Should you be drinking birch tree water?
High levels of manganese are attracting people to the drink
Yesterday’s sparkling water is today’s coconut water is tomorrow’s ... birch tree sap?
Birch water, a waterlike sap tapped from birch trees, is the latest beverage to join an alternative water market that accounted for about $2.7 billion in sales worldwide in 2016, according to food and beverage consultancy firm Zenith Global.
The lure of the slightly sweet beverage is its mineral content, in addition to its lower-sugar content than coconut water, said John Kavchak, the co-founder and director of Sapp, a Chicago- and New York-based company that sells birch water in the U.S.
“It’s arguably the lowest-sugar plant-based beverage,” he said of birch water. “It’s rich in minerals and antioxidants, and it’s been used for centuries in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe as a natural source of detox.”
Birch water contains a high level of manganese, a mineral that helps blood sugar regulation and bone structure through calcium absorption, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Manganese is a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that helps fight naturally occurring free radicals that “can damage cell membranes and DNA,” according to the university.
Kavchak is quick to point out that birch water isn’t a miracle tonic, however.
“I like to say it’s more than regular water, but it’s only an addition to your drinking occasions,” he said. “We’re not trying to sell this as medicine. Our goal is to sell a beverage that is hydrating and has health benefits.”
Though birch water contains five times the amount of manganese as kale, according to Sapp, its price point — US$3.49 per bottle of Sapp and more than $40 for a 12-pack of Byarozavik on Amazon — is something to consider, said Kristin A.R. Gustashaw, an advanced-level clinical dietitian at Rush University Medical Center.
“As far as the amazing qualities of birch water, it’s actually not much different than what you can get in oats,” Gustashaw said. “When you look at the cost of a serving of birch water against the cost of a cup of oats, oats are a fraction of cost. You can get the same or a similar amount of manganese from oats at an estimate of 20 or 21 cents versus $3.50 for the same amount of manganese. It’s an expensive source of one nutrient that they’re advocating.”
A large part of that cost stems from the process of tapping and preserving birch sap, which can expire within days if not cared for, Kavchak said. There is only a three- or fourweek period in April when the trees can be tapped, he said.
Not all tree waters are the same. Maple water shares similarities with birch water, but has a different mineral profile and a higher natural sugar content while lacking birch water’s trace amounts of xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that can help prevent tooth decay by inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that causes cavities, according to the California Dental Association. And Byarozavik, for example, adds organic cane sugar to its birch water.
While Sapp’s original flavour does not have additives except less than 1 per cent of citric acid, the company offers birch water flavoured with nettle and rose hip, which respectively support kidney functioning and the immune system.
Those additives can become too much of a good thing if you’re not careful, Gustashaw said, and could pose a risk for pregnant women and people taking blood pressure medication.
Gustashaw said she isn’t wary of birch water as much as she cautions that no “super drink” is super.
Birch water, touted as the next “super drink,” has its fair share of health benefits but is an expensive product.