Remember when acai, goji berries, algae and kale were considered cutting edge? They're practically quaint compared to the exotic roots, fruits, herbs and fungi health-food huts are showcasing in their elixirs these days. From creamy cacao cousin cupuaçu to savory, peppery moringa leaf to green mango-like baobab pulp, the opportunities to tweak your morning tonic are practically endless. Here are some of the most useful, flavorful and just plain fun super-healthy ingredients to play with.
Amla berries: The alchemists at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place in Boulder, Colorado, make no medical claims for the ingredients they use in their "intentional beverages" ("gemstone essences" and "sound frequencies" included). But doctors might. Take dried amla berries (aka Indian gooseberries): Rich in vitamin C, they're being studied by researchers for their cancer- and diabetes-fighting potential, among other benefits. Shine's potion maker Katherine Eid appreciates the tartness they lend her Three Laughing Monks blend, balancing the sweetness and spice of black-cherry juice and ginger.
Maca: Stateside, the root of this Peruvian plant is usually sold as a raw powder, but Eid seeks out roasted maca powder for its "very pronounced, smoky coffee taste that really lingers on the tongue." Whether combined with yerba maté or mixed into coffee, it helps elicit "a calm, clear focused kind of energy. It's marketed to bring about sexual vitality." Lisa Odenweller, founder of Southern California superfood café chain Beaming, loves its "funky, earthy, dirty flavor, which kind of kicks the back of your throat" in drinks like the metabolism-boosting Mojo Matcha, contrasting the mellow richness of banana and avocado.
Mesquite powder: As barbecue enthusiasts might expect, the ground pods of the mesquite tree boast a smoky-sweet savor that complements both the "caramel, nutty, chocolaty" and the cayenne-derived spicy flavors in the Utopian Hot Cocoa found at Portland, Oregon's Kure Juice Bar, cofounder Nate Higgins says, adding that they have "a lot of protein and calcium."
Reishi: Higgins says that "studies from all over the world link it to a vast number of treatments for common ailments and show it as a regulator of body functions." He relies on this fungus, long known to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, "as a mood stabilizer every single day." At Kure, reishi extract fortifies the Immunity Shot, whereas reishi powder bolsters the Golden Mushroom Elixir, which, he explains, "really tastes like turmeric and honey in almond milk, and that's delicious." Not that reishi is flavorless: "It tastes different depending on where it was grown and how it was harvested; some can give you a cremini- or portobello-like flavor. But if you didn't know it was there, you might not be able to identify it."
Sea buckthorn berries: Brilliant orange and bracingly tart, these berries have been on the brink of stardom for a while now. If and when they finally get their due, some thanks will surely go to Arizona-based chain True Food Kitchen, which features their juice in honey-sweetened drinks like the Medicine Man. As if its invigorating apricot tang weren't reason enough to try it, sea buckthorn berries are also high in omega-7s and essential amino acids, as well as vitamins C and E, according to True Food beverage director Jon Augustin.
Sweet potatoes: Have you ever thought of drinking them? At Boulder's Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, co-owner Sara Martinelli says, "Our goal was to create a great antioxidant drink that made use of highly colorful vegetables and fruits to maximize the beta-carotene." So along with apples, red grapes, oranges and red bell peppers, chef Rachel Best juices peeled sweet potatoes, which "bring weight and fullness to the flavor and texture" of the vibrant blend while adding fiber and vitamins galore.
Yacón: Odenweller prizes this Andean tuberous root—most commonly found stateside in powder or syrup form—for its "rich, rich sweetness but low glycemic index," a boon for smoothie-craving sugar shunners. In the Beam Me Up, for instance, it enhances the creaminess of the base ingredient, freshly sprouted almond milk.
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