Birch Sap Is The New Coconut Water

Now that everyone is on the verge of being bored with coconuts, birch water may rise to the occasion and be the new random plant water to carry to yoga class.
Publish date:
May 15, 2014
nutrition, health, wellness, birch sap, birch water, hydration

Does anyone even still drink coconut water?

I do sometimes; not for health reasons, but because I’ve been hooked ever since I had it sweetened and ice-cold in Thailand. It’s perfect for a hot day, full of electrolytes and potassium and all that. And that’s about it.

A few years ago, people thought drinking coconut water brought you closer to God. It’s humble health benefits have been taken out of context, dramatically. It’s good for you, sure, but saying it promotes weight loss, by using... hydration? That’s a stretch, little bit.

Is it really worth the havoc the booming coconut industry is having on the small communities growing them? Expanded agricultural operations cause loss of coastal habitats and protective mangroves, and prices are driving out smaller farmers. It’s not that good. It’s only a matter of time before coconut water is a flavour of Oreo. (That actually sounds heavenly, Nabisco, do you hear me?)

Now that everyone is on the verge of being bored with coconuts and people are buying in to locally grown food sources, maybe birch water--the spring sap of the humble, yet majestic birch tree--will rise to the occasion and be the new random plant water to carry to yoga class.

Harvested every spring when the sap runs up the xylem of a tree to deliver nutrients to the budding leaves, birch water is very similar to coconut water in its chemical profile: high in macronutrients, electrolytes and potassium. The process is similar to making syrup; you can either drive taps in or clip the ends of branches to gather it, except instead of boiling it down, you can drink it fresh. Just like coconut water, it’s the absolute best fresh, but can be preserved through gentle pasteurization (read: canning).

With its crisp, clean taste and various micronutrients, it’s no surprise that the people of the North have been drinking the stuff as a health tonic for centuries. A few companies throughout Europe and Asia bottle and sell birch sap, and with a few U.S. competitors popping up, it might be at a Trader Joe’s near you soon. Or, of course, you could always harvest your own--that is, if you have a birch tree.

So, what if you don’t have the hardened hands of someone out tapping trees in the spring? Of course someone is selling it: two brands that have caught my eye are Byarozavik’s Birch Tree Water and Sealand’s Birk.

I ordered some of Byarozavik’s and spoke to a rep all about birch waters. Byarozavik’s water is unflavoured and is harvested in birch forests in the US, Canada and Europe. Since the harvest season is only a few weeks, the trees are essentially left alone during the rest of the year. Birch water is fairly sustainable, and it promotes forest conservation. Thank god, because we really do need more trees.

But even though it’s from a bottle, Byarozavik’s Birch Tree Water is light and dewy, with some added sugars (7 grams) for preservation, but otherwise very pleasing.

We don’t know that much about the birch water’s value as a health drink, as it’s only just entered the market in the US, but health claims are similar to coconut water--good for rehydration, easily absorbed trace minerals (47 components, to be exact). But unlike coconut water, it contains saponin, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and may have some anti-inflammatory effects.

I harvest my own birch sap each spring, but on a much smaller scale, because I just like to drink it fresh. I’ll use either a tap, or just hang jars from the tips of a branch that I’ve snipped, a technique my dad devised when we were kids. The sap starts running about three to four weeks before green-up, and varies depending on about a million factors. When it does run, it’s wild how fast your jars will runneth over with delicious, delicately flavoured birch sap.

Doesn't "birch water" sounds like something Gwyneth Paltrow would drink or name her child? Do you drink coconut water, or do you think it kind of tastes like cheese? What’s your plant blood of choice? Would you try birch water?