A SIP OF NATURE
Checking Out Cost
Buying an organic beverage does have its price when it comes to the cash register, with the cost sometimes running 20 to 50 percent higher than conventional drinks. These "gourmet" prices reflect the higher cost of labor-intensive organic farming techniques, as well as the fact that organic farmers are at the mercy of the elements, including bad weather and pests, which translate into lower crop yields. Organic farmers are also still a minority in the agricultural marketplace (just five percent of farmers in California grow organically), resulting in a limited supply of organic produce.
Since they must deal with both short supply and seasonal availability, fresh juice companies face a particular challenge when it comes to producing only organics. While companies that make organic juice from concentrate can buy produce any time it is available and store the juice until it sells, fresh juice producers must make and sell their highly perishable products quickly—typically in less than two weeks. "The reason we can't be 100 percent organic at this point is the quantities of fresh juice we deal with and the price," says Sidney Fisher of Odwalla. Bringing availability and price into line is ultimately up to the consumer. Demand for organics will encourage more farmers to change their growing practices, which in turn will increase supply and decrease price.
While an organic label may guarantee a beverage is pesticide-free, it doesn't necessarily mean the product is fresher or less processed than a conventional beverage. If absolute freshness is what you are after, sidle up to your local juice bar (often found in natural foods stores) and order an all-or-ganic drink. Two popular juice bar "greens" are wheat grass, which is packed with protein, beta carotene, folic acid, and spirulina, a powdery form of mineral-rich algae. Or, if you have a juicer and/or blender at home, start from scratch: buy or grow your own organic produce and whip up super-fresh concoctions in your kitchen. For the ultimate veggie juice, rev up the juicer and try pressing equal parts of organic carrot, celery, beet, spinach, parsley, and cucumber, plus one ounce of wheat grass juice. Carrot, apple, and ginger make a sweeter drink with a little zing. Or try a cup of freshly pressed apple juice blended with a banana, a peeled pitted peach, and a tablespoon of spirulina.
Beyond organic fruit and vegetable drinks, one of the most popular organic beverages is soymilk. Vegans and those who are lactose intolerant (some 80 percent of the world’s population) often choose this dairy milk substitute as a creamy natural alternative for coffee, cereal, or in baking. Cholesterol-free and naturally low in saturated fat, soy drinks are also riding the wave of consumer demand for soy-based products, thanks to studies like the one in a 1995 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, which points to soy protein as a source for significantly lowering cholesterol levels.
The nerve-rattling and acid-producing properties of coffee have long kept it off the beverage lists of the most health conscious. But those who just can't start the day without a freshly brewed cup of java have their pick of plenty of organic beans. Even coffee beans that aren't labeled organic may actually have been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or pesticides. Many of the world;s best coffee beans are grown organically in third world countries by economic necessity rather than choice. Small farmers simply can't afford to buy modern agrochemicals, nor can they pay third-party agencies to certify their beans. Still, if you want an organic guarantee, check the label for the word "certified." And when buying decaffeinated organic coffee, purists should look for beans that have been washed ater-processed to avoid residues from chemical processing.
Organic coffee substitutes offer another decaffeinated option, with a taste that falls somewhere between the real thing and tea. Typically made with organic grains such as barley, chicory, and rye, they can be brewed just like real coffee, and often come in instant form as well.
Drink Your Herbs
Sipping a cup of herbal tea can provide a natural boost without caffeine; it can also refresh, soothe, and even heal. Herbalist Catherine Hunziker recommends ginseng for energy, chamomile and catnip to relax, peppermint and lemon balm to refresh, and echinacea root to boost the immune system.
If caffeine is keeping you from that cup of green tea (which comes from the same plant as black tea, but is less processed) consider that it is also a good source of antioxidants. Studies indicate it may help lower cholesterol and prevent cancer, too.
Good natural foods stores carry an assortment of teas in both prepackaged and bulk form. Look for those that are labeled organically grown, since commercially grown herbs are often sprayed with pesticides or irradiated.
Herbal tea can also easily be made from fresh organic herbs. For a soothing tea-great hot or iced-hang bundles of fresh chamomile and lemon balm in a dark, warm, dry spot until brittle (a few days to a week). Use a tablespoon of dried herbs per cup of boiling water. Steep for at least five minutes. Store extra dried herbs in an airtight jar or plastic bag.
Written by: Jean Linsteadt
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