A woman at Raw Republic on Magazine Street, eyeing the half-dozen sleek bottles of chartreuse and pumpkin and mustard yellow liquids in a refrigerated case, turned away from the room, revealing a bold white scrawl across the back of her crimson T-shirt: “Think live juice.”
More and more New Orleanians are doing just that, as customers line up at local eateries, coffee shops and bars for cloudy concoctions of juices pulled from all manner of exotic produce. Such as kale (yes, you can get it here, even in liquid form), cucumbers, ginger, beets, fennel, carrots, melons, parsley … well, almost anything that grows green, orange, yellow or red. Which is why most live juices bear those brilliant hues.
I grew up in the ‘60s, in an era of what I can only call, I suppose, dead juices. Orange and apple were our sole selections, and bottles of their juices had come a very long way from the tree. It was an era of fascination with industry and technology, too, giving us Tang, the bright-orange powdered breakfast drink that went to space with NASA astronauts.
Now the industry has returned to Earth, and live juice bars are cropping up across New Orleans like wild chanterelles after a rainstorm. Places like Satsuma and Fair Grinds have been serving “live” juices since their inception, while newcomers like Raw Republic have added a more upscale vibe to the trend. Even eateries like Canal Street Bistro or Surreys (Bywaterplace) are adding homemade juice combos to the menu.
We recently gathered a few tasters for a short juicing tour through New Orleans, to find out just what’s up with this propensity to drink your fruits and vegetables.
First order of the day: a novice’s definition of the trend. Denise, on duty behind the counter at Fair Grinds coffee shop in Mid-City, obliged.
“Live juicing is just combining whatever fruits and veggies you like into a Vitamix and making it into a smoothie or juice-like substance,” she said.
A Vitamix? It’s not a health additive, it seems, but a machine. “Vitamix makes it blend really well. It’s like a type of hyper-blending.”
The techniques for live juicing, we learned, vary from place to place. Some use industrial juicers, others employ a cold-press system, still others rely on an old-fashioned blender.
But one thing is constant among the juicing elite.
“Our first priority with juice is that it is organic,” said Kate, our server at Satsuma in the Bywater. “That’s what the whole raw food movement and slow food is about. The closer it is to actually living and growing, the more natural it is and the more the nutrients are going to be intact.”
So is live juicing, at heart, just a quick way to get your leafy greens down? Well, sort of, says Michael at Raw Republic.
“In the cold-press juices there’s up to 3 pounds of produce in each one,” he explains. “In the green juices in particular, if I were to lay out everything in front of you before we went to grind and press it, it’s the equivalent of about eight or nine full-size salads. People aren’t, in their day to day lives, eating enough leafy greens. Even if you don’t love the taste, this is a really good way to slam it back and get it in.”
George W. Bush would be happy to know that even unlovable veggies can go into the juicer. Here’s a tip for him from Kate.
“You can juice broccoli, for sure. And if you throw a couple of apples in there you won’t even notice it.”
Of course, some and veggies lend themselves less easily to the treatment. It takes multiple heads of kale to obtain just a thimbleful of juice. But for those looking for more health bang for their juice buck, it’s worth it. Even at $6 to $10 per soda-sized glass.
“It makes people feel better,” said Kate. “It’s a whole different quality of energy when you’re drinking live juices. People that are used to having a lot of caffeine get the benefits of getting a boost of energy without the crash of caffeine.”
Advocates also cite anti-oxidants and immune-boosters as by-products of this health-juice craze.
But for New Orleanians, taste will always be a factor in anything that goes down the gullet. Perhaps that’s why one of the newest juice options in town, which opened recently at the Healing Center, is hedging its bets. A sign out front promotes “Juice Bar and Snowballs.”
Co-taster Sharon Litwin is one who favors flavor over nutrition.
“This one needs a little salt and pepper and a bit of hot sauce,” she noted as she sipped a mix of fennel, kale, cucumber and celery. “I guess for me the thing about juicing is that you have to be aware and accepting of the fact that it’s very vegetable tasting. And most of the time I like my vegetables sautéed or steamed.”
Tasting Notes from a NOLA Juicing Tour