PORTLAND — Kathleen Flanagan is used to people coming into Roost House of Juice and saying “Don’t give me something green.”
But these days, green is good.
The popularity of green juices and smoothies made with good-for-you greens like kale and spinach is soaring, thanks to all the attention they’ve gotten for being good for your eyes, your brain and just about every other body part.
“People are interested in experimenting because they know they’re supposed to be eating kale,” Flanagan said. “Everybody’s talking about kale, kale, kale, that’s the best thing for you. It’s turned into the cool thing to eat more kale.”
Summer is the time people want to try drinks that are healthier and more nourishing. Maybe it’s partly because they are more conscious of maintaining a swimsuit-ready body. Maybe they want to save their calories for a round of gin-and-tonics with their friends in the evenings. Or maybe it’s just that they want to counteract all that sugary hot chocolate they downed during the winter months.
Whatever the reason, Portland is lucky to have a lot of different options for healthful summer drinks, from the green drinks blended at juice bars like Roost House of Juice and the Maine Squeeze Juice Cafe to the kombuchas at Urban Farm Fermentory and the low-sugar craft sodas made with all natural, local ingredients at Duckfat.
The market for green juices “has really blown up,” said Alex Vandermark, owner of the Maine Squeeze cafes and a juice bar in Portsmouth. Two of his biggest sellers right now are the Kale Storm and the Green Light, both of which contain kale and spinach, along with several kinds of fruit.
Vandermark has also noticed more people coming in and asking to add greens to the stores’ fruit smoothies.
“When I first took over (the business), I was thinking I might take these (green drinks) off the menu,” he said. “‘These taste kind of bad.’ But I think that now people are really, really into it. I’d say that the majority of customers that come into Maine Squeeze now are ordering the green smoothies.”
KEEN ON GREEN
Vandermark said he thinks that, in addition to people wanting to eat healthier, a lot of working people are simply pressed for time and want an easier, more efficient way to eat their vegetables.
“They don’t have a lot of time because they’re on their break, and they don’t want to eat a salad or something behind the counter where they’re working, but a smoothie they can handle,” he said.
Flanagan and Jeannette Richelson, co-owners of Roost House of Juice, say that people are also more interested in the concept of using food as medicine and as a tool for counteracting the effects of processed foods on the body. Kale, for example, is related to broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts, is one of the highest-rated “superfoods” out there. It is believed to offer protection from cancer and help lower cholesterol.
“I think a lot of people are using food as a way to heal,” said Richelson. “There’s a lot out there about how kale is a superfood and how greens can provide more oxygen to your blood and be more cleansing and healing. And so I think a lot of people are starting to listen and notice how much your eating lifestyle can affect your health.”
SOLD ON SODA
Another option growing in popularity is the old-fashioned soda, made with less sugar than modern-day drinks.
“It’s picking up momentum,” said chef Rob Evans, who researched the history of sodas and soda fountains to create a line of $3 craft sodas at his Middle Street restaurant Duckfat. “It’s becoming popular. There’s so many bad canned sodas, and it’s a great alcohol alternative. I think the craft’s coming back.”
It’s coming back fast enough that Evans plans to add a real soda fountain to Duckfat when he renovates the restaurant’s dining room this fall.
Sodas were, at first, a delivery method for medicine, Evans explained.
“The history of the sodas I found fascinating,” Evans said. “It’s really an American-based beverage, and then with Prohibition soda fountains really took off. Then, when we got out of Prohibition, bottling of sodas and convenience kind of took the place of soda fountains and they kind of faded off after that.”
Evans uses cane sugar, and sometimes brown sugar, in his concoctions. He has to walk a line between not making the drinks too sweet and making them sweet enough that people who are used to sugar-laden modern sodas will try them.
His shelf of ingredients is stocked with things like wild birch bark, sarsaparilla, wintergreen and spearmint.
“Some are classic recipes like the cherry phosphate,” Evans said. “The phosphate was really popular at the turn of the century. You don’t see it so much now. When we first were using it, we felt it was lacking. We’re so used to citric acid, which is in most sodas right now and has that kind of sharp tang, and the phosphate gives you this really clean, fresh finish, so it took us a while to get used to it. It went out of style for decades.”
Instead of alcohol extracts, Evans uses a vegetable-based extract with glycerin, another popular turn-of-the-century ingredient. For the Wild Cherry Phosphate on his menu, for example, he makes an extract out of cherry bark and glycerin, then adds it to reduced tart cherry juice. Then he adds the phosphate.
MADE WITH ZEST
Evans’ Orange Crush soda, another classic, has no juice in it. It’s made with the zest from a whole case of oranges. (The rest of the oranges go into a orange creamsicle milkshake.)
His root beer, which he calls Roots, Bark, Sticks & Leaves, “throws people for a loop because they’re used to generic root beer extract.” Evans uses a glycerin extract made with sarsaparilla, birch bark and winter green. Other ingredients include a sassafras extract and molasses.
One of his most popular sellers is an All Maine Tonic — in essence, a take on an old-fashioned shrub — made with raw cider vinegar containing live cultures, Maine maple syrup, Maine honey and chaga, a mushroom that grows on birch trees and purportedly has health benefits.
“It’s a great finish to a dinner here,” Evans said. “With all the vinegar, it’s a nice digestif.”
The newest soda at Duckfat is called a Frost Bite. It’s made with three different mints, Schezuan pepper and “the tiniest bit” of menthol crystals, enough to give the drink what Evans calls “a Peppermint Patty-type pop.”
Evans didn’t want to share any of his recipes, but he did offer a formula for people who want to try making their own sodas at home.
“It’s basically simple syrup and citric acid brought to a boil, poured over some sort of aromatic, and then add 2 ounces of that syrup to 12 ounces of soda water,” he said. “I think it’s fun for people to make their own. It’s so easy.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at [email protected]