On balmy late summer afternoons at New York City’s LCL: Bar & Kitchen, patrons cool off not just with any usual cocktail, but one prepared with cucumber-infused vodka, cold-pressed apple juice, sweet greens (presumably handpicked from the rooftop garden), and lemon juice.
“The Green Dream comes in at just under 120 calories, is 100 percent organic, has no added sugar, and is refreshingly delicious,” boasts manager Kelly Craggs about the unique drink featured on LCL's specialty cocktail menu. As refreshing and delicious as it may be, the Green Dream is just one of many drinks sprouting from bars across the country, all made with fruits and veggies.
Incorporating freshly-grown ingredients from one’s garden or local farmer’s market into cocktails isn’t a new concept. Herbed concoctions are slowly, but surely becoming as common as the vodka soda.
“The green cocktail movement has been going on for a while, it just hasn’t been getting much press,” explains mixologist Derrick Bass of California-based restaurant Willie Jane. “I have been experimenting with herbs in cocktails for about three years now. The reason they are getting bigger is the influx of chef-driven farm-to-table restaurants and these establishments wanting their bar program to reflect those same interests.”
There may be more to the growing trend than just new hot spots boasting organic fare. One celebrity craze may also be impacting cocktail trends, too. With svelte stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, and Nicole Richie reportedly juicing to keep their famous figures in check, there may be a demand for cocktails that won’t compromise on a healthy lifestyle.
“With green cold-pressed juices and smoothies being more popular than ever, it’s no surprise that the green cocktail movement has taken off,” says Lori Rosenthal, bariatric surgery dietitian at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center. “People want to believe they are doing something good for their bodies, especially while doing something they know has a negative effect, such as drinking alcohol.”
Los Angeles-based chef Mariko Amekodommo, who insists she’s been experiencing a high demand from customers requesting cocktails that are “fresh-pressed, anti-aging, gluten-free, and with tons of antioxidants,” understands the appeal and believes the green cocktail moment is more than a fad.
“Green cocktails are generally healthier than their traditional ancestors,” she says. “Fresh organic herbs, fruits, and vegetables are adding health benefits and nutrients, while sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors are being reduced. A simple cocktail of sake, muddled strawberries, basil, and sparkling water is a perfect example. It’s gluten-free and low in calories, making it a smarter choice than a Cosmo or a glass of champagne.”
But how healthy are these garden fresh concoctions? While mixologists believe they’re better options than sugary or too creamy cocktails, medical experts are skeptical.
“Bartenders are also adding syrup and sugar instead of natural fruit to sweeten these green drinks,” says Nutrition educator and dietitian Melissa Halas-Liang. “Vegetables are pureed, leaves are ground, and then mixed in with alcohol and sugar. Very few places would be using just fresh fruit to sweeten the drinks.”
“If a green alcoholic beverage is consumed in excess there is no health benefit,” she adds.
“I am concerned that people believe its okay to eat fewer vegetables because they are getting them in their juices and cocktails,” says Rosenthal. “Eating vegetables is essential for optimal health and weight. Whole vegetables contain more nutrients and fiber, which promotes gastrointestinal health and keeps us fuller longer. Sugary drinks, including fruit juices, increases the risk of obesity and diabetes.”
Even Bass agrees.
“There is still booze them, so they are technically not good for you in excess," he admits.
As with anything else, these popular concoctions should be savored in moderation.
“If you do go out and enjoy a green cocktail, don’t drink it for its health benefits,” advises Liang. “Enjoy it for the cocktail that it is.”Comment