Tree Water & Other Trendy Foods That Are Actually Old News

March 30, 2016

Is birch water the new maple water is the new coconut water?

On first impression, a bottle of Säpp makes the beverage seem as silly as asparagus water: This is "tree water" that's "inspired by simplicity." But what's so simple about paying more than three dollars for "water" that supposedly comes from a tree? Can't I just go outside in a rainstorm, lick a tree, and call it a day?

Photo by Stephen Lurie

It turns out that birch tree water is not as new—or as ridiculous—as it seems: According to another manufacturer, Byarozavik, birches have been tapped for centuries in Eastern and Central Europe (Säpp's source is in Ukraine, Byarozavik's in Belarus), northern China, and Scandinavia. Much like maple trees, birches are tapped during a short period in the spring, when warmth triggers the once-dormant roots, which stashed nutrients throughout the fall, to come back to life and draw water up from the ground and into the trunk.

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As the nutrient-rich water is moves branch-ward, it's naturally filtered—then tapped at just the right moment. (And, in case you're wondering, maple syrup's analogue is birch syrup, which is made by distilling birch, rather than maple, sap, and it does exist but is quite rare.)

So the branding might be a recent development (the Instagram post above could be an advertisement for any trendy "wellness" beverage), as might be the attention to its health benefits (I'd guess that Ukrainians weren't talking about the "extra whack of nutritional benefits to give you that ooh la la feel-good factor"), but the drink—which tastes like a pleasant, not-too-wacky, fruity iced tea—is not.

And the same is true for many of the trendiest foods, especially those extolled for their nutritional properties. The hype is new, but their existence is not—and much of the time, it's their long history that plays a major role in the marketing push. The older, the cooler:

  • Before Rihanna was its spokesperson, coconut water was "an anytime drink for all sorts of occasions" in South America and Southeast Asia. Farmers, hunters, warriors, and laborers have relied on it for hydration for "thousands of years," reports Business Insider, and it's even been used for intravenous hydration.
  • And coconut sugar, made not from coconuts but rather from the sap of cut flower buds of the coconut palm, is nothing new in South and Southeast Asia: It's a traditional sweetener in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, where the trees are native.
  • Commercially brewed and bottled kombucha has been on shelves in U.S. stores since the 90s, which means if you're just buying it now, you're already behind the times. But so is everyone: While its origins "have become lost in the mists of time," some think it's existed since as early as 221 B.C.E., where it was known in China as "The Tea of Immortality." Its Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian names translate to the decidedly less-alluring names "tea fungus" or "tea mushroom."
  • In 21st century America, we get bone broth delivered to our doorsteps! In mid-eighteenth century France, on the other hand, they received bowls of broth—called restoratifs—upon stopping at an inn for a night's rest. (Much more romantic.)
  • A thousand years before Bulletproof Coffee and FATwater, there was Tibetan butter tea and, more recently (but still 400 years ago), hot buttered rum. I'm about to add a half-stick of butter to my next cup of matcha and make millions.
  • Tigernuts, a popular kids' snack in the 1950s and 60s, have an older history: They're the foundational ingredient in Valencian horchata. Beyond that, they were allegedly a major part of our early ancestors’ caloric intake 1 to 2 million years ago (the Organic Gemini brand claims tigernuts “comprised up to 80% of our Paleo ancestors’ diet").

Based on these "hot and trendy" foods, what do you predict to be the next products we're seeing in the U.S. market?

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