Remember climbing trees as a kid? That rush of power you got when you were miles above everyone — and then the sudden evaporation of said power when you came back down to Earth and Mom scolded you for getting sap all over your clothes, hands, and hair? Yeah, we do, too.
During those delightful sap-removal sessions with Mom, you probably never thought to yourself 'Gee, I really wish I could drink this stuff,' but it just so happens that's the latest trendy thing to do. (Don't tell Mom.)
Yes, coconut and aloe waters are slowly being pushed aside as tree waters become more and more popular in the Western health food world. They're being hailed as the detoxifiers to end all detoxes, but we had our doubts. Collected directly from a tree tap just like your favorite syrups, what people are drinking is essentially straight-up sap.
There are many varieties, but here's the rundown on three popular types that are probably already available at your local grocery store.
Just as the name suggests, birch water is tapped directly from birch trees, and even though many health and fitness enthusiasts are just starting to sing its praises, it's far from innovative in other parts of the world. People have been drinking "birch juice" as far back as 921 in Russia, and it has long been consumed in various Asian and European countries as a traditional remedy for everything from hypertension and kidney problems to gout and scurvy.
Slightly sweeter than regular water, some people say they hardly taste the difference between birch water and plain ol' H2O. Usually best when it's enjoyed cold, birch water has become especially popular thanks to its low sugar content, which is much lower than many other tree waters, and, notably, coconut water. The sap contains xylitol, a natural sugar alternative that is often added to products like gum and might help prevent dental cavities. (But it's toxic to dogs, so keep your sap away from Fido!)
Contrary to popular belief, you can't pump maple syrup straight out of the tree and onto a pile of pancakes. When maple trees are first tapped, the fluid that comes out is 89 percent water and 2 percent sucrose and needs to undergo a long process to turn it into the sugary breakfast staple.
Maple water, which is what's available before it's condensed into syrup, is still sweet and has a maple syrup-y aftertaste, but it still contains less sugar than coconut water.
Bamboo isn't just for pandas anymore. Like birch and maple waters, bamboo water is tapped straight from the trees, but its taste is definitely different. Sibberi, a brand known for its tree waters, says it's not as sweet and has "hints of green tea and a smoky aftertaste." And it's the most water-like, too.
"For most plant extracts, the antioxidant level is high, mainly from polyphenols and flavonoids," Panee said. "It's pretty much true to all fruits, vegetables, and plants."
The Final Word: Should You Try Tree Water?
When it comes down to it, these trendy waters — coconut water included — all have one major problem: They'll never be actual water. Nothing beats regular H2O, no matter how fancy the bottle looks.
"Unlike water, which has zero calories and no sugar and hydrates just as efficiently, these designer waters can add up quickly," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, and author of Read it Before You Eat It. "It's best to rely on no-frills bottled or tap water for hydration and enjoy your other nutrients through food, like potassium from baked potatoes or fruit, and zinc and magnesium from nuts."
Still convinced you can't get on the plain water bandwagon? Give water that's infused with the flavors of fruits, veggies, and/or herbs a try: Here are nine simple yet delicious infused water recipes to get you started.