Photo via Flickr user Marionzetta
I've spent many mornings guzzling down green juices with everything from jalapeño to collards in an attempt to undo the alcohol-inflicted harm I had done to my body the night before.Artichoke water, I reasoned, couldn't be much worse.Sure, it might sound like a coconut water groupie that's come late to the game, perhaps trying to bask on the edges of the limelight that the coconut's lately found itself in. It's no secret that Rihanna's drink of choice uprooted H20 in the early 2000s for a certain subset of gullible consumers, as coconut water companies claimed it had potassium levels higher than those in a banana and a quarry's worth of minerals. Soon, the coconut water industry grew into a $400 million dollar global juggernaut that's spawned plenty of imitators. Hello, maple water?
And, yes, artichoke water. It's called Arty Water, and it bills itself as "the world's first premium beverage made from fresh California artichokes," because drinking our vegetables is apparently much easier than eating them.Howard Ketelson, Ph.D., is the man behind the yellow-green water, and he claims to have spent 15 years studying consumer productsand dietary supplements that alleviate inflammation. After hearing that his friend Yen Tran had grown up drinking artichoke tea to help skin acne as a teenager in Asia, Ketleson became interested in the thistle that contains some of the highest levels of free radical-scavenging properties out of any vegetables. So he got to work on creating an artichoke drink that wasn't disgusting, and one that also supported US farmers."My goal is to set up an appropriate partnership with California farming communities to promote the value of artichokes," Ketelson says. "Here's this great vegetable, but it's difficult to eat at times. When you have it in a bottle, you can carry it, it has a nice flavor, and it's hydrating."Along with artichokes from California, which produces almost 100 percent of the nation's crop, Arty Water also includes a small list of other ingredients, including agave syrup, lemon juice, and monk fruit juice. Although artichokes are only in peak season from March to May, Ketelson and his team have developed a process that allows them to produce the artichoke water during this season, resulting in a product that remains shelf-stable for up to six months. Each day, the crew churns out about 20,000 bottles.
Contrary to how I pictured the process, Ketelson isn't out squeezing artichokes to get their juice, though. He says that consumers tend to ignore the fibrous, outer leaves and stem of the artichoke in favor of eating the meaty hearts—well, duh—and we therefore miss out on a lot of the vegetable's nutrients. Ketelson claims that his extraction method is able to draw out minerals from every single part of the vegetable, leading to less waste.Each eight-ounce bottle contains a measly 40 calories. Arty Water also touts itself as vegan, low-glycemic, lactose-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and caffeine free, as any good water should be.It came as no surprise to find Arty Water at my local health food store, positioned between açai smoothies and turmeric elixirs. In the interest of journalism, of course, I had to try it.When I raise the squat, green bottle to my nose and inhale, there isn't a particularly strong scent—until the lip of the bottle touches my own, at which moment the vegetal odor of artichoke shoots up my nostrils. I think back to all the times I ate artichokes as a kid, dipping the meaty hearts in warmed lemon butter, and the juice doesn't taste far from that—but it somehow works. It's mineral-y and vegetal, but the natural sweetness of the vegetable comes through (with the aid of agave nectar), and the drink almost reminds me of chamomile tea with a hint of lemon. I pick up floral notes from the pandan leaves in the water, and I'm pleasantly surprised—this tastes pretty damn good.Whether it can live up to its own hype, however, remains to be seen. I asked Ketelson if he thought artichoke water could be the next multi-million-dollar trendglobal industry like coconut water, but he's a realist. "Coconut water is going to keep growing with all the advertising and superstars endorsing it, but we're a small brand that started five months ago," he tells me. "We just wanted to create a daily beverage that you can drink three to four times a day, and that actually tastes good, since most other 'waters' don't."As far as its purported health effects, maybe artichoke water is bullshit—I couldn't tell from just a bottle or two. But a vegetable-infused water that feels compelled to point out that it lacks gluten and has a (relatively) smaller carbon footprint than other bullshit waters is perhaps trying a bit too hard to impress impressionable consumers who have hitched themselves to every snake oil wagon to pass through.After talking with Ketelson, though, I got the feeling that he wasn't peddling snake oil, and that he's really just an earnest scientist who wanted to make something that tastes good but happens to be a little weird. He doesn't want to become the next whatever-water kingpin. He just likes artichokes.Heck, so do I. And even though Arty Water is actually quite tasty, I still might stick to consuming most of my artichokes the old-fashioned way. You know, with my teeth.