Odd as it sounds, I think I have forgotten what fresh fruits and vegetables taste like.
Which is not to say that I haven't been eating my share. Indeed, all summer long I frequented farmers markets on the North Shore, selecting goods picked just hours earlier from vines and trees in the Fraser and Okanagan valleys.
However, almost invariably, these fruits and vegetables served as the base for other flavours. Cherries were pitted and halved and then tossed with espressoinfused balsamic vinegar, creating a delicious dessert. Roma tomatoes were blended with all manner of good-for-you vegetables like spinach, squash, and broccoli, creating a healthy marinara sauce that would withstand the scrutiny of my two frequently veggie averse children.
In other words, far too often the flavours of my fresh fruits and vegetables have been disguised.
This revelation came to me one recent Saturday when I took my family to Mother's Smoothies and Juice Bar on East 14th Street in North Vancouver. It was there that my taste buds were assaulted by the pure, intense and, in one instance, challenging flavours of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
Mother's has been operating in its current location for close to two years now, but owner Katalin Zambo has been in the health food business for nearly two-and-a-half decades. Zambo shifted from a health and nutrition retail business to a juice and smoothie bar largely at the urging of a number of loyal customers who had developed a strong affinity for the small line of fruit juices offered at her store. They felt the increase in energy levels and overall wellness they believed they experienced following the consumption of her fruit juices should be shared with a wider audience.
Zambo's background in natural nutrition and medicinal herbs goes a long way in explaining the unique flavours of Mother's menu items. Every smoothie at Mother's is made with a base of water kefir, a fermented beverage created when beneficial bacteria and yeasts are introduced to sugar water. The sugar becomes fully metabolized by the bacteria and yeasts, resulting in a probiotic-rich beverage that is apparently of significant aid in the digestive process.
My son, who is almost six years old and fancies himself something of a juice aficionado, had a two-pronged reaction to his smoothie that nicely illustrates the market challenge that Zambo is trying to address. His smoothie, called The Original, contained raspberry, blueberry, apple and banana, all blended with a few ounces of water kefir. After an enthusiastic first sip, his face fell a little and he quietly put his drink down.
"This is not what I expected it to taste like, Dad," he said. "I am not sure about this."
I took a long sip of his smoothie and immediately understood the issue: it tasted like raw fruit, a touch earthy and lacking in the level of sweetness he might be accustomed to from other, more commercial smoothie establishments. Further, Mother's does not add ice to any of their beverages, allowing the ingredients to remain undiluted and the flavours untempered by excessive cold.
After a few gentle reassurances that his smoothie was, in fact, quite delicious, my son rediscovered his initial enthusiasm and finished every last sip, proclaiming his desire for another. In the meantime, my daughter, who is only three years old, sipped happily on her Beach Party smoothie, comprised of pineapple, strawberry, banana and coconut oil, which imparted a fragrant and viscous tropical element. My wife had a light and refreshing Green Kicker containing kale, apple, banana and ginger, while I went for broke and had the Puppy Love juice made with beets, carrots, apples, kale and ginger. The intense and heady beet flavour, married with the vegetal notes of the kale and carrots, put this selection just a touch over my threshold for whole foods and reminded me that in juice, as in life, it is best to learn things gradually.
The problem, of course, is not the sweetness of the smoothies at Mother's (which simply reflect the natural sweetness of goodquality organic fruits) but rather the constant barrage of heavily sweetened products we encounter in the marketplace that condition us to the consumption of too much sugar.
"Everybody has to realize that we have a bit of a problem," says Zambo. "We don't see that we have to be so careful about what we put into our bodies. When we realize that the lethargy we so often experience is the result of the foods we eat, we will begin to make better choices."
Mother's Smoothies and Juice Bar is located at 134 East 14th St. Phone: 604- 988-4372. motherssmoothies. com
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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