Monday, July 23, 2012

"Herbal Water"? A Skeptical Review

This past thursday, July 19th, I had the pleasure of attending the Baltimore Ave Dollar Stroll, a fun and lively event that happens three times a year in West Philadelphia, twice in summer and once in early fall. This event features $1 items from a variety of restaurants and cafes. It falls on a thursday, so that it coincides with the smaller of the two days of the Clark Park Farmer's Market. This is the sort of event that I'd recommend going to if you know a lot of people who live in the neighborhood, and not otherwise. There are long lines, and the fun is mainly in the community and the opportunity to see and chat with your friends and neighbors while waiting and wandering. I loved it!

There wasn't much tea happening at this event, but I did notice a product which I found very intriguing, and which is tangentially related to the topic of herbal teas, and this was Ayala's Herbal Water:

This bucket of "herbal water" bottles, incidentally, was being sold by Mariposa Co-op, which I wrote about recently in my post about the tea bag selection in the co-op. I picked out a Lavender Mint "herbal water", pictured here:

I also had the opportunity to sample the Lemongrass Mint Vanilla flavor, which one of my friends bought.

What exactly is this "herbal water"?

These herbal waters are very simple: they are seltzer water or carbonated water, flavored with organic-certified herbal extracts and natural flavor.

How do I feel about these products?

I have mixed feelings about these products. On one level, I love that they offer a flavorful carbonated beverage that is not sweetened. As an alternative to typical soda / soft drinks, I think these are a great alternative, and given the choice of these herbal waters vs. conventional soda, I'd take these products any day.

But these products still seem like a bit of a waste to me; for a company emphasizing organics, they don't seem like the most sustainable choice. They involve a lot of energy-intensive activities, with the packaging, glass bottle, and marketing, merely for a small bottle of flavored water. Why not just fill your own bottle with tap water? They are also rather expensive, not particularly original, and have a much cheaper substitute good.

For years, supermarkets have been stocking flavored seltzer waters, which are just carbonated water with added natural flavorings. I have been buying these for a long time as an alternative to sweet sodas when I want a carbonated drink. These flavored seltzer waters are very cheap; most supermarkets sell them for under $1 a liter. The difference with Ayala's products are that they contain actual herbal extracts rather than being flavored exclusively with the vague "natural flavorings", which in the US, can refer to extracts and essential oils, but can also refer to highly-processed flavorings such as distillates, protein hydrolysates, and products of roasting, heating, or enzymolysis. Here's a link to the official definition of natural flavor in the US, in case anyone is interested.

For the record, Ayala's herbal waters still do contain natural flavorings. If you want a product flavored exclusively with extracts or essential oils, you'll need to locate your own water-soluble extracts and flavor your own seltzer water.

My review of the two "herbal waters" I tried:

To give Ayala credit, I did find each of these products considerably more nuanced tasting than the flavored seltzer waters available in the supermarket.

I preferred the lavender mint to the lemongrass mint vanilla, although I liked both. The lavender mint was crisp, clean, and refreshing. The flavoring struck me as relatively light. Overall, both bottles tasted more like seltzer water than they did like iced herbal tea. I would have preferred a significantly stronger flavoring.

My friend remarked that the lavender mint water tasted like soap to her. I can see this, but it did not bother me. I think a lot of people associate lavender with "soap" smells and less with "food" or "drink" smells. The lemongrass mint vanilla, I found slightly less refreshing, because the vanilla led to a creamy finish, rather than a crisp finish present in the other soda. As it was hot and I was drinking this drink to quench my thirst, I found the lavender mint more refreshing.

What do you think?

Have you tried these? Do you think you would try them? Would you ever buy them? Do you think these sorts of products are a good idea? Do you share my sentiment that it would be a great thing if people would switch away from sodas to these sorts of drinks, but that in the big picture, these are not the most sustainable option?


  1. I've tried a very similar herbal seltzer in Canada, with similar flavours, including lavender, juniper and lemongrass. They're less sweet than pop, which is a lovely thing, but they are a bit on the pricey side. I imagine they could make some fantastic cocktails, though.

  2. Very good points about the total cost of the product. I have a seltzer at home and may give this a try!

  3. I would try them (and I did - they weren't all that bad!) I wouldn't mind buying one on occasion as a treat, especially since I once in a while buy an IZZE (a carbonated juice that uses sugars naturally occurring in the fruit used) but I wouldn't buy them regularly. I don't like promoting the overuse of resources and would much rather reuse my water bottle at home, plus, if I ever want it flavored I can always add lemon :)