After doing a few juice cleanses for Serious Eats, I came away with the realization that I'm not a fan of juice cleanses themselves, but I really like what you actually drink when you're on them. In particular, the rich, creamy cashew milk you end up looking forward to all day; and the green juices that form the backbone of just about any cleanse.
See, I like juices in general, but find many of them either overly sweet, or insufficiently fresh, or without the genuine taste the fruits and vegetables they're made from. But many green juices have bright, vibrant flavors that do remind you what they're squeezed from. A good green juice tastes like a good salad while being its own thing, too.
My only problem with these juices is that they're quite expensive—and quite variable. Between different brands, some are fruitier and some more herbal, or fibrous; some are so thick as to be a true meal replacement, others are thin as apple juice.
What's more, there are two broad categories; read the labels. Some green juices really are primarily made of cucumber, spinach, kale, celery, and other vegetables. Others may be bright green and list broccoli on the bottle, but it's a tiny amount that doesn't really factor into the taste. One isn't necessarily better than the other, but it's important to remember that green-hued juices vary widely.
So let's take a tour through a few brands.
Most Vegetabley Vegetable: Organic Avenue Mellow Love
Calories: 40 per 8 ounces Sugar: 4.5 grams per 8 ounces Price: 16 ounces for $9
The first listed ingredient is cucumber, but Organic Avenue's Mellow Love tastes like almost pure celery, in a quite bitter, yep-I'm-chewing-on-a-stalk kind of way. Cucumber, romaine, spinach, and parsley add mellow substance but not much in terms of flavor; if I tasted it and had to name one ingredient, celery would be it. If you like feeling virtuous, this is probably the juice for you. (I can actually imagine it being better if it were even more savory, with a little salt, say.)
A Little Lightened Up: Evolution Fresh Vital Greens
Calories: 25 for 8 ounces Sugar: 1.5 grams per 8 ounces Price: 15.2 ounces for $6
The taste is all greens: celery, cucumber, spinach, romaine, wheatgrass, clover sprouts, and a little lime. That little acid hit, to me, makes it a bit more drinkable than the Organic Mellow Love above. That said, it's less fresh-tasting, seeming more like "green things" and less like distinct vegetables. I'd love either another squeeze of lime or maybe even a hit of salt to up the flavor a bit. But it's quite a bit cheaper, crammed with vegetables, and a bit less bitter than Organic Mellow Love, making it perhaps more accessible for some.
Healthy and Refreshing: Evolution Fresh Sweet Greens and Lemon
Calories: 40 for 8 ounces Sugar: 4 grams per 8 ounces Price: 15.2 ounces for $6
A lot of the lighter, less vegetable vegetable vegetable juices are heavy on apple or mango or kiwi juice; I like somewhere at the midpoint, so you get a teeny bit of sweetness and a lot of acid without losing the essential vegetal quality. (A salad with a vinaigrette, if you will.) So I'm really fond of the "sweet greens with lemon": still super-heavy on the veg, with cucumber, spinach, romaine, celery, and parsley making up most of it, but a little apple, lemon, and lime to lighten it up. Yum.
Most Well-Balanced, Tie: Organic Avenue Green Love
Calories: 60 per 8 ounces Sugar: 4.5 grams per 8 ounces Price: 16 ounces for $9
The first ingredient is cucumber, and that vegetable's bright, mellow taste leads the pack, with a slightly fibrous bite of celery, a quartet of greens (chard, spinach, collards, kale) to back it up, pear juice to sweeten and lemon for a little acidic bite. It's exactly the intersection of "vegetable" and "refreshing" that I'd be able to drink regularly—and enjoy it, not just feel like it's good for me. If I could afford it, I'd probably drink one every day.
Most Well-Balanced, Tie: BluePrint Juice Green
Calories: 65 per 8 ounces Sugar: 14 grams per 8 ounces Price: 16 ounces for about $10
This juice brought back waves of memories from the first Serious Eats juice cleanse, when it was pretty tough to drink 3 of them a day. But sipping it on its own, I'm quite a fan. Apple and cucumber come on strong, but unlike some other juices, you can really taste the greens (romaine, lettuce, and kale, here); it's sweet enough to be enjoyable, with lemon and ginger to balance it out. As something between a healthy snack and a refreshing drink, I'd definitely grab one of these.
Most Refreshing: Organic Avenue Green Lemonade
Calories: 75 per 8 ounces Sugar: 8 grams per 8 ounces Price: 16 ounces for $9
My first thought on drinking Organic Avenue's Green Lemonade was "This would make an awesome cocktail mixer," which I suppose is pretty blasphemous. But I mean that in the best of ways. It's got a powerful ginger bite, a huge acid kick from lemon and lime, with a little salt and sugar to even it out. The "green" comes from cucumber, celery, and spinach, but they definitely seem to be a coloring agent and background note rather than a major flavor component. The verdict? This isn't exactly what I'm looking for when I'm thinking "green juice," but I'm pretty crazy about a spicy, refreshing lemonade.
Fruitiest: Naked Juice, Bolthouse Farms
Naked Juice Calories: 140 per 8 ounces Sugar: 14 grams per 8 ounces Price: $6.49 for a quart
Calories: 140 per 8 ounces Sugar: 15 grams per 8 ounces Price: 16 ounces for around $3
Naked Juice smells like mango, pineapple, and banana, and tastes about the same; everything from broccoli to spinach to parsley is hanging out in there, but you don't taste them; and if you look at the bottle, most of them are in units of milligrams, not units of whole fruits. Bolthouse Farms is a little more apple-pineapple, with similar broccoli and spinach hanging out in the very background.
Both these guys are far more fruit-based than vegetable-based, so if you're looking for something in a familiar smoothie flavor with just a little bit of veg, these are a good bet.
Barely A Green Juice (But You Might Think It Is): Odwalla
Calories: 127 per 8 ounces Sugar: 13 grams per 8 ounces Price: 12 ounces for $2.99
Odwalla comes off tasting the sweetest of all, a taste best described as strawberry–peach–banana; if you were blindfolded you'd never think this were green. The green component comes in wheat grass, barley grass, wheat sprouts, and Jerusalem artichokes. Again, it's a tasty, thick shake, but if you're looking for a vegetable juice and grab this vaguely green one, it might not be what you're looking for.
There's a ton of variety in these juices, and probably even more than is evident here, as fresh juices are often restricted geographically (Evolution Juices, right now, is only sold on the West Coast; Organic Avenue ships nationally but only sells retail in the New York area).
Any green juice fans out there? Which brands do you like, and do you find them worth the often-steep price? Anybody make their own at home?