and a bit of agave or honey. Serve over ice.
The integrity of a drink depends on choosing ingredients that work well together. Everything but the kitchen sink is not the goal. Take advantage of flavor combinations that are proven winners and build from there.
T AND A: TASTE AND ADJUST IS THE CHEF’S MANTRA
Use recipes as a catapult into your own creative arena. Start with a recipe you find on line or in print, or borrow one from a friend. Make the recipe exactly the way it was written. Now taste. What does it need? More ginger? Less chocolate? Tasting during preparation is, bottom line, the single practice that will determine your success with every dish you ever prepare, including your morning smoothie. Recipes are just guidelines, someone else’s idea. Taste as you go. Be willing to add more of this or that. Experiment. Play. Keep a clean spoon handy.
RAISE THE FLAVOR VIBRATION
Chefs use certain ingredients to unify all the components in a dish, elevating the flavors from just okay to perfect harmony. Citrus, sugar and salt are three that can do that kind of magic for green drinks. Using them strategically will boost the flavor without negating the nutritional benefits.
CITRUS JUICE Lemon juice is an obvious one. Lemon juice brightens and synchronizes the flavors in a glass of juiced greens and vegetables. Flavors pop. And the nutritional benefits of lemon juice go on and on. Of course, we know about the immunity building qualities of Vitamin C. Add to that cancer-fighting, ph-balancing, kidney detoxing, skin-brightening, etc.
Bring in citrus cousins to add dimension. The juice of an orange will round out the edge of lemon with its softer acidity. Don’t forget limes, grapefruit or whatever is in season: pomelos, blood orange, clementines. Mix it up. Add the fresh squeezed citrus juices to your drink after all of the other ingredients, but before a sweetener.
THE SWEETENER OF YOUR CHOICE It’s easy to over do the sugar element in green drinks on the quest for palatability. Too much honey or agave and even certain fruits can chip away at the nutritional benefits. Too little and you may struggle to enjoy the drink. Find your perfect edge, where the least amount is needed to appease the tongue. Do this by tasting as you go, and then adding sugar in small increments if needed to get you there.
Honey and agave syrup are the best choices for sweetening up a cold juice or smoothie. Regular granulated sugar of any kind (even raw) does not dissolve well in cold drinks. Simple syrup was invented for this reason.
Agave nectar has a neutral flavor profile. But there is currently a lot of controversy around agave, which is the sap of the same plant from which we get the lovely spirit, tequila. Agave allies like its supposed low glycemic levels. Opponents say it’s no better than high fructose corn syrup. Always use it in moderation and always choose raw and organic; that means minimal and chemical free processing.
Honey has its distinct personality and many nutritional benefits: nutrients like vitamins B and C and other antioxidants. Like any added sugar, it too should be used in small amounts. Raw and locally produced is best.
Maple syrup gets less press than the others in this new culture of the green drink, but you can reach for it when you want warmer notes in a drink: vanilla, caramel. It doesn’t have raw bragging rights like honey and agave. But even cooked, maple syrup is full of nutrients, including manganese and iron and tons of antioxidants.
The superfine powdery Stevia has become mainstream lately. It’s even available in little packets like the fake stuff. Made from the leaf of the green Stevia plant, it is calorie and chemical free, the perfect alternative that may take getting used to. Stevia can be perceived as bitter in even small amounts – a potential turn off. Learning to like it, though, is worth the process. To balance the bitterness of Stevia until you do, try the double sweetener trick. Start with a small amount of Stevia in your smoothie or juice to lay the foundation; then finish it with an even smaller amount of honey or agave.
SALT A pinch of unrefined sea salt will heighten the inherent flavors of other ingredients in any dish, including a juice or smoothie. A tiny amount will do. A smidge, really. Sea salt has tons of health benefits. Forget the refined table salt of your childhood.
THE ART OF PRODUCE MANAGEMENT
For maximum health benefits, or getting the most nutrients with the least amount of sugar, the general guideline is 3 parts vegetables, 1 part fruit. That means the one part fruit has to work really hard.
There is a beautiful point in the life of every piece of fruit when it reaches the height of its ripeness. In that moment, its sugar content has peaked, elevating its inherent flavors to their full potential, softening the flesh to an ideal texture that is neither too firm nor too soft. If you have memories of the best mango you’ve ever eaten, you understand.
There is an art to managing produce to achieve this perfect state. The pay off is big. A piece of fruit at its peak ripeness means less added sweetener in your drink. This trick applies mostly to bananas, mangoes, peaches, plums; these softer kinds of fruits. They should start their life in your kitchen sitting on the counter. Monitor them every day. And when they begin to soften to the touch or to smell more like themselves, put them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. Baby your avocados and tomatoes in the same way. Apples, citrus and berries are best always kept in the frig.
FALL IN LOVE WITH THE COLOR GREEN
Color is deeply connected to the perception of taste. A chef has to consider how the color of a dish will affect the presentation, since the eyes do taste first. When it comes to juice though, there must be a commitment to overcoming our natural aversion to drinking the color green. A beautiful plate of fresh picked spinach garnished with blueberries in a ginger vinaigrette is one thing. Blended together with ice in a glass is another.
But the whole point of juicing and blending is to get to the green stuff. Chlorophyll is the prana we seek. It is the medium by which plants absorb energy from the sun. We get in on that transaction when we eat or drink green plants.
To slowly adjust the color of green in your glass, add small amounts at first. Spinach is mild in flavor, a perfect starter green. Then move to kale and romaine. A half a handful at first will make a difference in your health. Add more as you want. Then start to experiment with stronger flavored greens, and even herbs. Parsley, cilantro, mint add floral notes. Carrot tops are spicy. Swiss Chard. Beet greens. You will start to look at every green leafy thing in a different way, wondering, can I juice that?
Your body will start to crave the energy and vibrance and clarity of mind you will experience from drinking green vegetables often. And slowly your eyes will adjust to the hue of green. And eventually, that bright green color will be like a pat on the head. You did well.